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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When Is Enough....Enough?

Steelhead FliesAlthough this is somewhat a rhetorical question that’s unlikely ever to be adequately answered, my wife and I can’t stop asking how many flies I need to take with me on a steelhead trip.

The answer for this winter’s trip…180.  Seems like a nice round number for three days of fishing and luckily I only need to lose 60 per day in order to run out during the trip.  I have wooly buggers, egg sucking leaches, zonkers, nymphs, minnows, traditional steelhead patterns, sucker spawn, eggs, and many, many others that have all been tied with love and care just for the opportunity of hooking into a single Lake Erie Steelhead.

Why would anyone go through the trouble of tying or purchasing this many flies?  Well, fly fishermen are an optimistic yet superstitious bunch who hope for the best but plan for the worst.  Which means we can never carry just one of any pattern since it might be just the one that trips a fish’s trigger, and if we donate it to the surrounding foliage or a submerged rock, the trip cannot be halted for lack of a fly.  So it stands to reason that if one is good, two is better, and three or four of each is stupendous.  Never mind the fact that color might have something to do with it.

MysticI take stock of the flies I have on hand before each trip and will usually tie some new patterns and colors hoping that I’ll come up with a new secret weapon to use on the water since there’s nothing better than having your buddy sheepishly ask what fly you seem to be slaying the fish with.  It has to be something totally new and unique that way you can rub it in and ask for an exorbitant amount of money for just one colorful gem.  “What do you mean you don’t have one of these mottled Mystic Steelhead Nymphs dubbed with the fluffy belly hair of a tortoise colored Hemingway cat?”  “That’ll be $6.00 please.”

Don’t worry, I’d never do that.  Or would I?

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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My Daisy BB Gun From Santa

Santa Mouse and My First GunI was thinking a few days ago about what Christmas movies I needed to watch over the next couple weeks and of course “A Christmas Story” came to mind (just a couple seconds before "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and "Die Hard"). 

I’ve always been able to identify with Ralphie and his obsession with having a Daisy Red Rider BB gun.  “You’ll put your eye out!” was everyone’s response including the mall Santa because they thought it was just too dangerous for a child to have. Everyone except his father of course. He knew what it meant to get your first gun even if it was only capable of killing cans or putting holes in a few paper targets. He understood that it was a rite of passage and much more than a toy.  Your Red Rider allowed you to imagine hunting Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, or even deepest darkest Africa.  It was capable of handling everything from viscious squirrels to the most dangerous Cape Buffalo and Kodiak Bear.

I still have my first BB gun and it sits alongside all my other firearms in the cabinet just like it should.  I can almost remember when my brother and I got our new guns for Christmas over 35 years ago.  Those gifts were the greatest things ever and I’m quite sure we slept with them the first few nights.  They were much loved and used to the point of near being worn out.  So much so that I’m sure my parents were driven nearly insane from the sound of “Click…..Creeeeeeek… Clack……..Pffft…Ping” of my brother and I shooting in the basement.  We had a miniature shooting range set up down there with boxes semi –full of newspaper for backstops that we could retrieve BB’s from rather than having to replenish our supply every week.  We went through reams of targets while growing up and practicing our shooting skills; and spent hours competing against each other for pretend titles and imaginary trophies.

Those first guns stoked our desire to get into the woods and fields in search of bigger game and greater challenges, while at the same time, teaching us how to take care of our possessions and of course, practice safe gun handling.  Whether it was a BB gun or the high powered rifles that came later, we were taught to treat them with equal care and respect.  We never came close to putting our eyes out (as far as anyone knows…).

The Daisy Red Rider is still on the wish list of many youngsters across the country and I can ‘t think of a better way to bring a smile to the face of a budding outdoorsman.  You might even discover the next Olympic champion shooter in your family.  Just be sure to pick up a healthy supply of BB’s and a lot of targets….You’re going to need them!

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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My Letter To Santa

My Letter To Santa

Dear Santa,

It’s that time of year again and I just started making my list of things I need.  “Want” is the more correct term according to some members of the family who shall remain unnamed.  Let’s just say they wear dresses, have long hair, and have more shoes to wear with black skinny jeans, than I have total.  Regardless of what we call it, there are a few things on my list this year.

  • 12’ 7weight Switch Rod.  I sure could use one even though I have no idea how to throw it.  Spey and TFO Deer Creek Switchswitch rod casting just looks so cool that I can’t be left out.  A bunch of guys and I plan on taking a trip to Michigan for salmon and steelhead and I figure it would be a great addition to my fly rod collection.  I guess while we’re talking about fly rods, we could add an 8’ 8weight for peacocks in Miami, an 8’6” 5weight for trout in Georgia, and a decent 9’ 10 weight for fishing the beach next fall.
  • New kayak:  Theresa really wants to join me a bit more on kayaking trips so putting a new one in my garage would be greatly appreciated.  If it just happened to be “TOO BIG” for her to handle that wouldn’t be a big disaster.  I’d just have to make the sacrifice and take it off her hands.  Oh yeah, she could use a new Bending Branches paddle, a high-back paddling seat with gel padding for my (I mean her tush), and a bunch of rod leashes so she doesn’t drop any rods overboard.
  • Thermal underwear:  After all these years of freezing my butt off while hunting or fishing in the cold weather, I’d really appreciate some warm clothes.  I still think my father believed the snowmobile suits we wore during deer season in Pennsylvania were “warm enough” for sub –zero temperatures.  Effective layering with micro fiber materials wasn’t around yet, but it’s still a wonder that he didn’t find me frozen to a tree like John Torrence in “The Shining.”  I’d have looked like a 13 year old, blaze orange creamsicle stuck to the base of a Hemlock tree on the first day of deer season.
  • 6’ Ultra-light action spinning rod:  Theresa wants to begin trout fishing and she could use a new rod.  I’ll make sure it works as advertised during the upcoming shad season so I won’t argue if you want to add it to my rod rack for safe keeping.
  • An AR-15:  Theresa is a bit concerned about home defense so she has been shopping for a weapon she M&P 15can use for repelling the attacking hordes whether they’re zombies or apocalyptic raiding parties.  Oh who am I kidding?  I want one too, so you may as well bring a matching pair.
  • Fly boxes:  Despite my best efforts to whittle down my fly collection, it continues to grow each month as I find more and more patterns to tie.  I’ve got a pretty sweet collection of flies for Giant Trevaly, and Golden Dorado even though there aren’t any in Florida and the prospects of making a trip to Seychelles or Argentina seems pretty remote right now.  You never know when they’ll come in handy.
  • A new Kindle:  I seem to have misplaced the last one and despite looking in all the normal places (the freezers, jelly cupboard, clothes hamper, the kayak hold, under the bed, under the truck seat, under the couch, on top of the refrigerator, etc…) I can’t seem to find it.
  • Hearing Aids!!!!:  These aren’t so much for me as for my loving wife.  She’s getting tired of repeating herself and I’m getting tired of her yelling.  At least then I can blame my not paying attention on the “DEAD” batteries.

Well Santa, you can see there are a few things on the list this year that would come in handy and I would be grateful if I got one or more of them.  I’ll even leave it up to you to decide which of the gifts would go the furthest towards maintaining family harmony so don’t feel any pressure.  Marriage counseling is much cheaper than it was 20 years ago.

I hope you and the family have a blessed holiday and a prosperous new year.  Be safe while gallivanting across roof tops and please wear your seatbelt while flying.  I’d hate to hear that you fell out of the sleigh while doing barrel rolls at 20,000 feet!

Thanks in advance for the gifts.  Oh, and by the way....  If you're looking to do some fishing in Florida once the holiday season is over, you could check out the fly shop newsletter for some nifty tips and info.  Not that I'm trying to move myself up the "NICE" list or anything.  But, every little bit helps.

Sincerely,

Brian

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Thanksgiving Food Traditions and Maggie's Gumbo

Granny StewartThanksgiving is right around the corner and for many of the people who are about to celebrate a uniquely American holiday, it seems to have become a day about football, pre-Christmas shopping, and trying not to set the house on fire with the turkey fryer.  You’d think folks have forgotten the more family and community oriented traditions synonymous with a holiday dedicated to giving thanks.

Growing up as I did in the north east, we spent our holiday with family and friends, and eventually settled down for a feast fit for any king’s table.  But before taking that first bite, we gave thanks for the bounty set before us, the people who prepared the meal , the family gathered together, those that were unable to join us but who nonetheless were in our hearts, and finally, for the country that we live in.

The food we ate was obviously a major part of the celebration and that hasn’t changed even though we now live 20 some odd hours away from grandma’s house instead of 20 miles.  We still celebrate the same things but the table is set with a combination of dishes from a northern flavor to those with a more southern flair.  Pies of every conceivable type were always my favorites and I’d have gladly given up the turkey and stuffing in favor of having one of her apple or pecan pies all to myself.  

The most recent addition to what I would consider the most perfect thanksgiving dinner is a personal favorite that should have been added to the table a long time ago, and that’s; Maggie’s Gumbo.  Gumbo is a staple of southern cuisine and Granny Stewart's recipe has been one of my obsessions ever since that first tasting a long time ago.  Crab, shrimp and many other tasty ingredients (Andouille Sausage is my contribution to the recipe if I get my way) are perfectly combined to produce a taste of home that really reminds me of the reasons we celebrate Thanksgiving in the first place.  We delight in the bounty we’ve been provided over the past year as well as the family members we love.  Maggie’s Gumbo is love in a bowl to put it bluntly, prepared with care and dedication just as she herself would have wanted.  She never had much while raising her children but there was never a lack of attention or love in any dish she prepared.  Her food preparation skills are nearly legendary on both sides of the Florida/Alabama border and I wish I’d had a chance to meet her as I’m sure we would have gotten along famously.

Gumbo W/RiceI’m sure there are plenty of outdoorsmen around whose Thanksgiving feasts include game they’ve taken whether it used to have fins, feathers, fur, or maybe even a shell.  There’s no reason you can’t include something unique along with standard even if you don’t have the opportunity to harvest the main dish yourself.  Try some fried fish, crab cakes, lobster, venison, goose, pheasant, rabbit, squirrel, buffalo, or some of Maggie’s Gumbo.  Make a new food tradition for your family and it could give you another reason to give thanks on this holiday.  Thanks Granny for the gumbo.

 

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Fishing Jacksonville Flood Tides

Scott Fishing Flood TideLike I’ve said in the past, Florida has more than its fair share of interesting fishing opportunities if you’re willing to drive a little ways from home.  My home base of Orlando allows me the luxury of reaching some superb fishing within just a few minutes, or if I want to make a trip of it a few hours.  Unfortunately though, there isn’t enough time to get everywhere and sample all the opportunities.  Now that my wife and I are empty-nesters, we have a little bit more freedom, and making these little jaunts is much easier than when we had to worry about getting the kids fed and to school on time.

Fishing Jacksonville on the flood tides is something I had only gotten the chance to do one other time, so when we noticed that the fall tides were going to be nearly six feet, my fishing partner and I just had to hit the road.  Redfish, black drum, sheepshead, and flounder were calling our names and we had multiple boxes of flies waiting to be thrown.  Unfortunately for us, the first “Noreaster” was blowing in and gale force winds were being called for in the open water, with rough conditions on the intercoastal.  None of that mattered though when we pulled up to the waterfront and spied mullet being blasted along the spartina grass edges.

Predators move up into the small creeks as the tide rises and then they’ll venture onto what was dry land only moments ago when the tide reaches its highest point.  They root around looking for small baitfish, shrimp, crabs, and snails that abound in the grass.  At times their bodies will be more out of the water than in.  After having read all this you’d almost think catching fish under these conditions would be a pretty simple matter?  Well think again! 

Redfish BittersBait was clinging to nearly every stalk of grass and there was an almost constant ticking of shells off the sides of our kayaks leading us to believe that fish should be feeding somewhere around us.  And they were!  Just not on the carefully prepared fly meals we had prepared.  Spoon flies and small crab/shrimp/snail imitations are necessary and we had a great selection of them available, but the extreme wind made casting a fly rod all but impossible.  The real trick of this fishery is to get the fly to the fish without hanging up in the grass, smacking it on the head, or landing too far away.  None of which I was able to accomplish on this most recent trip.

One of the best things about this particular location is the accessibility and relative protection of the surrounding landscape including the grass banks and creeks.  You can fish it from canoe, kayak, stand-up-paddleboard, or larger craft if your heart desires.  The water conditions can be exceptional even though the wind is howling above your head and ten-foot seas are of little consequence when moving across water that’s only one to two feet deep.  The Jax Kayak Fishing.com website has a pretty extensive list of launch sites throughout the area if you can’t find them on your own.  Check them out

The opportunity to experience the dramatic transformation of these tidal grass flats was the reason we made the drive even though the conditions and fish conspired against our prospects of having success.  Although we didn’t hook up this time, the tide will rise again tomorrow and it will be another chance to cash in on a very unique type of fly fishing.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Discover The Snakes of Florida

Milk SnakeI’ve always had a fascination for snakes even though many if not all of my friends and family didn’t share that enthusiasm.  My father for example was deathly afraid of them and had nightmares all through his adult life.  Thankfully I wasn’t afflicted with that particular phobia.  Now bugs on the other hand….  STAY AWAY!

Moving to Florida opened up a whole new world of serpents to me and although I don’t go wandering around in search of new legless friends to harass, I enjoy seeing them in the wild, provided we all mind our manners.  There are numerous species throughout central Florida that are not terribly friendly, if not outright dangerous, when cornered or threatened so it’s always best to exercise discretion when in their company.

The Eastern Diamondback has always held a special fascination for me because of its beauty, size, and potential lethality.  But that one species had eluded me despite spending many, many hours stomping through the brush, in the woods, and on the water.  I’ve seen Water Moccasins, Eastern Coral Snakes, Rat Snakes, Black Racers, Southern Water Snakes, Garter Snakes, Brown Snakes, Ring Necked Snakes, Corn Snakes, Hog Nosed Snakes, Milk Snakes, and even the elusive Eastern Indigo.  But the Diamondback continued to be kept from me.  I’m sure my wife is more than happy to remain ignorant to the number of them I’ve probably walked past without knowing it.

Eastern Diamondback RattlesnakeI’ve finally seen my snake.  Little did I know that I would have my encounter while in the kayak fishing for redfish and black drum in the spartina grass flats near Jacksonville.  Anyone that believes that rattlesnakes can’t swim needs a lesson in hydrodynamics because that boy was motoring across the flats like he was on a mission.  Until I got in his way that is.  He didn’t seem to mind taking a break while I snapped away, and believe me when I tell you that I would have repelled boarders with extreme prejudice had the snake attempted to hitch a ride.  My intrusion lasted just long enough to take some photos and then with a wave farewell, he continued on his way towards the near shoreline.

Snakes are truly beautiful creatures that serve a very important role within the wild kingdom and I hate to hear of anyone killing them unnecessarily.  I understand that things happen when everyone doesn’t mind their P’s &Q’s but as long as we respect each other’s space, there’s no reason we all can’t get along.  They aren’t evil, or slimy, but rather they are superb examples of evolutionary success.  Visit the Reptile World Serpentarium if you’d like to conquer your fears before finding them in the wild.  I hope you all learn to appreciate them as much as I do.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Exploring Florida's Trails

Trailhead EntranceDecreasing fall temperatures bring about a sense of restlessness within me and an ever increasing desire to hit the woods in search of game for the table or to just enjoy a bit of exercise without dying of heat stroke.  I know you folks up north think 80 degrees is still pretty hot, but for Florida residents, a 10 to 15 degree drop in temperature almost feels like a cold spell.

My wife and I are always looking for new and interesting places to take walks together and autumn reminds us both of some of our first days afield together in Pennsylvania.  We pursued deer, squirrels, and doves while hunting but down here, we’ve tried to find wild areas within a short drive that just let us spend quiet time together where the noise of traffic and city life in general don’t intrude upon our solitude.

Thankfully, Florida has a wealth of improved and unimproved hiking trails maintained by The Florida Trail Association, the Forest Service, and the surrounding counties.  I didn’t even know the association existed until I questioned the funny looking little sign on a post that marked the trailhead of our local Little Big Econ Trail.  Three hours later we were thankful that someone had the vision to give us a place to escape the pressures of everyday life.  During a five mile roundtrip we experienced what our area must have been like when pioneers first tried to bust through the impenetrable brush as they explored Florida’s interior.  It sure is a good thing someone cleared the paths we had just walked.

We had a wonderful afternoon along the banks of the Econlockhatchee River and through the Little Big Econ State Forrest, where after just a few minutes , we could have realistically forgotten we were only minutes from the bustling downtown of Orlando, and the congested thoroughfares of I-4 and I-95.  It all disappeared within moments, swallowed up by the wild Magnolia, cypress, oak, and palm trees.  The only witnesses to our passage were the squirrels, spiders (BIG SPIDERS), mockingbirds, cardinals, and a wealth of other critters that remained hidden from our view.  Everyone and everything else, ceased to exist for a few hours Sunday afternoon.  We passed numerous other hikers enjoying an early evening trek, but it was like we had never met once we rounded a few bends in the path.

The Florida Trail system includes over 1,000 miles of trail beginning in the Everglades and ending up in the panhandle area so you Econlockhatchee Rivercan be assured that every type of landscape and would be encountered if you were of a mind to walk the entire length.  Swamp, scrub, prairie, forest, and beach are all represented at some point along the trail’s length.  Wildlife viewing possibilities are limited only by your eyesight and your ability to move with stealth.  It was even a little more exciting to know the critters were there without actually being able to see more than a few feet into the brush.  Our imaginations ran wild every time a nut fell from above and rattled through the detritus on the forest floor.

So I guess what I’m trying to share with everyone is the wealth of quality outdoor experiences available to us right outside our door.  We don’t need to travel far for some exercise and the chance to get back to nature.  Just don’t forget your good shoes, a quality hiking staff, and some water.  You never know just how far you’ll wander through the woods.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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The Mullet Are Running! The Mullet Are Running!

 

Mullet in Waves

The stars are going to align one of these years and I’m going to get the chance to fish the fall mullet run during a peak in the activity.  Then I’ll be able to experience those things I keep talking about with people wanting to find Florida fishing at its best.  So far this year I've enjoyed beautiful days on the beach with little success other than a bit of a sun tan and a bit of quality time with my loving wife.

Fingerling mullet congregate at the inlets then exit the intercoastal waterway as they begin their migration south along the Florida coast, headed to locations that provide a warmer climate than our waters once winter settles in.  Their numbers are mind boggling in immensity and every predator along the coast will rush into the near-shore waters in search of an easy meal.  Sharks, tarpon, snook, redfish, ladyfish, mackerel, bluefish, jacks, and just about anything else you can imagine will form a gauntlet of destruction and mayhem in the shallow coastal water, so swimming through mullet schools in the fall might not be the best idea given what lurks below.  But dragging a mullet shaped bait or fly is a ticket to fun when your timing is right.

The mullet concentrations are highest close to the inlets where the ocean schools meet up with those coming out of the Indian River Lagoon System.  So Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Matanzas, Ponce, Sebastian, Ft. Pierce, St. Lucie, and all points south will have ever increasing numbers of fish running along the coast.  Your task is to find them and their predators.  Hopscotch along the coast by checking out the sea conditions at each beach access point and county or city park.  Don’t spend too much time in any one location if you don’t see any activity either below or above the surface.  Bird activity is a surefire indicator of good things to come.

Theresa CastingLive bait, artificial lures, and flies can all be productive as long as they imitate a…..Wait for it…..MULLET.  Not much else will work this time of year so don’t bother carrying a whole bunch of shrimp and crab imitations.  The big boys are looking for a bite-size meal not some little appetizer.  Rapala, MirrOlure, Yo Zuri, Bomber, and others have created very lifelike imitations but even a simple bucktail jig can produce.  Flies would be my choice but the conditions have to be right for a fly rod to be an effective tool.  Medium to heavy action spinning tackle, and eight through 12 weight fly rods all have their place depending on the intended quarry.  Be prepared for anything.

Regardless of your tackle choice, the month of October can be some of the best angling of the year if you have the time to hit the east coast.  Keep heading south till you find favorable conditions and signs of activity.  Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have success the first day.  Keep at it and try again next year about the same time.  Things will come together for you someday just like they will for me and my wife……  Hopefully!

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Discover Your "Secret" Fishing Hole

Fishing the Ditch“Where can you fly fish in Florida?  There aren’t any rivers like out west.”   While I have to agree that there aren’t any rivers like people envision when they think of fly fishing, we’re lucky enough to have more than our fair share of waterways that can be productive for anglers of any type.  I normally answer “Every body of water you see whether it’s the ocean, a pond, lake, creek, canal, or roadside ditch is likely to have fish in it and therefore you should stop and take a look at the very least.”  If it’s water, I’ll fish it.

Ditches and canals throughout the region can be some of the most productive bodies of water and for some of us they become highly protected “secret spots” that are divulged only to our closest fishing partners.  Even then we might be a bit vague when giving directions.  “You might want to try fishing the canals around Stuart,” is about as precise as fishing directions are likely to be.  Surely we won’t give specifics to anyone that might spill the beans on a hot spot to all their friends on the social media networks…..  These fish are sensitive to fishing pressure because they’re somewhat locked into a small location and they can make for easy pickings if the conditions permit.

Discovering these honey holes on your own is part of the journey and most people feel you should have to put in some hard time before being able to reap the rewards, so don’t expect things to come easy.  Mosquito bites, chigger bites, fire ant bites, horse fly bites, and no-see-um bites are part of the pain that makes the end result worthwhile.  “No pain…No Gain” as the saying goes.  All you really need though is an adventurous spirit, a small amount of tackle, a mode of transport, and some liquid refreshment to replenish lost fluids.  Oh yeah, you might want to invest in a good insect repellant like Ultrathon.

Scott w/Baby TarponFish species can be quite varied depending on your location within the state.  Tarpon, snook, ladyfish, largemouth, peacocks, bluegill, mayan cichlids, tilapia, oscars, snakeheads, carp, and gar could all be found in one place if you’re lucky enough to find the right ditch or canal down south, Further north and away from the coast your species list will shrink but the angling possibilities remain exceptional.  Keep in mind that any tarpon you encounter are going to be smaller juveniles up to 30 or 40 pounds and should be handled with care since they’re just babies who will ultimately grow into giants if given a fighting chance.

So, load up the car with a couple of your favorite rods and a bit of tackle if you’re tired of fishing the same old locations and are looking for a change of pace.  Hit the road in search of adventure and aggressive fish.  You might just discover your next “Secret Spot.”

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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