Byron in Boat on a Lake

Fishing Reports from the Past by Byron Begley

June 10, 2008

Last night I thought about a funny fishing story that happened when I was a teenager.  Sammy Day and I were spending the night on my boat.  I had an 18 footer with a small cabin that had two sleeping berths.  The boat even had a head.  It chopped up what ever you put in and pumped it into the river.  I had a little sign above the head that said, “Don’t put anything in the head that you have not eaten first”.  Things have certainly changed since the 1960’s.

We were tied up at the dock and bait fishing for catfish late at night.  All of a sudden Sammy said, “I’ve got one”.  His rod was bent double.  Then his line went slack.  It, whatever it was must have gotten off.  Nope, it’s still on.  The rod was bent double again.  Then like before the line went slack.  Then again the fight was on.

Sammy got it to the surface and just pulled it over the side and into the bottom of the boat.  To our surprise he had caught and landed a 24” eel.  The thing was squirming on the floor and we were scrambling to get away from it.  We both jumped out of the boat and onto the dock.  We were scared to death.  I told Sammy, “I’m never going swimming in the Kentucky River again”. 

Somehow we managed to get the eel un-hooked and released.

You never knew what you were going to catch in the Kentucky River.  A river rat named Stanley caught a dead man who had drowned on his trotline and I was there when that happened.  I got out of the trotline fishing business after that unforgettable event.

I once hooked but was not able to land a water skier.  I feel no remorse because I was just fishing and minding my own business and this idiot on skis came within four feet of the boat and under my line.  The water skier broke me off but there for a brief moment I found out what hooking and fighting a tarpon must feel like.  It felt good.

April 19, 2007

I’ve been fishing for over fifty years, fly fishing for over forty five years, it’s about all I do except work and still, I don’t know why.  I’ve talked about this before and pretty much decided I like to get away, stand in a stream, maybe catch a fish and enjoy nature.

I don’t understand why kids are not getting into the outdoors like they did when I was young.  Most of the State’s Wildlife Agencies are wondering who will be buying fishing and hunting licenses twenty years from now.  We do see young people here in the shop and without any data I can say that there are a good number of people who are trying fly fishing for the first time and they are in their late twenties and thirties.  But the trend in the outdoor industry is lack of new participants in the “young category”.

Why?  Is it the internet, computers, soccer, television, video games, lack of access to land and rivers, Mom, Dad, peer pressure, or teachers?  I don’t know.  A lot of SUV’s now come equipped with video to keep the kids entertained while traveling down the road.  When I was a kid we counted road signs, license plates and cows to pass the time in the family automobile.   When I was a kid, believe it or not, we brought our guns to school so we could go hunting after class.  We also had a hunting and fishing club at our high school.  That’s where I learned to properly clean a shotgun.  How many of you have walked onto an airplane, a commercial jet with a shotgun?  I have.  The flight attendant would take my shotgun and place it in the cockpit until we landed.  Doesn’t that seem unbelievable now?  Things sure have changed.

I believe that this would be a better world if more kids went hiking, backpacking, camping, boating, hunting and fishing.  I grew up as a boy in the woods, on the waters and I wouldn’t take anything for that experience, one that has never changed for me and never will.

July 12, 2008

I wrote earlier this week that Paula and I spent five days fishing with poppers.  At times, especially in the evenings we got strikes on every two or three casts.  We got some strange looks.  I’ve never seen anyone fly fishing on that lake.  Most people fish with bait or artificial lures.  The fish in that lake are very savvy to bait fishing techniques.  We heard people talking about us like we were different.  I guess we were different.

On the last evening we were fishing our favorite bank moving along with the trolling motor and catching the stink out of bass and bluegill.  A couple of guys came by in their boat.  They had been watching us for a while. 

“Do’n any good” the guy in the stern asked.  I told them we were catching some large bluegill and small bass.  I did almost land a big bass that night.  “What are you us’n” he asked me.  “Poppers” I answered.  I told him we were using chartreuse poppers and the best fishing for us had been late afternoons until dark.  “Just throw them in, give them a twitch and let them sit”, I said.

They drove on and I could hear them talking.  The guy driving the boat was explaining to his buddy what we were doing.  I heard the guy in the stern say as he drove away, “I wish I’d brought my fly rod”. 

December 1, 2008

I caught a 16” brook trout once in Pennsylvania.  I think it was a stocked trout.  I caught a wild one there that was about 14” but he was not measured.  That fish and many close to that size came from Big Spring Creek in the Keystone state. 

Back in the early 1980’s there was a thriving hatchery owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Fish Commission.  The effluent flushed out into Big Spring Creek.  Nutrients fed the water producing sow bugs and midges in abundance.  The brook trout, rainbows and browns grew huge.  That hatchery was closed a few years ago because the nutrient load was determined or at least alleged to be too much for Big Spring Creek causing an oxygen deficiency.  Though it didn’t seem to affect the trout at the headwaters downstream it must have been different.  I don’t remember catching many fish down low and I tried several times.

Where the hatchery effluent entered the spring creek there was a feeding frenzy almost every day.  It occurred when the hatchery runs were cleaned.  I never saw what they were doing up there but I suspect they somehow swept the bottom of the runs.  Large quantities of red larvae of some species of aquatic insect, probably a mosquito, would gush into the creek.  The trout would go nuts. 

We used a pattern called a red worm.  We just wrapped the shank of a hook with red thread and coated it with head cement.  We would add one piece of #6 split shot a few inches up from the hook and let it drift down the stream keeping the line tight.  You would hook a trout on every cast.  If you lost that fish another one would hit your fly immediately. Trout were ganged up in huge schools thrashing and slashing right before your eyes. 

A few minutes later, it was over.  But it was fun when it happened. 

Brad, Frank and I were fishing the “Ditch” after the hatchery closed.  Locals referred to the area of Big Spring Creek from where the water came out of the ground and down about 200 yards as the Ditch.  Most of the big browns, brook trout and rainbows that we used to see there were gone.  There were some left but not in the numbers we saw before the hatchery closed.

Brad was fishing a run and started catching small wild brookies that were about 3” to 5” long.  I walked down to talk to him while he fished.  He said he would hook a brookie then something huge would take it away from him.  I couldn’t stand it.  I had to try.

I drifted a nymph through the run and sure enough I caught a small brook trout.  But instead of unhooking him I tossed the rig back in the run just to see what would happen.  A huge trout, probably a brown grabbed the brookie.  I held on for a few seconds and then he was gone.  I could tell by the swirl and the power at the end of my leader that this was a very large fish.  Once was enough for me.  I’ll let him catch those brook trout without my help. 

That same day I was sitting on a man made limestone wall overlooking Big Spring Creek.  A large female rainbow that was probably 20” long was laying eggs in a run.  A couple of large males were just downstream from her feeding on the surface.  I couldn’t tell what they were eating.  I was fairly high off the water.  As I sat there I tried several midges.  I drifted them right over those big rainbows and they wouldn’t even look at my fly.  I gave up and just watched.  They kept feeding.  The wall I was sitting on and the overhanging tree were infested with large black ants.  Could those ants be falling in the water and the trout eating them? 

I tied on a black ant pattern and made a short cast just upstream from the males.  As soon as the ant came within their view one rushed up to the surface and took my ant pattern.  Now that was a perfect example of selectivity.  They didn’t want anything except a black ant.  I didn’t land the fish.  He was well over 20”.  Lessons learned.

August 29, 2008

That also reminds me of the time I caught a skunk by the back leg in a snare.  I was probably 10 or 12 years old.  The skunk ran down in a hole leaving the rope trailing out and tied to a tree.  My dad was with me and though I don’t think he really wanted to pull on that rope he watched over my shoulder as I did.  We didn’t know what was down in that hole.  We just knew it was an animal, probably a possum.  All of a sudden that polecat cut loose pretty much right in our faces.  Dad and I both ran as fast as we could screaming and yelling as we ran.  I went back down and cut the rope and let the skunk worry about getting his leg out.  I pretty much got out of the trapping business.

But after that one of our dogs killed a solid white skunk.  I had never seen one and decided to skin it.  My mother agreed to help.  We brought the carcass into the garage and started to work.  Before it was all over we both ran out of the garage several times to gag and complain.  But we finally got the job done.  I will never, ever skin a skunk again.  You can count on that.

August 23, 2008

Until I reached the 6th grade my family lived in an old home on Lancaster Avenue in Richmond, Kentucky.  This house had a huge basement with several rooms one of which was used to store coal.  There was a door out to the driveway with dimensions of about 2’ x 2’ and the coal truck would pull up and the coal was dumped into this room.  I remember my dad shoveling coal into the furnace to heat the water and warm the house during the winter.  This was back in the 1950’s when we had harsh winters.  Eventually he replaced the coal fired furnace with a natural gas model.  He was young back then but he thought a lot like I do.  “If there is a lot of physical labor involved, upgrade”. 

After the days of coal heating were over he cleaned out the coal room and it was just a creepy place to go. 

Then the big scare hit the news on our black and white TVs.  The bad guys in Russia were going to bomb us.  Have you seen the newsreels of kids getting under desks at school to practice for an atomic bomb attack.  We did that.  Or at least I think we did that. 

What I do know for sure is that old coal room became our bomb shelter.  Can you believe this?  We had brand new garbage cans full of water.  The door that used to flow with coal from the truck was sealed.  Shelves with every kind of canned food were stocked.  Were my mother and father over-reacting?  If they were alive I would call them now and ask that question.  We had flashlights and even firearms down there. 

Another room in the basement was my zoo.  That was another creepy place especially to the lady who worked in our home.  I remember her last day of employment.  I was bummed out and she asked why.  I told her one of my snakes escaped from the aquarium and I had been looking for him all day all over the house.  We never saw her again.  My frogs, toads and other snakes did fine and if I caught something new I would release another into the wild.  But that escapee never showed up. I can’t even remember his name.

April 6, 2008

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.

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 let anyone bring a banana on the boat”.  Most guides would prefer that you not even mention the word “banana”.  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 guy 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 Little River Road with him in the truck.

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 radios.  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 the 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. 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 and David commenced to hand pumping the water out.  We were in about 6 feet of water.  We could see the bottom of the ocean.  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 out the boat and make it to shore.

When we returned to the marina the bottle of sunscreen went in the trash can.  We fished the next day and the word “banana” never came up.


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