Monday, January 27, 2020

Rokkie in the Grass

Rookie in the Grass
By Chan Ritchie
The bright reflection caught the corner of my eye. I scanned the slick, quiet water far to the north. There she is, near the tree line, two hundred yards away.  Her tail went down long before I got close, but occasional surface ripples allowed me to track her. At fifty feet I could see her, like a bronze snake slithering slowly over grass barely taller than my ankles. Now the hunter was truly the hunted. My steps became stealthy as I chose the best angle from which to approach. Fishing near the trees where the grass is short and the water is gin -clear is First Coast sight-fishing at its best. Even better if they are over the open sand. Cruising fish in these conditions are al-most impossible not to catch. I circled around to my right and laid the fly down a perfect six feet in front of her. As the fly touched down I gave it a fast, aggressive strip. SWOOSH!! Water shot skyward as the powerful tail instinctually catapulted the predator toward her prey, a rooster-tail of foam in her wake. I quickly stripped again and she found a higher gear. Here it comes! Here it comes!! BAM!! The violent collision caused me to release the line so the leader would not snap. She headed for the far away creek, spinning my reel as she left. Ten years ago I may have spooked this fish.
Some of you are now thinking-Six feet? Isn’t that too far away to place the fly? Were you taught to put the fly three feet in front of her nose and move it slowly? I tried it that way myself when I was a rookie. I lost count of how many fish I spooked. Face it, when new to the sport we are not great casters. Combine the wind with an overdose of adrenalin and casting accuracy becomes a liability. Even when I made a perfect cast the fish often would not strike. Other times the slightest movement of the fly would send the fish fleeing for the creek. There had to be a better way.
Redfish are in the grass for one reason, to eat. For her to ignore your fly would be like a hungry man deliberately walking into McDonalds just to marvel at the ambiance. Why then do so many fly fisher-men fail to draw strikes in the grass and then cast repeatedly until the fish spooks? Simple, the fish does not see the fly. Or if she does see it, then she may be on guard because your fly plopped down too close and invaded her comfort zone. She has frozen while she assesses what it is that just rattled her.  All creatures have comfort zones. If I sneak up behind you and slowly reach around and put my hand in your face, then you with be startled. However, a fast movement of my hand from 10 feet away will have no effect other than to catch your attention.  Get a grass-redfish’s attention without putting her on guard and she will strike almost without exception. It’s in her DNA. Predators have large egos. They hate for anything to get away from them…especially if they are in feeding mode. Therefore, your fly need be only close enough for her to see it as it tries to rapidly escape. I call it the sight-zone.

Change your approach to reds in the grass and you can draw a strike from nearly every redfish at which you have a decent casting scenario….and it does not have to be perfect like the scenario you read above.

First, upon seeing a redfish, slow down. She is likely not going anywhere. If she is in tall grass, then wait her out. She will eventually move to better water.

Second, a fish with her head stuck in the mud will not see your fly. Reds will tail on a crab, and then start moving again. Cast when she is up and moving. The closer she is to the surface the better the chance that she will see your fly.

How far out in front of her you should cast will be determined by the thickness of the grass and water clarity. If she can see it, then she will hit it. I try to stay outside of three feet where the chances of spooking her are minimal. (Experienced grassmen catch reds every day by setting a fly down inside of three feet, but you ain’t that guy..not yet.)

If the grass is sparse and the water is not too dirty, then I like 4-6 feet. Remember; strip the fly when it is at her eye-level and keep it at her eye-level. Make it move! Get her attention! She will not spook at that range. If she sees it and starts charging, then keep taking it away. Her predator instinct will take over…..and she will hit the fly like a flaming red lightning bolt.  Again, be patient. Wait for the right casting scenario. Better to wait three minutes for her to get up and cruising than to succumb to red-fever and cast into a poor situation.

A small foam strike-indicator placed eighteen inches above your fly can be magic. Often you will cast, but the fish will stick her head back in the mud or she may turn. She may disappear. Rather than disrupt things by picking up the fly, leave it lying there. Keep your eyes open and be patient. Very often she will end up back on a collision course with your fly. The strike-indicator will allow you to easily locate your fly and judge when it’s time to strip aggressively.

 Fewer casts in the air means less chances to scare. Remember, DO NOT let her get right on top of the fly before you strip. You risk spooking her. Imagine that your crab saw her coming and he is getting out of Dodge before she gets there. Let her get just close enough to witness the attempted escape.

The fly does not much matter. These fish will hit just about anything that can be mistaken for food so tie up something that is your own…and put an excellent weed-guard on it.

Remember, no one ever caught a red when the fly landed too close. However, you can catch a bunch by landing it far and stripping it fast. Fish the sight-zone, put some live-action into your strips and hang on. It works almost every time.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Learn To Build Your Own Custom Rod

By Don Hughes
During the weekend of 9/5/2009, I traveled down to Orlando with my wife to custom build a basic fishing rod at a class run by master rod builders employed by Mud Hole Custom Tackle.  It had been more than 10 years since Capt. Piper, Foy Maloy and myself drove to Oviedo, FL to take the same class at the Mud Hole store and warehouse.  I decided to retake the class because I forgot most of what I learned and I plan to build some additional rods at my home.

The 2009 class was held in one day and enrolled 18 students with three instructors.  This year, there were 38 students and six instructors for the one and a half day class that was held at a Holiday Inn.  Mud Hole has since opened a new facility and will be holding their Orlando classes at their new modern site.  The cost was $199 (include $100 worth of materials) instead of $99 in 2009, but the extra half day was worth it.  We finished our rods on day one. Instruction during the second day consisted of special customization demonstrations. 

Learning how to build a rod is a fun experience.  It is more expensive than buying a manufactured rod from a tackle or big box store, but it gives you the opportunity to customize.  Once you learn the basics, you can then try marbling, decorative wrapping, creating unique cork handles, and incorporate basic weaving and custom inlays.  As my instructor stated, “you don’t always catch fish, but you can always look good with a custom rod!”

If you are disciplined, crafty, and a self-starter you can teach yourself how to build a rod by watching instructional videos, etc.  I have included a couple of links to rod building videos.  One is from 1939 (Click Here) and the other is a recent one (Click Here).  It is amazing how far the technology has advanced.  Experienced rod builders can build a rod very quickly as one of our instructors built 5 rods during the morning of our first day while we were 1/2 way through building our single rod.  

There are several rod building supply companies across the country.  Mud Hole is the closest and I have found their videos to be top notch and their customer service to be great.  My rod (photo attached) resides in Tarpon Springs as I gifted it to my oldest brother.  I am looking forward to incorporate marbling in my next project.

Don Hughes is a recreational fisherman and a non-guide member of the Amelia Island Guides Association.  After 30 years of service, he retired, in 2014, from Florida State College at Jacksonville.  During his last 20 years at the college, he served as the Executive Director of the Betty P. Cook Nassau Center in Yulee.  One of his first fishing memories is ice fishing with his father in upstate New York.  He has volunteered extensively in Nassau County and currently coordinates adult recreational ping pong for the City of Fernandina Beach and serves on the Community Advisory Committee for the Nassau Pride ABA basketball team which plays home games at Yulee High School.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Teaching a New Generation to Fish

Written by Adam Coholan, an active angler and  blogger out of New York  who writes about the great outdoors and  fishing and helps run web relations for Elliman Real Estate.   Contact Adam via email or you can follow him on Twitter.

Finding a private fishing spot in a secluded cove or inlet is one of my favorite parts of going fishing. I enjoy being able to get away from the chaos of normal life, along with all of the stress and the noise, which is something that most anglers will probably agree on. However, as much as I love all of this, I am even more drawn to the chance to share this beautiful experience with children and build the future generation of anglers.

I have been fishing for many years, and I think the intense passion that I feel for it comes from my older cousin. He is just over ten years older than I am, and when he was in his twenties he always made a point to bring me along when he went fishing for bass, salmon and trout. Jeff is now married and has a few children, and he doesn’t have as much time to fish as he would like thanks to a promotion at work. To pay him back, I started taking his daughter Sarah fishing with me and I thought I’d share some of the main things I have learned from the experience:

Establish The Rules Right Away:
You need to realize that supervision must be given to children, especially when they are out on the water. I sat down with Sarah before we even left the car to make sure that we were on the same page. All of my rules taught her about safety and respect. As far as safety is concerned, we discussed how she needs to wear a lifejacket, how she should ask me to help her with anything involving hooks, and she agreed to tell me if there was a snag. The respect we talked about started with his showing respect and proper care for the equipment and also for nature; the goal, I told her, was to leave no trace of ourselves when the sunset.

Start with One Child:
I took Sarah and her two younger brothers with me one time; they wanted to go since Sarah told them we were having so much fun. It didn’t take me long to realize that three times as many kids wasn’t about to be three times as much fun.  The two boys ran and splashed all around the creek and constantly picked on their sister.  After that, I made it a point to bring them out one at a time until they developed the concentration and appreciation for the sport.  Now I can take them all out as a group, and they’re so eager to actually fish they never bother each other unless it’s to joke who’s catch is bigger.

Do Not Forget To Have Fun:
You have to realize that there are days when you are just not going to get a bite, even though you are trying everything. We have all had this happen at some point. Most seasoned anglers live for that type of challenge, but young kids tend not to agree. They get antsy when the fish are nowhere to be found. If this happens, you need to be able to change your plan. You can go swimming, go for a hike, or do anything else to enjoy nature and help the kids appreciate being outside. Remember, you don’t want to discourage these future fisherman simply because you are feeling stubborn and you want to stay on the water.

I can think of nothing better than fishing with Sarah. When she gets a fish, I am more excited than when I get one. The odds are that someone taught you how to fish when you were a child. One of the best things that you can do is to give this gift to another child, passing on your knowledge and talents.