"Cioppino," Fisherman's stew with an Italian Flavor

Hunters and fishermen have always tried very hard to use the bounties of the field, forest, and waters responsibly and to its fullest rather than waste anything that might be useful as food, clothing, or even tools.  Nowhere is that more obvious than food staples like pot luck stew, gumbo, and a more recent culinary discovery of my wife, Cioppino.

Cioppino itself is a traditional Italian-American dish that originated in the North Beach region of San Francisco, where Italian fishermen, many of whom were from Genoa, Italy, created a type of seafood stew made up of the catch of the day.  Crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels, and fish are combined with fresh tomatoes and a wine sauce to create an absolutely wonderful dish that’s perfect on a cold day.  Throw in some sourdough bread and you’ve got the quintessential San Francisco meal which everyone with a taste for seafood should try.

My wife and I decided that we just had to sample some when we visited San Francisco because it’s supposed to be one of the signature dishes of the region, as much as Rice-a-Roni, and sourdough bread.  We accomplished two of the three at restaurants right down on the waterfront close to Fisherman’s Warf where you can find just about anything touristy you can think of, along with some spectacular eateries.

We enjoyed our meal while sitting under the mid-day sun on the sidewalk at a restaurant called, you guessed it “Cioppino’s.”  Their namesake dish proved to be as yummy as we were hoping and the atmosphere helped to make our lunch a truly special way to conclude our trip to the west coast.

Being on something of a healthy eating kick has required us to seek out recipes with a lot of fish and shellfish to supplement our pork, chicken, and beef dishes.  Although squid isn’t normally something we eat regularly, it’s one of those seafood items that we really enjoy when done well.  And boy do they do it right!

Vacations are wonderful times to get out there and sample the local flavor so try to break out of your shell (no pun intended) and look for something different on the menus when you stop for dinner.  I don’t know if I have enough guts to go as far as Andrew Zimmern on “Bizarre Foods” but I have become a bit more adventurous over the past 20 years.

So do yourself a favor and step out of your food comfort zone while on vacation.  Seek out local favorites and signature dishes instead of the same old burger and fries.  You might just discover something you can add to your own recipe book.

 

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Hiking Among The Giants

My wife and I have been lucky enough over the past 22 years or so to be able do a little bit of traveling around the country and we keep checking places off the list that one or the other of us has been to that we feel the other should experience.  I’ve traveled a bit more so I tend to say “Been there” more often but she’s quickly catching up and now that we’re empty nesters, we’ve got the freedom to get away every so often.

One place (or thing more properly) that I always felt she should see was the Redwoods in California.  I’d seen them when I was about seven years old and can still remember how awe inspiring it was then.  It proved to be just as wonderful during her first visit as it was for my long anticipated return.  The Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are absolutely magnificent examples of nature’s splendor when left alone but also a testament to how man can adversely affected the natural world around us.  As gigantic as these trees are, reaching nearly 380 feet tall and almost 1800 years old, just imagine the splendor we’d have been lucky enough to experience if development and expansionism hadn’t led to so many being cut down in the mid 1800’s.  Their rail-straight trunks and hard wood nearly spelled their own demise but we’re lucky to still have a few virgin trees left standing thanks to some forward thinking conservationists.

There are numerous locations around San Francisco where you can view the majestic redwoods in all their splendor and I can’t imagine anyone taking a trip to the area and not making a detour to one or the other.

Samuel P. Taylor State Park is a beautiful retreat that contains landscapes and terrain varying from creek bottom to redwood forests and then to grass covered rolling hills just begging to be climbed.  We experienced breathtaking vistas every time we turned a corner and the sheer number of photographs is proof that I couldn’t put the camera down.  Every critter, tree, flower, and fungus that struck my eye had its picture taken whether it wanted to or not.  Thank goodness we live in the digital age. 

Muir Woods National Park is another location where these wonderful trees can be seen as they would have been when settlers first viewed them.  Just be prepared to either get there early to find a parking place, or walk a mile or so from the satellite parking to the entrance.  Did you know that Muir Woods was the location of a good number of key scenes in a 2011 science fiction movie? “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” visits the forest when Caesar is young then returns when he leads his fellow apes out of human captivity and into the safety of the virgin forest.  They couldn’t have picked a more perfect location to escape to.

We had a wonderful time picnicking with family under the giants and then hiking along the trails that wound through their midst.  It’s almost impossible to fully grasp the scale of these trees and your neck is sure to be sore after leaning back to view their tops stretching into the heavens.  Don’t miss a chance to experience a true wonder of the natural world so do yourself and your children a favor, visit one of these parks and spend a bit of time feeling the majesty around you.  Reflect upon the history these wonderful trees have lived through and you’ll start feeling very, very small in the grand scheme of things.  It sure will put your troubles in perspective.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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My Family Reunion Memories

Family ReunionSummer is here and the Fourth of July is just a few days away.  For those of us here in the south it might be sort of business as usual with barbeques, picnics, and trips to the beach, but when I was growing up in the northeast, we looked forward to the 4th as one of the biggest parties of the year and a chance to catch up with family we hadn’t seen in a long time.

Our yearly family reunion occurred on the weekend of the fourth for as long as I can remember.  Everyone gathered at “The Cottage” on the cliffs overlooking Lake Erie starting relatively early in the morning when my Great Uncle Mark would hold morning mass for family members and special guests.  From that point on, folks would begin to show up in earnest, coming from all corners of the United States to celebrate our independence and family.

Great Uncle Lee (who owned the cottage along with Aunt Edith) was a great jokester, who along with his brother Aaron, played with the kids, scared the women folk with firecrackers, and generally spread good cheer.  Uncle Mark counselled on matters of faith, the heart, and life in general.  All while the women (both young and old) worked the kitchen which was full of goodies including ham, meatballs, pickled eggs (my mother’s purple specialty), brownies, slaw, macaroni salad, Jell-O, and all the fixings for Smith's hotdogs cooked over a perfect campfire burning on the cliff right next to the lake.

When I was a youngster, this gathering was all about playing games with my cousins that were able to make it but all along every one of us wanted to grow up so we could be fellow conspirators with Lee and Aaron as they had people jumping with the reports of firecrackers.  But instead I can remember heated badminton matches with my Great Aunts Alice and Dorothy; thrilling tether ball games with my brother, and Frisbee throwing on a grand scale.  The family softball game was an all-inclusive affair with people of all ages participating in the friendly competition that pitted brother against brother, and husband against wife, but for the life of me I can’t remember anyone actually “winning” a game.

Once the games were concluded, it was time for the half mile trek to the lake for an afternoon swim on the rocky shore.  My wife (who grew up in Pensacola) insisted that it wasn’t a beach because of all the large rocks threatening to stub your toes, but for all the youngsters in attendance, it was heaven on earth, right up until the point when a piece of slimy seaweed brushed up against your leg.  We loved playing in the cool water and would have stayed in it till our ears turned blue if it weren’t for the lure of Cracker Jacks, single-serving ice cream cups, and watermelon back at the cottage.  Things would slow down at this point as folks with long drives ahead of them would begin hitting the road, but most of the older men just found a spot for an afternoon nap in a hammock, sitting  in an lounger, or just on a blanket in the shade.  My own father had a favorite place in one of two hammocks next to the fire and you were sure to find him there after an excellent meal and wonderful conversation.

A family fireworks display served as the moon-lit closing ceremony and we all gasped as Uncle Lee would light the fuses then scurry away from the dangerous pyrotechnics even though they were pipsqueaks compared to the commercial displays.  Regardless of their simplicity, they were awe inspiring to a throng of idolizing youngsters.

We always hit the road wishing the day wouldn’t end, while at the same time we dreamt of hitting a grand slam during next year’s softball game.  I look back on years past and think about the wonderful times, the lovely memories, and the people that made it all possible.  Most of the older generation have passed on along with a surprising and saddening number of their children, and it just occurred to me that I’m now at the age where I should be throwing firecrackers under the women’s chairs.  When did I become the crazy old uncle? 

The Fourth of July is a time to celebrate our country, but it’s also time to celebrate the family and create memories that our children will remember for a lifetime. Remember those treasured members of the family that have passed away over the last year and celebrate their lives and the important part they played in your family history.  Hit the road, visit some relatives you haven’t seen in a while, and open up a box of Cracker Jacks.  You’ll get more out of it than just the prize hidden at the bottom of the box.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Visiting "The Rock"

What do Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Al Capone, and I have in common?  We’ve all spent time on Alcatraz, or “The Rock” as it’s more famously known.  Although only one of us did hard time on the island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, I can at least say that we share some common ground.  Thankfully all but one person in that group were able to come and go as we pleased.

My wife and I finally got a chance to visit San Francisco and many of the landmarks that make it famous as a tourist destination.  We spent time at The Golden Gate Bridge (which I have now driven, walked, and flown over as well as floated under), Fisherman’s Warf, The Presidio, Sonoma Raceway, and Point Reyes, but the federal penitentiary on Alcatraz was awe inspiring as we experienced the measures our society has gone through to house some of the most violent criminals in our nation’s history.  The island’s history goes back well beyond the time of the penitentiary to its time as a military installation, stockade, and ultimately, a prison.  Touring the facility and hearing the audio commentary from former guards and inmates alike really gives you a feeling of what it must have been like locked behind the cell doors, walking along the cell block, “relaxing” in the library, or pulling up a bench in the dining hall.  Privacy was the last thing they could expect on this island, so they got used to being with a bunch of guys in the same situation.

One of the most surprising things you can find on the island today is a beauty beyond what you would expect from a pile of rock, concrete, and iron bars.  The Alcatraz gardens are an amazing example of what can be accomplished by men looking to make the best of a situation beyond their control.  The gardens are maintained today by volunteers who care as much for the plants as did the men who originally planted them, and even though the buildings may be deteriorating, nature is reclaiming the island structures in a glorious way.  Bird life abounds all across the grounds with nesting populations of gull, egrets, and herons taking up residence wherever they can, sometimes in the most hostile and exposed corner imaginable.

I can almost see Machine Gun Kelly, The Bird Man, Scarface, and more spending their days locked up in general population or on “D” Block where inmates are housed when they need time for “Solitary” meditation.  I coaxed my wife into one of the cells but she wouldn’t let me close the door.  Strange.

Cell BlockOne of the tour highlights was visiting the cells of the most famous escapees ever and the basis of “Escape from Alcatraz” with Clint Eastwood.  The ventilation grates are still removed and there’s a mannequin in one of the racks just like there was on the morning of the jailbreak.  Did you know that the escaped men were never seen again?  Did you also know there were multiple other escape attempts when guards and inmates alike perished?  One section of floor in “The Crossroads” still bears the scars from grenades used to prevent an escape by six inmates.

Alcatraz is more than just a bunch of concrete and bars sitting atop on island in the bay.  It’s history both good and bad, so visiting can bring on a mixture of emotions.  Spending the money for a tour money well spent, so think about hopping the boat for a short trip.  Enjoy yourself and be glad that your trip isn’t one-way.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Bonsai and Fly Fishing?

BonsaiWhen I told one of my coworkers about wanting to write about the connection between the hobbies of raising bonsai trees and fly fishing he exclaimed “I don’t get it,” to which I exclaimed, “You’re kidding me, right?”  I thought it was obvious.

Well maybe not obvious, but it becomes much more so once you look at a culture that practices both with devotion and tradition, especially with the increasing popularity of a particular style of fly fishing.  The Japanese people have a long tradition of both fly fishing (a bit of a surprise to some people) and bonsai.  The discipline required to participate in both is similar and the patience you have to possess to enjoy success in either is daunting to some but the rewards can be extremely fulfilling.

Bonsai, the practice of growing miniatures trees in shallow pots, has been a part of Japanese and Chinese culture for hundreds, possibly thousands of years, and practitioners have created some of the most beautiful botanical wonders I’ve ever seen.  Formal upright, slanting, root over rock, broom, cascade, and group are but a few of the styles employed by growers to imitated naturally occurring trees in miniature form, and each one can take your breath away when done expertly.  The art of bonsai has always held a special place in my heart but until recently I never thought I had the ability to practice without killing tree, after tree, after tree.  Thanks to a family friend, some websites, and a few good books, I’ve learned just enough to be dangerous.  There are even bonsai clubs all over the world. Although it’ll take years and years to be considered anything but a novice, the result can be visually stunning and personally satisfying.

Now where does the fly fishing connection come in?  Tenkara of course.  Tenkara is a form of fly fishing originally practiced in Japan wherein the tackle is kept simple and to a minimum so much so that there isn’t a reel involved, just a telescopic rod approaching 14 feet long, a line, leader, and flies.  Even the flies are simple and somewhat rough looking versions of typical patterns.  Basic, uncluttered, and uncomplicated; those are the best words to describe this ancient, but recently revitalized, method of fly fishing.  There’s a time and place to use tenkara equipment just like any other method, so it isn’t for everyone or every location.  Small to medium trout streams are tailor made for this type of fishing so if you’re looking for a simpler way to go….Look into it.

So you see, there’s a definite connection between bonsai and fly fishing.  The Japanese culture has two totally different “hobbies” that can be much more than that.  They can be a way of life.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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What Makes a Fly?

This is a question as old as fly rods and folks sitting around the campfire with adult beverages, but you'd think that after all these years there would be some kind of consensus about what makes a fly, a fly.  Well sorry…nothing could be further from the truth.

I had a gentleman recently explain to me that he was going to throw small, pre-manufactured soft baits on his fly rod for snook in a few weeks, to which the anglers in attendance exclaimed “That’s not fly fishing!”  We all agreed that he had crossed some kind of line that bordered on sacrilegious, or at the very least, in very bad taste when it comes to angling in the spirit of the sport.  Lee Wulff would be spitting mad were he alive today.  Fly fishing isn’t always about catching the most fish possible, but rather about “How” you’re catching fish.  So what makes a fly, a fly?  Here’s the best I can come up with.

A fly might be defined as:

  • A lightweight fishing lure originally designed to be thrown in the traditional manner with a single or double handed fly rod.
  • Constructed by hand by attaching natural or synthetic materials to a single or multiple hooks using thread.
  • Designed to appeal to a fish’s senses of sight, hearing, or touch.
  • Instigates a purposeful strike out of hunger, aggression, or fear.
  • Hooks the fish in the mouth.

I realize that this won’t settle the longtime argument among flyfishermen as to whether or not a wet fly or nymph is actually “a fly,” but it fits the definition as best I can figure.  And many of our European customers look at what we throw for saltwater and can’t help but exclaim, “That’s not a proper fly!” but by definition, it is.  Our flies are designed to meet the above criteria and are specially suited to our fishing needs whether it’s the overall size, colors, weighting, or what it’s meant to imitate.

Now throwing a mass produced soft bait on your fly rod and calling it fly fishing….That aint Cricket!

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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The Party Boat Option

Party Boat RailI know there are plenty of people out there that really enjoy fishing but for one reason or another don’t have access to a boat and are thus limited to fishing from shore and affixed structures like bridges and piers.  Well there are other options that can put some fish in the freezer if you want it or just provide a change of pace and a good time with friends or family.

The party boat fleets set sail from many of the east and west coast ports daily offering an inexpensive way to enjoy the saltwater fishing and possibly put a wonderful meal on the dinner table.  They provide the tackle (similar to the Penn Senetor/Slammer Rod Combo), licenses, bait, some food and drink (boat specific), and the assistance you need to land the big ones.  The deck hands constantly roam the boat lending a hand as needed when it comes to rigging, removing from the hooks and identifying the fish as they come across the rail, and in many cases, fish cleaning services upon reaching shore.  These guys bust their butts trying to make sure that everyone has a successful and safe trip.  The captains know the hottest fishing locations of the region so rest assured that fish will be landed, but keep in mind that it’s still fishing and many factors can determine the difference between success and failure.  Fishing is called fishing, not catching.Brittany and Black Sea Bass

My youngest daughter spent part of her tax refund to get us aboard a local party boat and we I just spent a wonderful Sunday fishing out of Port Canaveral.  She landed the only two fish between us, proving that I should pretty much stick to shallow water and fly rods.  It was a splendid day together talking, sunning, laughing, and playing with the bait, but conditions (full boat and screaming undersea currents) made the fishing tough for us and everyone aboard.  We enjoyed ourselves none the less  and rekindled our love of fishing together.

Give the party boats a try and you may just discover a simple, cost effective way to get some fresh fish; and enjoy the company of loved ones and fellow fishermen.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Fly Fishing Therapy

CastingA friend of the shop came in for some casting help after a long absence and he let me know that he’d been gone so long because he was diagnosed with colon cancer and had been going through the treatment regimen which had left him with little energy or stamina.  He desperately wanted us to know how much he looked forward to getting back on the water and how much he appreciated reading the newsletter each month.  The prospect of fly fishing again kept his spirits up and gave him something to work towards.

I’ve long believed that being in the outdoors by itself can be a manner of therapy for folks that need to get away from things.  Lord knows my dad spent a lot of time in the woods when my brother and I were growing up.  Fly fishing in particular can serve as a type of therapy by releasing your tensions to the wind and water with each cast and presentation, regardless of whether or not a fish is hooked. There are a few organizations out there that introduce fly fishing to folks that need something to take their minds off the troubles they’re experiencing.  Both men and women alike can take advantage of programs that are tailored to their needs and expectations.

Project Healing Waters is for disabled veterans looking for something to help them recover a sense of normalcy as well as providing a low impact physical therapy they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Casting for Recovery has been dedicated to helping women recovering from breast cancer since 1996 and holds no-cost clinics across the nation.

Reel Recovery, started in 2003, is an organization devoted to aiding men diagnosed with all types of cancer through physical and emotional therapy and support.

All of these organizations are supported by various equipment manufacturers who donate a portion of the proceeds on select merchandise to the groups.  They hold clinics throughout the year at an increasing number of locations across the country.  And if you would like to help out, volunteers are welcome and appreciated.

On the lighter side, “Fly Fishing Through The Midlife Crisis” by Howell Raines has been a godsend for me over the years when things look a little bleak and I just needed to put things back in perspective.  So, check out one of these awesome groups or a good book or if you or someone you love needs a helping hand or a different perspective.  Fly fishing can offer more than just a means to provide dinner.  It’s on-the-water therapy that can help in more ways than you can imagine.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Honey...Where's the First Aid Kit?

Mangrove SnapperFlorida is full of things looking to bite, sting, stick, or otherwise hurt you and it’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit available and well stocked with supplies to handle a variety of situations that start out simple, but if left unattended, could cause bigger problems later on down the road.  I’m not talking about trauma-level surgery here, just minor cuts, scrapes, and the like.  You just never know what critter is going to clamp down on your finger and be unwilling to let go no matter how much “persuasion” you use.

Snapper, bluefish, mackerel, gar, sharks, and barracuda are a few of the fish you should watch out for because of their teeth and the resultant cuts or punctures.  Bream and catfish have piercing spines that will cause a great deal of pain, bleeding, and potential infection if left untreated while stingrays are a real hazard and would likely need more than “first aid” but having gauze and tape can suffice until real help is reached. Even the bait can be dangerous if you're using live blue crabs and one gets hold of your finger while trying to fish him out of the livelwell.

Jellyfish season is coming and meat tenderizer should be added to everyone’s kit, and I speak from experience when I say that their sting is HIGHLY painful and any relief would be welcome.  Dramamine, Benadryl, Aspirin, and maybe even epi-pens for people with serious allergies should all be added to your kit and travel with you every time on the water, on a hike, while camping, or hunting.  Sea urchins inhabit much of the southern inshore rock structure and their sting can be a traumatic experience for an inquisitive youngster (or playful adult man for that matter) so be prepared to take action.Backpackers First Aid Kit

Fire ants are one of the most common pests in Florida and their attack can be extremely vicious, leaving the victim with burning welts that will eventually itch like crazy, then burn again if unprepared so keep some after-bite treatment available to fight the itch.  Being prepared for plant related injuries is a good idea as well so don’t become complacent by thinking that everything that’s going to hurt you walks, swims, or slithers.

I almost forgot what's probably the most dangerous creature out there...OURSELVES!  We're using sharp instruments like hooks, gaffs, knives and broadheads while climbing trees, scrabling over rocks, and pitching around on boat decks, so do you think accidents are bound to happen at the worst possible time?  You betcha!  Who can we rely on to give immediate care when needed?  Only ourselves and we all need to be prepared.

There are plenty of reasons to be prepared for minor medical emergencies and very few good excuses for not having some simple items on hand when needed.  Most folks will admit they think help is always available and don’t feel the need to be even moderately self reliant, but imagine the piece of mind a simple thing like a first aid kit can provide in an emergency.  Pick one up, stock it up, and carry it on your outings.  You’ll be thankful you did.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Mentoring the Next Generation

Autin and First TarponOperating a fly shop has many perks such as having access to some of the latest and greatest equipment, finding out where the fish are biting (even if we don’t get a chance to pursue them ourselves), and meeting some of the celebrities of the sport.  All of these things are great but the one thing that really keeps me coming back day after day is the opportunity to work with aspiring fly fisherman, lending a hand when we can, explaining the intricacies of our sport, and coaching through the hard and lean times.

Working with young anglers that show an interest in a sport even some adults feel too complicated and difficult to be worth the effort is part of the reason Scott and I get such a kick out of coming to work each day.  It has little or nothing to do with the selling aspect of retail, but rather the part of playing teacher when necessary.  Everybody can learn something but the younger folks are more open to the world and have minds capable of soaking up every tidbit and morsel to develop their own opinions and skills.

We’ve been lucky enough to have a great group of customers, and what we would now consider friends, visit us over the years, none of which embody what is good with today’s young anglers more than Austin and Jeff; two young men that came into the shop every once in a while after they got done at the skate park.  They had a budding interest in fly fishing and were willing to listen, learn, practice, and persevere.  They were hooked before they ever got their first fish on fly and their obsession has gotten more intense over the past five or six years.  It’s hard to believe they first came into the shop while in their early teens and now they’re productive members of society with jobs, girlfriends and high aspirations for the future.

We’ve recently had a chance to fish with both of them and it’s wonderful to see the skill they both possess at such a young age, but it is kind of depressing when I look at how late I took to the sport.  I can only imagine how much more skillful I would be had there been someone to start me along the path at their age.  My young friend Tanner is another that shows a great deal of fly angling potential, but he has so many interests that dedicating time to one or the other is tough right now.  Rest assured that he’ll come back to his roots when the time’s right.  Fly fishing stays in your blood forever and everyone comes back eventually, even if it takes nearly a lifetime to realize what you’ve been missing.

We’re not the only ones trying to get kids into fishing and provide a good example.  Anglers for Conservation and their Hook Kids on Fishing Program shows youngsters the joy of angling and gets them outdoors and away from the computer screens.  They understand that living means experiencing, not reading about or watching secondhand.  They also teach ethics and responsible use of the resources which is necessary if the sport is to survive and grow.  We can all do our own little part.

Being employed in a fly shop is about more than selling equipment, stocking shelves, and rigging lines for people.  It’s about mentoring the next generation of fly fishermen.  It’s about celebrating their successes, sharing their failures, and encouraging them towards future angling adventures.  Austin, Jeff, Tanner, and all the others we’ve helped over the years are on the right track and we’re glad to have played a small part.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Florida's Fabulous Canoe and Kayak Trails

Hell's Bay Canoe TrailLittle did I suspect that when I got my wife her first kayak we’d be searching for so many out of the way creeks, bays, lakes, and waterways to explore and get some exercise.  Nor did I envision how much she would enjoy paddling along getting some sun without a care in the world while I fished to my heart’s content.

Florida is surrounded and covered by water bodies of every type and almost all of it can be traversed by watercraft of one type or another, but how do you know where to go?  Theresa and I found a trail guide while we were in Flamingo a few weeks ago that takes some of the mystery out of where to go.  The Fabulous Florida Canoe and Kayak Trail Guide gives in depth descriptions of a huge number of marked and unmarked trails across the state.  The trails range from those that only take a few hours to explore to some that require a bit more preparation and maybe even overnight or extended camping to complete.  The trail descriptions are quite helpful and the photographs make us want to explore more and more locations across the state.

We’ve started checking various trails off our list and I think we started with one of the most interesting I’ve ever been on.  The Hell’s Bay Canoe Trail in Flamingo proved to be truly challenging for my fledgling kayaker who spent a lot of time backing out of the mangroves she errantly steered into after missing a hairpin turn (or three).  I really enjoyed sharing the experience with her and fully expect to hit the water quite a bit more in the years to come.  We’ll be getting some much needed exercise and exploring the state’s splendid waterways at the same time.

Bluegill on the trailWe’re quite lucky to live in a part of the world with greatly varied climates and landscapes, making for some extremely interesting exploratory adventures.  Despite its relative flatness, Florida has highly diverse terrain and waterways, ensuring that we never run out of interesting places to spend our days off with loved ones.  Springs, creeks, rivers, lakes, estuaries, and marine water of every type can be explored just a short drive from where you live so there’s no excuse for not loading up and hitting the water.  Get out there and paddle your way across the state because you’re sure to see and experience things you would have otherwise missed had there been a motor attached to your boat.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Everglades National Park

Few places truly embody what nonresidents envision when you mention Florida than the Everglades and The Everglades National Park, and I’ve finally been able to spend some time camping, hiking, and kayaking through the seemingly endless grasslands, the cypress forests, mangrove swamps, and marine grass flats of “The River of Grass.”

Head south through the city of Homestead, Florida that was nearly wiped out by Hurricane Andrew back in 1992, turn onto Highway 9336, and it won’t take long before you’re totally lost in a vast region of nothingness and limited cell signals.  There isn’t a better place to get away from everything and experience natural Florida the way it was when inhabited by only the indigenous tribes.  Just imagine what it was like for the original settlers, the Florida “Crackers,” when they carved their path across the state.  There isn’t much to maintain your ties to civilization after stepping off the concrete ribbon leading from the entrance gate to the Flamingo campgrounds.

The wildlife variety is absolutely amazing and for the bird watchers among us, there can’t be a better location to view a more varied species list.  Wood Stork, Osprey, Black Vulture, Turkey Buzzard, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Ibis, Limpkin, Swallowtail Kite, all manner of hawks, and water birds abound in the skies, the swamps, and grass fields.  Florida Panther, American Alligator, Crocodile, Whitetail Deer, Raccoon, Otter, Eastern Indigo Snake, and many others hide in plain sight, just off the trail’s edge, so watch your step.  The fishing can be quite spectacular in both the fresh and saltwater sections of the park so be sure to take a couple rods rigged for everything from bass and bluegill to redfish and tarpon.  The plant life including wild orchids is spectacular but much of it takes an adventurous heart to experience since you can’t see everything from a parking lot.

Everglades

So take a trip south and experience what this state used to be like back in the days before computers, cell towers, high-rise hotels, and strip malls.  Commune with nature for a while and enjoy the peace and quiet of Everglades National Park.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Pictures That Spark A Memory

Easter Morning HookupSitting on a corner of the counter in the fly shop is an electronic picture screen upon which we run through pictures provided by our customers so they can share their successes and in some cases, such as in the case of partially eaten bonita, their failures.  First-time customers stop and watch them cycling through, commenting on the size of some fish, the expressions on the angler’s faces, and the beauty of the scenery, while at the same moment, they regale us with tales of their own.  We get to share the happening with each other and relive the ones we were fortunate to experience ourselves.

I sometimes get the chance to go through the pictures and daydream about the people I love, the fish I’ve landed, and the places I’ve visited over the last twenty years or so, and with each passing image, I can hear the water, smell the pungent air, or feel the warming rays of the sun falling on my shoulders.  It’s sure is amazing what a simple photograph can do!

One series of photos I’m lucky enough to have are those shot by a steelheading friend while we fished on the Rocky River in Ohio on a brisk Easter morning in 2010.  The day broke a bit foggy, but the air was crisp enough to remind me it was still just early spring.  As the sun rose above the valley rim, I thought to myself, this is exactly where I was meant to be on Easter Sunday, and even if I wasn’t blessed enough to hook a fish, I should count myself lucky to have been able to spend the time on the water with close friends while we pursued an amazing quarry surrounded by such perfect beauty.  I handed Luke my camera and asked him to take a few shots of me while I casted a bit since I’ve got a myriad of shots of other people fishing but none of myself.  Wouldn’t you know it?  I actually hooked a powerful Lake Erie Steelhead while he was taking pictures.  It fought with all the strength and stamina these fish are known for and when it finally gave in to my pressure and came to hand, it caused me to have a heart stopping moment of revelation.  This is why we spend so much time on the water, and if for some reason I had to hang up the fly rod, that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing.

Easter Morning SteelheadNow I relive that exact moment each time I see that fish in all its wild glory, frozen in time forever, even though he was released to fight another day.  Pictures taken while in the moment, whether good or bad, keep the memories fresh and vibrant so that when we need a reminder of times past, we need look no further than a photo album, or a computer screen.  So take as many pictures as possible to document your life and that of your loved ones, so you can share the experience with others and relive those precious moments when the time is right.

This Blog is dedicated to a close family friend who lost his son today after many years of illness and hardship.  He did everything he could for the young man during good times and bad, and would have continued to do so if their time together hadn’t been cut short.  I only hope that Tim has a voluminous library of photographs to thumb through when he needs a reminder of the good moments they had together.  Maybe they’ll take him back to those times and places so the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions they experienced flood back as if they occured only yesterday.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you my friend.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Did You Remember To Pack The.....?

Go ahead and fill in the blank with any fishing, hunting, camping, or travel related item and I’ll bet we can come up with a couple thousand miscellaneous things we wish we wouldn’t have left on the kitchen counter, on the garage floor, or hanging in the closet.

I long ago adopted the mentality that I wouldn’t be the knucklehead wishing he hadn’t forgotten his boots like Stan in “The Deer Hunter,” and thankfully (knock on wood), I haven’t been that guy very many times.  Michael (played by the inimitable Robert De Niro) gave Stan one heck of a tongue lashing because it seems to have been a habit for him.  “Plan Carefully…..Execute Violently” is one of my favorite sayings and it applies pretty well to making trips or outings where resupply is difficult if not impossible.

My solution has always been to pack in phases and have staging areas for all the gear where I can take stock of the equipment to ensure that everything is accounted for.  And this has worked pretty well for the time being but it has gotten more difficult as my wife and I include more and more gear for each trip.  About the only problem we’ve ever encountered with my packing is the unwavering desire to pack more than necessary, which results in mountains of equipment in every corner of the house for about two weeks leading up to the outing.  There has to be a better answer.

Creating a list on the computer that’s flexible enough to be modified as necessary seems to be the way to go for our trips, and so far it seems to be working fairly well.  My wife has created a series of spreadsheets listing the equipment we plan on taking and she’ll print the list, then check off each item as it’s added to the staging piles.  Simple, smart, and efficient if you ask me.  We’ve even gotten to the point of dedicating storage containers and shelf space to the gear related to a specific activity.  It sure limits the need to search the entire house for a sleeping bag, hiking staff, or flats booties when you know right where they should be.  It also makes it easier to determine when gear needs to be replenished or replaced.

So, take it from a obsessive planner and over packer…  Make a list of things you need to gather for your next trip.  It may seem like a “no-brainer,” but how many of us actually follow our own advice?  Now if I could only make a list of flies to take instead of just taking all of them…

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

 

 

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Let The Smoking Begin!

PigsAbout a year ago a couple of friends and myself ventured upon a wild pig hunt in south central Florida and harvested some of the ugliest and least appealing wild game I’ve ever taken.  But regardless of what we thought our quarry looked like, we had high hopes for what it was going to taste like once we got it home.

Let me say this….  Wild pigs do not taste even remotely similar to the pork you purchase at the corner market or butcher shop.  There’s an obvious gamey taste that needs to be tamed before it’s truly palatable for anyone with sensitive taste buds.  We tried cooking some of the backstraps and shoulders on the grill, in the oven, in a crock pot, on a stick, with a boot….  You name it we tried it, But now we know the secret.

Lots of tasty smoke.

We gave a friend some of the last pieces we had in the freezer (well sealed in FoodSaver bags), and let me tell you….  That pork turned out so well I almost ate myself sick.  Moist, flavorful, with just a hint of wild made it scrumptious.  A dusting of seasoning salt from The Spice and Tea Exchange in Annapolis would have capped it off perfectly but who’s complaining when compared to the results my wife and I had been getting.  This is what man was trying to accomplish ever since he first tried warming up his kill with fire.

All I have to say at this point is look out 4 Rivers Smokehouse, I’m coming for you and with the huge number of pigs roaming the countryside, there’s no shortage of meat to cook.  All I need now is a smoker, a book titled “Smoking For Dummies,” a lot of time to experiment and perfect my technique, and a freezer full of pork.

Don’t worry… I’m on a first name basis with the local firemen ever since the “Great Spam Debacle.”  “Disconnect the fire alarms Honey, cuz Daddy’s cookin with fire tonight!”

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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The Most Productive Fly Ever?

A Box of ClousersIf you were stranded on an island surrounded by your choice of fresh or salt water, what one fly would you choose to have along with your favorite rod?  This is a question we often ask ourselves in the shop while surrounded by hundreds of flies that are meant to catch fish just about as well as they catch fishermen’s attention.  Each and every one was designed to produce, but many of them are so specific that put in the wrong conditions, they would be just about worthless except in catching a blind fish with no sense of what his natural prey should be.  What makes a good fly?  What makes a fly universally fishable?

Fishermen have asked the same questions since the first fly was attached to the end of a leader and the first fish was landed.  But even today we still haven’t decided what the end-all, be-all best fly to have on hand in most situations might be.  I know two would top my list after 17 years of throwing, and I’m sure there are more than a few folks that would agree with my choices.

The Clouser Minnow in all its iterations is probably the most productive fly overall ever created and we have Bob Clouser to thank for his ingenuity.  He developed the fly to fish for smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania without realizing that it would be a productive pattern on just about anything that swims in fresh or salt.  Thanks to Lefty Kreh, the Clouser Minnow became a legend overnight, and proved itself on the water for years to come.  I’ve landed more varied species on Clouser variants than any other fly in my box because I have faith, and it works.  Even though it doesn’t really imitate anything specific, it approximates just about everything when tied with the right materials and colors.

The Wooly Bugger is another fly that has gained a loyal freshwater following but did you know that it’s productive in saltwater as well, and there are plenty of flies loosely based on it?  The Crystal Schminnow we know and love bears a striking resemblance to a Crystal Bugger outfitted with mono eyes.  Regardless of what it looks like, it sure catches fish of varied types, especially snook along the beach.  Even a wooly bugger tied in the traditional manner will catch just about anything that swims if you use the appropriate hooks.

So to borrow a phrase spoken by Sean Connery in one of my favorite movies, “There can be only one!” Which would you choose if stranded on an island?  I know my box will contain a Clouser Minnow, or a Wooly Bugger because I know I'll be catching fish.  What color should it be?  That's a question for another day.

 

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Discovering Florida Birdlife

LimpkinI have a cousin currently on what just about any nature lover would call a dream excursion to the jungles of Costa Rica in search of strange and exotic birdlife.  While I, on the other hand lead a pretty boring existence here in Florida, dreaming of someday visiting an exotic location like Costa Rica, Panama, or Brazil; where the birdlife is truly amazing, rare, and in some cases, endangered.

He and I both have a love of birds and other wildlife that I believe we got from our grandparents who shared their passion without knowing it.  Our grandmother had a book of Pennsylvania birdlife that I used to thumb through on a regular basis, and which I now hold as one of my dearest treasures of my childhood and my time with her, thanks to my aunt who held onto the book for many years without really knowing why.  Anyway, that book of birds illustrated by Pennsylvania native, Ned Smith, opened my eyes to the avian world and fostered an appreciation for wild song birds, waterfowl, upland game, and all the others.

Now, living in Florida, I’ve come to realize how lucky I am to have this huge variety of fowl right outside my door.  My old book doesn’t quite cut it anymore since we don’t have pheasant, grouse, and Canada geese, but their place has been taken by a plethora of others like the scrub jay, brown pelican, caracara, bobwhite quail, roseate spoonbill, swollow-tailed kite, sandhill crane, and limpkin.  Each has a special place in Florida’s landscape whether it’s on the seashore, the flood plains, the scrub fields, or the pine forests, and I enjoy finding each and every one. 

Seeing visitors from the north is another great thing about residing here in the Sunshine State, where northern birds migrate through on their way to warmer climates.  Some, like the green wing teal and white pelican, stop here for the winter; while others are just passing through and their stopping here is just a waypoint along the eastern flyway.  Either way, our bird numbers remain quite high throughout the winter (not including the snowbirds of a different species), making this the perfect time for birding across the state.

Black-crowned Night HeronI’ll bet there are many people out there that can’t comprehend how a hunter can have affection for the game animals he/she will be pursuing later in the season, but I believe we are some of the most dedicated supporters of wildlife.  We’ve just come to appreciate both the beauty of the animals while alive and the sustenance and variety they provide as part of our meals.  And, by the way, our license fees go towards land purchases and management infrastructure that benefits all wildlife, not just those we hunt.

Florida is a bird lover’s paradise with more species inhabiting our varied habitats than many other places on the planet.  Winter especially provides a wonderful time to view our seasonal visitors, so grab your binoculars, your Audubon Society Field Guide To North American Birds.  Get out there, hear their songs, and marvel at their grace before they return home for the summer.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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American Shad Season 2014 On The St. Johns River

Shad Fishing the St. Johns RiverShad season is hitting its stride right about now and fishermen are doing pretty well when they can find the fish.  I've caught a few very nice ones but the season seems to have taken a strange turn by having peaked a bit earlier than expected and while the fishing quality is still there, the quantities aren't what we've come to expect after the last few seasons.  There are some that call shad "Florida's Salmon" which means anyone who likes to catch strong, migratory species needs to give it a try at the very least. 

On the brighter side, we've had the opportunity to introduce some new folks to the joys of fishing the St. Johns River at this time of year and the wonderful variety that's possible.  I had a chance to share with a customer and now friend a couple days ago and he's surely to venture back on his own given the success he found along this wonderful waterway.  John and I meandered along the straights and bends of the river for a few hours this past week and learned a few things about the waterway and each other, which makes time on the water that much more enjoyable.  We chatted about all things fishy, from flies and rods to the places we have been fortunate enough to visit.  He's a budding "big water" fly fisherman, so casting at a distance is still somewhat of a challenge, but he stuck with it and landed some wonderful fish, including a beautiful hybbrid striped bass (albeit on a spinning rod), and an enormous american shad.  Beginner's luck must have had something to do with it.  Either way, we had a great time and I expect to spend more time together on the fresh and salt water.

John's Big American ShadMy favorite thing about shad season is the variety of fish species available if you just take some time away from casting for the main target.  Bluegill, warmouth, crappie, bass, hybrids, catfish, and many others are possible if you just take a little time to get out of the main channel and explore the out of the way spots.  Scott absolutely blasted a reed line full of crappie just to prove he could catch fish better than me a couple weeks ago.  I didn't stick around to watch the fun, but I could hear him yelling "FISH ONNNN!" from quite a ways away.

Kayaking across this section of river is a very enjoyable way to venture around, especially if you want to take your time and fish as you go.  Every sand bar and channel potentially holds fish, so stopping regularly to ply the water is recommended if you expect success and are willing to take whatever happens your way.  With so many types of cover and water structure available a kayak allows you the luxury of stealth and being able to get close.  You also get a chance at some exercise.

This season has been a little tougher than the last couple but it has proven to be a succesfull one anyway.  We've all caught some nice fish, making the effort well worth the rewards and I can gaurantee we'll all be back next year for another go during shad season 2015   

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando 

    

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Staying Toasty in the Frozen North

16 Mile Creek

Winter fishing in the Great Lakes region brings up some problems we don’t normally have down south, namely; snow, ice, and temperatures well below freezing.  Deciding what kind and how much clothing I should take was one of the most pressing problems for me while preparing for my last trip.  And I really don’t care how many pairs of shorts or Columbia short sleeve fishing shirts you put on, standing in freezing water while dressed improperly would be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

Getting a new pair of waders made of neoprene would have been a good idea but budgetary constraints wouldn’t allow for a complete refit of equipment.  So looking into some quality layering materials seemed to be the most fiscally responsible route to take for a once every few years type of trip.  Thank to modern technology and layering materials I was able to remain toasty while fishing in temperatures between 14 and 24 degrees.

Now before anyone starts saying that I sound like an info-mertial on TV, I don’t normally write about specific products, but in this case I think they really proved to be worth the money, and a few words of recommendation.

The real trick seemed to be choosing the right combination of clothes starting with a base layer of Redhead Enduraskin, then a layer of Redhead XPS 2.0 Midweight Thermals, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, and finally an outer jacket with a quilted liner.  Mobility wasn’t too bad despite six layers trying to maintain a core temperature somewhere above freezing.  I’ve found in subsequent usage that the Redhead shirts make for great casual dress underlayers on cooler days here in Florida.  They insulate well, breathe to allow perspiration out, and are so light that I really don’t notice that I’m wearing anything extra.  The XPS Thermals come in multiple weights allowing you to choose from a 1.0 Baselayer for moderate to cool temperatures, up to a 4.0 Extreme for severe cold and prolonged exposure.

Elk Creek SteelheadMy toes could have been a bit warmer but that was more a function of needing properly sized boots that would have allowed for more effective layering.  So take it from me when I say that you need to allow for additional socks when purchasing boots to go with your stocking foot waders.  Otherwise, my legs were fairly warm inside the waders with a pair of medium weight pants and a layer of 3.0 Expedition weight thermals.

So, hopefully someone will benefit from my recent adventures into the frozen north and can find some quality layering gear that will keep them toasty on even the coldest days on the water or in the field.  Stay comfortable by shopping smart and trade up so some of the modern materials available on the market today.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Hometown Winter Steelhead

Elk Creek SteelheadingPart of taking up fly fishing is trying to figure out all the different fly combinations and methods for delivering them to the water and hopefully the fish that live there.  Dry fly, indicator, high-stick nymphing, streamer, hopper/dropper, bottom bouncing, popper, chuck-and-duck, swinging, and a few others are methods developed to fit a particular circumstance, location, or fish species.  Little did I know that fly fishing would require learning a whole bunch of knots and a bunch of ways to lose the flies I worked so hard to tie.

I recently took a trip to my home waters of Erie, Pennsylvania to catch up with family members over Christmas break, and to hook some fresh Lake Erie Steelhead if possible.  I’d never tried winter steelheading in the past, so I did a lot of reading up on the subject before packing my vest with tons of useless junk.  The Steelhead Guide by John Nagy, and Great Lakes Steelhead, Salmon, & Trout by Karl Weixlmann became my bibles for a month or so before hitting the road.  Part of the problem though is not knowing how the weather is going to affect the water.  The conditions can change drastically; ranging from free-flowing and clear, high and muddy (blown out), and ultimately, frozen solid.  Your fly type has to change accordingly and the presentation style must follow suit.  Winter fishing is mainly a nymphing or egging prospect with tandem rigs drifted below strike indicators.  In other words totally foreign to me.  We don’t have to use splitshot or strike indicators in saltwater.  What the heck is mending anyway?

Elk Creek SteelheadI left home with 180 flies but still bought more once reaching the northern waters, and guess what….  The ones I tied worked wonderfully.  I had experimented with a few nymphs that combined some desirable features of other stock patterns and they proved killers on the only day I actually got to fish productive conditions.  Every fish I hooked over the course of the day (nine), and ultimately landed (3) were hooked while utilizing a presentation style I’d never tried before, on flies I tied myself.  More would have been landed had I paid attention to the chapter on fighting steelhead differently than you do tarpon.

There’s a great deal of satisfaction in catching fish with a fly rod and even more when you learn a new and productive method for delivering the fly.  Never stop learning and never stop trying to create your own unique patterns.

 

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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