The Leavin's Rod by Byron Begley
This story is about a fly rod that is used only under certain circumstances. I keep it lined up and ready in our boat at all times. It is called the “Leavings” or “Leavin’s Rod”. The name came to me and the words are based on a Southern Appalachian term that I had never heard until I moved here 20 years ago. When moonshine is distilled the first time, what is left in the vat are the “leavings” or “leavin’s”. OK, that is part of the story.
When you hook a smallmouth bass, the hooked fish is often followed around by other bass. That happens very often in the Spring. Also, very often, the hooked bass vomits the contents of it’s stomach. You might see them throw up a few shad or maybe a crawfish. The bass that are following the hooked fish will eat the regurgitated shad.
This Spring, Jack Gregory and I were having a good day of smallmouth bass fishing on the lake. We were fishing with poppers. I hooked and landed a four-pound smallmouth. While I was fighting the fish some other bass followed mine out from the bank. One of the followers was a huge bass, maybe 6 or 7 pounds. I told Jack to throw into the pack of bass. He had a popper tied on, my fish was probably two to three feet deep and the others were not interested in Jack’s popper.
It occurred to me that a minnow pattern would be just what these bass wanted. I had an extra 5 weight rod in the boat. I attached a 9 foot 8 pound leader and tied on an Enrico Puglisi threadfin shad pattern that I tie. In front of the fly I clamped on a piece of split shot, right in front of it’s nose. The plan was, when a bass was hooked the other angler would grab the rod with the shad pattern on it and if there were other bass around we could just drop the fly in the water, let it sink and see what happens.
Jack and I continued down the bank. I was tired. I was running the trolling motor and sitting down. “Aren’t you going to fish?” Jack asked. “I’m going to fish for your leavin’s,” I answered. He knew exactly what I was talking about. Sure enough Jack hooked a nice smallmouth. I ran the boat out a few feet into deeper water, grabbed the rod and watched. When I could see his bass in the clear water there they were, about four other smallmouth bass chasing Jack’s fish around. I flipped the shad pattern out near his fish, it sank quickly and almost immediately one of the bass grabbed it. We had a double on. It was great. The Leavin’s Rod worked. We landed both bass. We laughed for a few minutes about that and threw in a “high 5”. That was cool.
Paula and I were fishing on the lake this week. We were using poppers and Stealth Bombers. Fishing was kind of slow. We saw a lot of carp. As usual I always cast to them. Carp frustrate the heck out of me. They are spooky and refuse just about everything. I had one big carp, maybe a 15 pounder, rise to my Stealth Bomber and kiss it. He didn’t eat it, he just nudged it.
We decided to idle over to the area where Citico Creek enters the lake. Be careful in this lake. There are very shallow areas with stumps, rocks and and trees just below the surface of the water. We were two or three miles below Chilhowee Dam. They started generating at 11:00, right on schedule and the trash line was well defined and moving down the lake. The trash line was made up mostly of leaves and small sticks. I saw some dimples in the debris which is not unusual. Probably rainbow trout I thought. I stopped the motor and we waited. Fish were definitely feeding in the trash line. I didn’t think a big Stealth Bomber would be appropriate so I picked up the Leavin’s Rod and stripped off some line. That big piece of split shot was still attached to the tippet right above the Puglisi Shad’s nose. I wished at the time the split shot was not there. It was too late to remove it or re-tie. Paula and I watched as the fish moved closer to us. At the same time we both realized those were not trout, they were carp. Of course I couldn’t avoid the temptation to cast.
My first cast missed the target. The carp was moving away from it. I picked up the line and cast again, this time the fly landed about 4 feet in front of him and he was moving toward the fly. I stripped and he started following. I couldn’t see the darned fly! If he ate it I wouldn’t know. So, I instinctively started stripping faster. That works well for redfish and sheephead. When they see food trying to get away they become more aggressive. I was stripping really fast and the carp sped up. When he took the fly I could feel him and I gave him a short strip strike and the fish was on. He was not large but offered plenty of fight on this little 5 weight rod. Paula netted the fish. It weighed four pounds.
I eased the trolling motor into the water and started moving up the trash line. Paula had the rod and was ready to cast. She cast to two different carp, they both followed but didn’t take her fly. They were spooked by the boat. They got too close. Carp are very spooky.
She gave me the rod and we moved up the trash line. There were two carp feeding on the surface. I pulled away from the trash line and made a cast to a cruising fish. This one was larger. He turned on the fly and started following it. I stripped fast. He charged the fly. As soon as I felt him, I struck. Another carp was on. That was two fish in two consecutive casts. This was a bigger fish and he gave that 5 weight a workout for a while. Paula netted him and he tipped the scales at 8 pounds. Dang, that was fun.
I don’t know if a Puglisi fly is the cure-all, end-all for carp. Probably not. These fish were not the usual 10 pound to 25 pound carp you see cruising in the lakes. These were smaller fish and they were feeding. But from now on I will be aware of the generation schedule and watch the trash line. If carp are feeding, I’ll know what to do. This was a whole lot of fun, especially on a light fly rod. I think the fast retrieve is essential.
We pulled the boat out at the Tallassee Ramp. A couple of fishermen asked how we did. I told them the fishing was fairly slow but I bragged a little and told them I did catch two nice carp on a shad pattern. I didn’t mention the smallmouth bass and bluegill we caught. They both looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe I am.