The Fishing Report began as a daily update on our website three years ago. We decided to update ours every day. And we do. We only miss four holidays per year. Much of my rambling includes people who I have met, funny things that have happened and interesting information about being in the fly fishing business. Today I will go through some of the back issues and offer some of them again for you.
Green Drakes – April 22, 2008
I got an e-mail yesterday from a customer who happened to be on Abrams Creek Friday and saw the hatch. I’ve seen a big hatch once. Gary McCown and I were fishing on Abrams about this time of year and all of a sudden these huge mayflies started coming off. There were tons of them. Rainbow and Browns were slurping down the emergers. That was back when Brown Trout were thriving in Abrams Creek. Gary had two Green Drake wet flies and offered one to me. I tried not to take it. He said “You are crazy”. I put one on and we started catching trout on every cast. The wet flies work better. Walter says the adults pop off so quickly that the trout ignore them. I fell in and Gary died laughing. Five minutes later Gary fell in and I laughed until I cried. That was back when the cattle were in the Cove, the nutrients were rich and it was really slick. It’s still slick.
Over the years, sometime in April, customers have come in the shop and reported the Green Drake hatch. “They covered my car”, “they were everywhere”, “I’ve never seen anything like it”. Then we would go up there and find nothing. A lot of us call the Green Drake hatch, “the hatch that doesn’t exist”.
Steve Moore is the head fisheries biologist at the National Park. He knows more about these streams than anyone. For a couple of years we tried to catch the Green Drake hatch on Abrams Creek. We would try to predict it. We finally gave up.
In June the Beaverkill drainage in Roscoe, New York is famous for the Green Drake hatch. People flock to Roscoe from all over the Northeast. Walter Babb, Brian Courtney and I have been among them twice. Our pockets were full of Green Drake patterns. “Where are the Green Drakes?” Brian and I were fishing the Willowemoc near the Fly Fishing Museum. A Green Drake popped off the water. Brian said “there’s one”. We watched that bug for about twenty seconds until a bird flew by and gulped it down. We didn’t see any more that day.
Now, I don’t want to discourage you. You might go to Abrams Creek today and find those huge mayflies everywhere. You might catch a hundred trout. You could have the best day of your life. But, I’m not going to tell you it will happen. I’ll just say it could. Wait a little later and you might find them on Cataloochee Creek. They may be hatching downstream on the Little River and the smallies and rock bass are having the time of their life. I have no idea.
I can sum up what I know about the Eastern Green Drake on Abrams Creek in a few words. Timing is crucial, luck is essential or go to Abrams Creek every day during April.
Fly Shops and the Internet – April 10, 2008
As the role of the fly shop changes I’m trying to figure out the future. One thing I am trying to do is to communicate more with customers who are far away. That’s why you see my e-mail address below. And the customers are contacting me. I get about 10 non-spam e-mails every day and I think I have answered them all. I also have my e-mail address on all posts I make on the message board.
Yesterday I answered one from a customer and friend from Sandusky, Ohio. He said that we are doing everything right to prosper in this new fly fishing tackle market.
What’s new about it? Well, for one thing about 1/3 of the fly shops in the United States have closed and there are more facing the same demise. Gasoline prices are going up. More people are turning to the internet for purchasing their gear. We are benefiting from that. For years our mail order business had a customer base of people who had been in our shop. We don’t do National advertising so only those who visited here knew about us.
Now it’s different. Stores have closed and that has moved more customers to us. Also we have a lot of customers who have never been in our store or fished in the Smokies. We ship gear to every state in our country including Alaska and Hawaii. We ship to other countries as well.
Yesterday 4,534 unique visitors found our website. I think that is another record. Yesterday 850 unique visitors read this fishing report. That is another record. For the past 7 days we have had 28,756 visitors and 5,157 people read this report. Another record.
Our manufacturers say that there will be a lot less stores for purchasing fly fishing tackle and those who make it will do well. I should be happy right, our business is good and we are poised to be one of those survivors, I hope.
I started fly fishing in 1962. Back then there were no fly shops around the Southeast or if they were here, I didn’t know about them. I had to order everything I needed. We didn’t have credit cards back then so you would send a check and wait until your order arrived. By the early 70’s I had lost interest in fly fishing and started using conventional tackle which was always readily available. I was living in Nashville at the time.
Then probably around 1980, right up the street from one of my stores in Nashville a fly shop opened. Henry Ambrose opened the new store, I went in and got to know him and all of a sudden I was back into fly fishing. He hosted a trip to Yellowstone and I went. I was hooked again, more than ever.
So, it took a local shop to light the fire in me. The local shops are going away. Will people lose interest in the sport? That is what worries our manufacturers and me.
One big reason fly shops have closed is because they were not ready when the internet changed their industry.
So, is it possible for the internet to serve the same purpose as the local fly shop? It is probably going to have to.
So how do you make your website act like a local fly shop? That is going to be my big challenge over the next couple of years. Some people say we are doing it. I think we're just getting started. I’m going to figure out ways to stay more connected with customers via the internet. Our brick and mortar store will still be here for you and we’ll make it better. Let me know what you think.
Bananas are Bad Luck - May 7, 2008
Most of you know but I will remind you that bananas on a boat are bad luck. I have had many conversations with guides about the subject. I bet when they go to “Captain School” rule #1 is don’t ever let anyone bring a banana on the boat. Most guides would prefer that you not even mention the word “banana” on the boat. What if you ate banana pudding the night before the fishing trip? Would that be bad luck? Again, most Captains would tell you not to take the chance. So how are bananas shipped to our country? I’ve heard of banana boats but I’ve never seen one. Maybe they all sink.
Mariners are very superstitious. I heard the story about a guy who was a guide in Florida and his boat was struck by lightening twice. He lived through both events. Then he sat on a toilet in a portajohn and was bitten by a black widow in a spot that I can’t describe here. Let’s say that only a man could be bitten there. This poor fellow is known by his peers as being “unlucky”. Don’t go near him. I wouldn’t want to drive under the Indian Head on the Little River Road with him.
A couple of years ago I was fishing for Tarpon with three good friends. We had two guides who were in constant contact with each other using a radio. As usual, about 9:00 am I put on some sunscreen. I don’t know how I ended up with this bottle in my boat bag. I won’t tell you the brand for fear of litigation. Let’s just say the word banana appeared on the bottle along with a picture of one.
I immediately asked my Captain if I should throw it overboard. He said no.
Then he, Jack and I started talking about bananas. We even made up a banana song. If a tarpon was swimming toward the boat one of us would say something about a banana. What we were trying to do is take a known bad luck symbol and turn it into good luck to prove that there was no merit to the superstition.
That didn’t happen.
Doug called David on the radio. He gave us their location near shore and there were tarpon everywhere. We took off to fish next to Doug and our two buddies. The waves were pounding the beach not far from us. We bow anchored into the wind where the waves were coming from. Captain David was on the poling platform and I was trying to hang on to the bow in a stainless steel custom made cage.
All of a sudden a wave came over the bow. Then another one hit us. And we found ourselves with a boat half full of water and the bilge pump was not working. We disconnected the anchor line, I tried to keep the boat from tipping by moving from side to side, Captain David started the engine, Jack cleared the seaweed from the bilge pump and David commenced to hand pumping the water out. The water was only around 6’ deep. If the boat had capsized it would have been crushed by the waves and one or more of us could have drowned. Luckily, we were able to bail the boat and make it to shore.
When we returned to the marina the bottle of sun screen went in the trash can. The next day we fished and the word “banana” never came up.
Snapping Turtles on a 6 Weight - April 6, 2008
I grew up in central Kentucky where the Spring came later and the winter started earlier than it does down here. When I was a kid I didn’t like winter all that much. We had fun with our sleds and there was some trapping and hunting to be done but I liked fishing the most. I had a boat docked on the Kentucky River during my whole teenage era and running around up and down the river camping, fishing and water skiing took up most of my time only to be interrupted by chasing girls. And sometimes that boat came in handy for chasing girls.
At one point, I was probably 12 years old I got into catching snapping turtles. We used a lot of different methods to capture these pre-historic looking beasts. Our ponds were full of them. One way to catch a snapping turtle requires an empty Clorox bottle, some heavy twine and a hook. I would tie about 12” of the line on the handle of the bottle, tie on a heavy hook and bait up with chicken gizzards. Chicken liver was more tasty to turtles but it wouldn’t stay on the hook. I would toss two or three of these in a pond and wait. Sometimes it took overnight. But eventually there would be a white bottle bobbing and moving around the pond and then all I had to do was get it. I had a long steel rod with a hook on one end to grab the bottles as they came near shore.
As I became more of a sportsman I switched my method to that of a rod and reel. Using heavy mono and the same hooks I would bait up, make the cast then wait. I caught a lot of turtles this way. During the fight you had to keep your rod high. The turtles would claw at your line and holding it high kept that to a minimum. My largest turtle caught on a rod and reel weighed in at 17 pounds.
We didn’t release them. They are excellent to eat but a chore to clean. I remember cleaning that big one. We had removed his head and cleaned the carcass. I picked up the head to retrieve my hook and when I started working the hook out the jaws snapped shut. If my finger had been in the mouth I would have lost it. There is only one safe way to handle a snapping turtle. Get them by the tail. They can’t get you with their claws or jaws. I was driving to work a couple of years ago and there was a huge one out in the middle of the road. I stopped to move him . His shell was probably 18” in diameter. I just walked up, grabbed him by the tail and took him to the side of the road he was headed for. It’s no big deal, just remember “the tail, not the head”.
I took up fly fishing at the age of eleven. That was in 1962. I always wanted to catch a turtle on a fly but it never happened. Ever try casting a chicken gizzard on a fly rod? I have. I stooped to that just to see how it felt to land one of those big bruisers on a 6 wt. I finally gave up.
The Big Adventure and 17 Years Old - April 16, 2008
I started camping when I was very young. My parents had a cabin cruiser then a houseboat docked on the Kentucky River. We stayed on the boat often and that was like camping. I have pictures of us on the boat when I was around 5 years old. We also had a travel trailer. We would go camping on Lake Cumberland, rent a boat and I was happy every minute of every trip. My buddies and I would camp on our farm during our pre-teen years. When we were able to drive we camped all over the country.
When I was 17 years old I went on the camping trip of a lifetime with a buddy who was two years older than me. His nickname was Doobs. I have no idea how he got that one. He and I left Richmond, Kentucky in my parents VW Campmobile and headed to California. This was back in the 60’s. We wanted to go to Big Sur and see all the hippies and Hell’s Angels. We were going to see the Grand Canyon, hang around LA. From California we would drive through the Southwest, stop in on the Worlds Fair in Texas, move on to New Orleans then return home. The whole trip would take a month.
On our first day we crossed over the State line into Missouri. We were traveling along not believing that we were actually doing this. We were free. You couldn’t wipe the smile off our face with a brick.
Doobs was driving and we came to an intersection in rural Missouri. A police car approached the same intersection on a connecting road. We thought he was going to hit us. Luckily he ran off the road and missed us, I looked back and he pulled back onto the highway so no damage was done. We kept on driving.
This guy turns on his lights and siren and pulled us over. “He’s going to apologize” I told Doobs. We were smiling and were getting ready to tell him not to worry about it, everyone makes mistakes and this guy in one of those Smoky the Bear Hats orders us out of the mini bus. The next thing we know we are at the jail, talking to the Sheriff. The Sheriff’s wife fed us lunch and we sat there and reviewed the charges. A. Running a stop sign. B. No copy of the Registration for the van. C. Running an officer of the law off the road. This was the first day of the camping trip and we were at the jail. Actually the jail was in the Sheriff’s house and we were in their living room.
I called my Dad. “Hi Dad, we’re in Missouri, here’s the Sheriff”. Dad promised to send the registration to to a campground in Colorado for us to pick up. All charges were dropped. The deputy drove us back to the van and we were on our way. We did go back to check out the stop sign. It was there but someone had hit it and it was laying on the ground. Doobs and I decided not to press charges for false arrest and just drove on down the road.
Why I Fly Fish – April 2, 2007
Henry David Thoreau said "Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it's not the fish they are after". Do you ever think about that? I do, often. In fact I was thinking about that while doing some streamwatching this weekend. I've spent my whole life fishing and working.
I know why I work a lot. I'm here seven days a week. I love owning a business and especially a fly shop, I've wanted to own a fishing store since I was in High School. I love owning a business. I opened a franchised printing shop in Nashville, Tennessee when I was twenty three years old. My father and I bought some dry cleaning stores in Nashville a year later. He lived in Kentucky so by the time I was twenty four, I had about 70 people, mostly adults who I guess felt like I was their boss. I was at a young age and responsible for a lot of people, assets and customers. But I loved it.
Fishing is not that easy for me to figure out. Why have I stuck with it for some fifty or more years. What drives me to go fishing? I think Thoreau was right and I believe you change as you get older. When I was young it was all about catching fish. Or at least that's what I thought. Then I found enjoyment in just going fishing. I know that I enjoy being in, on, or near an aquatic ecosystem. I love wading the ocean flats, playing in streams, staring into the water from a boat and gazing at the surroundings in or near water. But I really don't know for sure why I go fishing.
The Little T and Eddy George – April 27, 2007
Last night I made a presentation with Steve Moore at the Little River Chapter of TU meeting. We talked about the organization of the Chapter almost fifteen years ago. I brought with me a large shadow box that contained some flies tied by Eddy George, a little story I wrote about him and some photos of Eddy holding huge trout. I wanted people to see him and his beautiful flies because most of the people there had not experienced the pleasure of meeting Eddy. Eddy was a good friend who was also one of the founders of the Little River Chapter. He was known to be one of the best fly fishermen in the Smokies and also on the tailwaters here in East Tennessee. He was a very kind man with an excellent sense of humor. I don't know if he was born with his humor of if he acquired it from his wife Mona. Mona makes me laugh every time we are together. He came up with the George Nymph which continues to be one of the hottest trout flies in the Smokies.
Eddy often talked about the Little Tennessee River before a dam backed a lake up over some of the finest trout water in the Eastern United States. He has told me numerous stories about fishing the Little T with his buddies. Eddy had a big station wagon which was a popular fishing car back in the fifties and sixties. He and his buddies carefully placed their rods in the car with the rod tips sticking out the back window after a day of fishing the Little T. Eddy got in the car, started the engine and then pushed the electric button raising the back window and breaking all of the rods. The stories go on and on.
Though he missed fishing the Little T he didn't verbally blame anyone including TVA for ruining his favorite stream or at least not to me. Maybe he did at the time but I didn't know him then. But, that was Eddy, he didn't talk bad about anyone. Instead, he learned to fish the lake with a fly rod and just enjoyed what he had. And he was a master at catching trout on those lakes. Eddy died a few years ago and I still miss him very much. Last night, I was reminded of him.
I'm reading a book right now called "My Father's Waters" by Ben Mattingly. It's a story about his life, growing up fishing with his Father and Brothers on streams in and around Burnside, Kentucky. Ben's favorite streams were covered by Lake Cumberland when the Corps of Engineers built Wolf Creek Dam over fifty years ago. Burnside, Kentucky had to be moved, the whole town and he and his family watched as the water covered their creeks and streams where they fished for smallmouth bass. I can't help but think about the Little T and how the families who had to move and the anglers who lost their stream must have felt. I didn't get to fish the Little T. Many of my friends have. I would like to have experienced that at least once.