IFFF Florida Council Conclave October 11 & 12, 2014

Set aside some time during the second week of October to visit with folks that have truly devoted themselves to a hobby that soon becomes a way of life for those with a bit of dedication and perseverance just like you did.

The Florida Council of the International Federation of Fly Fishers is holding its annual conclave October 11th and 12th in Crystal River, Florida and you owe it to yourselves to take a day away from the pressures of every day life to see what's going on with the sport and explore what the council is doing to promote it and the opportunities we sometimes take for granted here in our home state.  Bob Clouser (arguably one of the most innovative tiers of our generation) and Wanda Taylor headline the event but there are so many other things going on that you'll quickly lose track of time while exploring all the exhibits and visiting with other anglers with similar passions.

Here are a few of the seminars and exhibits taking place at the conclave: 

  • "IFFF-certified fly casting instructors and fly tiers teaching their skills."
  • "Hands-on clinics, demonstrations and workshops include instruction for beginning through advanced fly casters, outdoor photography classes, fly fishing techniques, building first-aid kits for boat and trail, tying effective new fly patterns, fly casting accuracy and distance and much more."
  • "Florida Fly Fishing Expo also offers resource-awareness exhibits and indoor and outdoor and displays of the newest fly rods, reels, lines, clothing, kayaks, and other gear."

 

As you see there should be more than enough to keep you and your family entertained while possibly teaching everyone a thing or two.  I think every fly angler can agree that they never stop growing and expanding their horizons, and the council is here to help along the way.  Saver your pennies between now and then so you can join everyone at this year's event.  Maybe I'll see you there.

 

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Riding In Cars With Dogs

Drive down the highway in any metropolitan area across the country and you’re sure to see something that’s an increasing trend and hazard on the roadways according to many experts and lawmakers.  I’m talking about drivers who allow their pets to roam freely around the car while driving, or even worse, letting them sit in their lap as they try to keep their attention on the road.  We have to admit that it’s highly unlikely that those drivers are much better off than those that still insist on texting whether it’s at 75 miles an hour on the interstate or in bumper to bumper traffic.

I did some research on the subject and found that it’s actually illegal in a couple of states to have a dog on your lap/unrestrained in the car, and a good bunch of other states will issue “Distracted Driver” citations if they notice you driving erratically and they suspect that your “attention” is more focused on the animal than the road.  I did find where it is illegal to have a dog in the bed of a truck unless it’s restrained (tethered to the bed) by at least two attachment points, or in a crate or box that’s affixed to the bed.  Now you tell me how many times you’ve seen some pooch running from rail to rail in a truck bed while the driver rolls down the highway.

I know we all love our dogs and want them to be free to move around but most of these same people wouldn’t even consider letting a child ride unrestrained, yet they allow another member of the family to do the same.  The laws of physics are pretty straight forward on the matter, turning Fifi or Fido into a furry missile when involved in a collision, potentially causing injury to themselves or the other passengers.  I was once involved in a rollover accident wherein our young Beagle “Brandy” was ejected through a side window.  Let me tell you that the mental scars were just as bad if not worse for her as a result of being unceremoniously thrown into oncoming traffic on I-79 in Pennsylvania.  We should be protecting our pets by restraining them the same way we would any other member of the family.

There are a great many products available to provided restraint or control while our pets are riding in the car with us and it’s in everyone’s interest that we investigate the options.  Crates, carriers (even crash test proven), harnesses, leashes, barriers, and all kinds of other things meant to protect our pet while in the car, keep them out of our laps, and our attention on the road.

I wish I could issue citations to drivers that allow their dogs to sit in their laps or roam uncontrolled in the cars, but since that’s not possible, maybe this little essay will get people to spread the word about the dangers to both themselves and their pets.  I’ll do my best to make sure my girls come up with a travel solution for their animals since I know my wife and I would be very upset if anything happened to our “Grandpuppys.”

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Practice Makes Proficient

Coaching new casters has provided a great deal of satisfaction for all of us in the fly shop but as anyone could guess, there are days when nothing seems to go right with the student’s casting other than their aptitude for tying the neatest and tightest wind knots humanly possible.  Eventually someone has to ask “How long does it take to become a good caster?” 

I truly believe that skill with a fly rod is one of the most rewarding endeavors I’ve ever taken on and even after nearly 20 years with a fly rod in hand at least a few hours each week, there’s a long way to go to reach the level of skill I hope to ultimately achieve.  I tell everyone that you never stop getting better (given a certain level of dedication) and your stroke is constantly evolving, for better or for worse.  But there is one absolute when it comes to casting that it took quite a while for me to figure out.

Practice Makes Proficient!  Not “Perfect” mind you because perfect doesn’t leave any room for further growth or improvement, and besides, I don’t think anyone is perfect no matter how talented.  Every one of us will occasionally chuck a fly right into the tightest tangle of bushes, just like the number one golfer in the world is bound to shank one into the woods.  The best we can hope for is to avoid doing it on a regular basis.

Practicing off the water or at least with the fish removed from the equation is the only way to gain skill and build the muscle memory needed to be able to put the fly where you want it in more than a random manner.  Accuracy, distance, control, and stroke variety need to be practiced without having to worry about what the fish are doing while the fly is in the water.  Actually fishing instead of practicing is what kept me from excelling quicker as a fly angler and I only wish I had spent more time on grass in combination with time on the water.

In order to get the most out of your casting sessions, focus on specific skills you’ll need or situations you might encounter.  Place particular emphasis on the situations that provide the greatest amount of difficulty like roll casting in cover, reaching back under mangroves or docks, threading the needle between trees, landing the fly within inches of your target, or even reaching out there and touching a distant fish.  Just be sure to focus your efforts on a particular outcome and don’t just throw the fly.

Evaluating ability can take the form of competition if you create some obstacles to cast around or some targets to hit.  Hoola Hoops, traffic cones, Frisbees and other household objects can provide some variety to your time on the lawn as can PVC piping glued together to form interesting casting situations.  Ultimately, there are organized (yet low key) tournaments put together, like the Tampa Bay Fly Fishing Club’s “Big Gun Shootout,” where you can test your abilities to the maximum. The simulated situations they create will eventually occur on the water if you stick with it long enough so putting some pressure on yourself to perform on the grass will give you a sense of  “Déjà vu” when you try to hit the mark on the water.

Skill of any type comes with time and not just from having equipment capable of performing the task, although that is part of the game.  Hit the water with all the weapons ready to go and your time will be better spent.  More fishing will be possible even under less than favorable conditions, and more fish will come to hand in the end.  I promise that your level of satisfaction will continue to increase as does your ability, and pretty soon, newcomers will be saying to their buddies, “I sure hope I can cast like him some day.”

 

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Sometimes Size Does Matter

People say some interesting things when they stop in the fly shop like “They pay you to work here?  I’d do it for free” and “What’s the best fly for carp?”  But one of my personal favorites happens when folks pick up one of the size 20 Zebra Midges and exclaim “What do you catch on these tiny things?”  That inquiry normally comes from bass fisherman who’ve grown accustomed to hooking fish with a mouth large enough to swallow a softball or a small duck, depending on which one its overly large appetite can handle.  It doesn’t seem to occur to some that you don’t need an overly large fly/hook to land some truly gigantic fish.

Flies come in all different sizes depending on a couple different factors including 1) The size of the quarry, 2) the size of the prey you’re imitating.  But you don’t necessarily need to throw gigantic objects to catch gigantic fish since many times going smaller can lead to bigger results.  All you need to do is look at the diet of the predator, the prevalent food items, and then match it to a hook capable of holding onto the fish once you’ve hooked up.  It might have taken a monstrous hook to hold onto a fish weighing over 200 pounds back in the day when hooks were made of weaker, less robust metals, but today with the modern forged and chemically sharpened hook materials, we can go lighter and smaller; leading to smaller and more lifelike and imitative flies.

Just take a look at the two flies in the picture above.  They are the largest and smallest flies currently in my fly collection.  The streamer (tied for near shore shark fishing) is on a forged 7/0 Gamakatsu Inline Octopus Circle.  That hook is more than large enough to grab hold of and remain latched to the sharks I’d chase off Cape Canaveral provided I can get them to eat in the first place, hence the large and colorful material.  You need to get them interested in a pretty substantial meal in order to entice a strike.  The size 14 Wired Caddis on the other hand is meant to imitate as specific size and species of bug that trout would be snacking on regularly, so as a result, the material is lighter and less bulky; and the chosen hook is appropriate for remaining attached after the strike.

Although the 7/0 fly is quite large in the grand scheme of “normal” fly fishing, a size 14 isn’t even considered “small” by trout fishing standards.  Dry flies are routinely tied on hooks as small as size 22, while nymphs and emergers like a WD-40 that imitate midges may be tied as small as size 24 (and possibly smaller).  Now THAT is small indeed.  Tippet size must be decreased down to 7X or even 8X just to thread through the eye, and I don’t even know if I could tie a knot in material that light. Rigs of this diminutive size are obviously meant for small trout, light rods, and highly technical presentations.

What about throwing small flies for big fish?  Tarpon well beyond 100 pound can be caught on flies tied on hooks as light as #1 or 1/0 depending on the material so don’t be afraid of lightening up.  You don’t have much choice but to find a lightweight but strong option when the prey item is small like a Palolo worm in the Florida Keys, or a glass minnow along the east coast beaches.  Scale the hook size up as you approach mullet, pinfish, or herring size imitations, using a model that offers just the right amount of shank length, strength, and weight so as to make an effective fly presentation. 

Fish will eat (or at least “try” to eat) just about anything small enough to fit in their mouths so it’s quite likely that your target’s diet is quite diverse whether you know it or not.  Seasonal favorites provide variety and you need to be ready if you expect to enjoy success year round.  Tie flies in numerous sizes and see what works.   Make sure the lifelike imitations are scaled to match the real thing and use a hook that provides a good platform for fly construction and the strength to land the big one.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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The Reel Florida Boys of Summer

Summer’s truly here and with the coming of the heat, whole bunch of premiere species rise to the top of the heap when it comes to fun and excitement.  Specifically Snook and Tarpon!  Even though they’re available somewhere in Florida year-round, summertime means that those of us in the central part of the state don’t have to travel too far from home to find and catch them.

Snook are one of the most sought after species available to the inshore angler and people travel from around the world to chase something we sometimes take for granted.  I’m sure some folks have changed their attitudes after the winter freezes of 2010 and 2011 when hundreds of thousands of snook died due to the plummeting water temperatures.  I think a lot more people appreciate the fishery we have close to home.

Although they really don’t “migrate” in the traditional sense of the word, snook do move around a bit as the seasons change.  They range from the backcountry creeks to the flats, then passes and beaches, and ultimately returning to the backwaters they call their winter home.  Hitting them along the beach is absolutely one of my favorite fisheries of the year.  And let’s get one thing straight, Florida has a lot of beaches to fish.  True snook anglers prefer the beaches from Cocoa Beach south on the east coast and Honeymoon Island south on the west.  These waters are warm enough to sustain a healthy population and they have deep-water brackish creeks for the snook to find shelter in the winter.  Nothing beats walking along the beach in Sanibel on the lookout for some baitfish or a yellow fin, black lateral line, or conspicuous black eye.

Finding the tarpon can be a pretty easy deal but the catching on the other hand can be quite difficult even for folks that know exactly what they’re doing.  I’m not one of those guys so I count myself lucky each and every time I hook into on land one of the most acrobatic fish in the sea.  Tarpon are near the top of my list of favorites so when they start surfacing you can bet your last dollar that my phone will be busy searching them out.

The big boys start showing up sometime in May as they migrate north along both coasts, hot on the heels of the baitfish schools, and in preparation for the spring spawn.  They may or may not stop for very long so guys have to be prepared to hit the water quickly when the word hits the street.  West coast sandbars are favorites among fly anglers, while bait and artificial anglers do pretty well along the east coast.  The summer fish that we chase though are the little guys that live here year-round in the ditches and canals lining the intercoastal waterway islands and peninsulas.

Those little guys can range from about the size of medium largemouth to a thirty or forty pounds so a wide range of tackle can be used depending on the anticipated size and location.  Five weights through nine weights seem to cover the range well enough so it can be kept pretty simple.  Getting one to eat is the trick though since we all have a tendency to throw flies that are much larger than necessary, but we’re learning to down size accordingly so the success rates are pretty good when folks hit the water on the right day.  Jumping (hooking, catching air, then losing a fish) five or six fish in an afternoon is quite possible, while landing two or three of those is considered a good day.

We all look forward to summer and the fun and increased fishing opportunities it brings, including the tarpon and snook.  It would be great if they stuck around in fishable locations all year but kind of like Christmas, it wouldn’t be special if it happened year round.  We’re quite lucky to have them at all so take care of them and enjoy the sport they provide while the time lasts.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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"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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