Tuesday, April 12, 2016

New series...The Birth of a Trout Bum"

Picture this...it's 1980, you cross the railroad tracks in the little mill town of Lindale Ga. Up the tracks are 3 boys, no older than 11 or 12. Each one of them has on rubber hip boots, a fishing vest (if you could get a closer look it's actually a hunting vest with pill bottles full of hooks , weights and spinners shoved down in the shell holders) and a fishing rod...it's Christmas break, they're headed towards the Creek and it's freezing. Today...that'd make a lot of fishermen's day...the birth of a Trout Bum is what I'd say.

My dad, who is not a fisherman, showed up from work one spring day with a youth sized Zebco 202 rod and reel combo. This was before the scoobie or Barbie themed rods and reels...it was very generic looking with its solid glass 3' fiberglass blank, cork handle and black reel. He said, "Get ready, we're going fishing." I was around six years old and that's when my wanderlust associated with fishing started and it's still redlined after 40 years. In those early years different lakes around town were as good as any of the exotic locations that I've daydreamed about throughout the years. I had heard stories of huge Bass in "Padgett's Lake", Powhatan and Wax lake to name only a fraction that were available to the everyday fisherman. As I fished those lakes with my brother Steve or my close friends, Scott, Mike, Billy and David, this unknown to me addiction was incubating in my soul to a point of total obsession. I didn't want to just catch Bass, bream and catfish...I wanted to catch the biggest. When I got a taste of those in the larger sizes I wanted more...something not just big but beautiful and romantic with a feisty attitude. Trout!!!! The only thing was...there were no trout in my area. The closest place was an hour drive and being 9 years old that was impossible to get to on a bicycle and back by dinner without my parents sending out a search party. So,  I'd fish the local ponds and creeks catching numerous types of sunfish, chubs, the prized red-eye bass until that one winter day in 1979.

   I had bought a black and yellow Panther Martin spinner at Owen's Hardware...walked down to the old grist mill and duck pond on Silver Creek in Lindale, Ga and started fishing. I had started at the bridge just upstream of the cotton mill and was working my way back to the sharp bend in the creek. As I made my way past the old sycamore tree, that still stands there today, I made a cast across the Creek towards where the water wheel would have been on the grist mill and pulled my lure through a deep hole that was there. I could see my little spinner buzzing along several feet below the surface when a silver streak darted out of the shadows and absolutely crushed the bait. I knew what it was, even though I'd never actually caught one and in that moment in time, landing that fish was the most important task I had on the planet...it was my first trout.

   I pulled that fish up on the bank and dove on it, tried to grab it several times but if you didn't know, trout are one of the most slippery fish known to man. Finally, I had it, no doubt in a death grip, and took off in a dead run up to Hotchie's Cafeteria to show my mom and the owner Hotchie Millican my supreme prize. (One thing I noticed while that fish was in my hands, every time it tried to wiggle out I could feel it's muscles almost vibrate, trout are the only fish I think I've noticed that in.) I came busting through the front door of the restaurant with that live fish gripped in both hands, rod and reel tucked under my arm and not stopping until I was behind the serving line, Hotchie was standing there with a most surprised look on his face and was in a rare mode...speechless! I blurted out, "Is this what I think it is?" He looked at it, took it out of my hands and said, " by god, that is a rainbow trout! Where'd ya get it?". To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement but again blurted out with the utmost excitement... "Down there by the old mill, you should of seen that sucker hit..."and I went into every detail of the short moment in time it took to actually catch that fish. That day, Hotchie cleaned and cooked that little trout on the griddle for me like I was something special.

   As the days went by a man I'd seen in church and knew from afar came in Hotchie's and wanted me to tell him about catching that trout. His name...Mr. Jack Mathis, a man I would come to know and respect as a man and a fisherman. I sat down at the table with him and he listened to every single word of my story, asked questions and the likes...just like he was conversing with a grown man and when I finished he said, " Jim, let's keep that our little secret." He said that he knew a lot of folks already knew but let's let it die down some or else people from all over the county would be crowding our Creek. There was plenty of space for us and our friends and I agreed that I didn't want any crowds on that little Creek. You see, Jack had been catching trout for a while out of Silver Creek and he told me that a man upstream had a place dammed up that he kept trout in. When the Creek would flood some would get washed down while others would simply swim upstream but I believe that in 1979 me and Jack were the only others outside of that man that had put those trout in the hole behind his house that knew about them. I may be wrong but I don't think I am.

  As my teen years went on most of my friends would wade the creek looking for trout and my good friend Mike was catching them further up the Creek around "Chamber's Mill" with his friend Gary...by the late 80's the state had put the Creek on it's list to stock and more and more folks came to check it out but a small group of us that were willing to trek up the Creek, brave the posted signs and be willing to run, knew where the better spots with some up to 18" that were caught. I was fortunate to be invited numerous times to fish the Oconaluftee in Cherokee NC with my friend Scott and his dad where I got a taste of big water and bigger fish...namely, my pb Brook trout that weighed 3lbs. I learned the basics during that time like wading skills, reading water, trout habits etc. My imagination bloomed and I knew that I wanted to chase those beautiful creatures. I've been on many trips with a few of my childhood friends over years to remote trout streams that hold native Brook trout to rivers that hold record class browns. A lot of those exotic waters from my youth are now old favorites, a little stocked rainbow doesn't get a second glance anymore but what it has grown into is exactly what my childhood dreams were made of... we were trout bums when it wasn't cool. Peace

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Blog #8 "Road to the Championship" ...KBF National Championship


   I recently returned from the Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship and man was it an experience. 230 of the best kayak anglers meeting on one of the greatest big bass lakes in the nation to see who is the best.

 Congratulations to Matt Ball from Mountain States Kayak Anglers in West Virginia on the win and his $32,000 prize and also to my great friend, Clint Henderson of Reel Krazy here in Rome on his second place and almost $10,000 prize. Also, Rok Ly on his beast of a bass that was the overall big fish of the tournament.  I can say that their catches, in the conditions we had was truly amazing. What a feat and my hat goes off to everyone that competed in the wind and cold weather.

My journey had started several months prior to the March 19, 20 tournament dates with me fishing as many different lakes as possible in any condition that mother nature had to offer. I had fished in rain, cold, wind and snow to prepare so when I arrived in Paris Tn a week prior to the tournament I was a stronger paddler and mentally prepared to face whatever weather I was dealt.

I had a plan that consisted of 3 areas...2 in Kentucky lake and one on Lake Barkley, I had 6 days to figure something out...the low muddy water conditions threw me a curve ball and I hadn't seen a big fish all week. On Friday, my last day of practice I happened upon a spot by chance...a big flock of white pelicans had roosted on a small island adjacent to the river channel. I paddled out to take a closer look and noticed that one side the sand bar dropped steeply into 20' of water. I grabbed a rod and threw a swimbait which immediately got bit. Although I lost the fish I did get it up to my kayak and it was a very nice fish in the 20+ inch range. I thought all evening and although the area wasn't one of the three that I had thoroughly prefished...I went with my gut and decided that the sandbar was my spot since it held the only big fish I had seen all week. There was one drawback with this spot..it didn't offer much diversity, either the fish were there or they weren't. The surrounding area had been fruitless and if the fish had moved out I'd be in a frantic search mode which is not what you want on tournament day.

Friday night was spent at the captain's meeting and at the house that 8 of us kayak fishermen from Georgia/Reel Krazy Kayak Tour had rented. Everyone was in preparation mode. Talk of "non specific" areas, lures, strategies and big fish was constantly in the air. I've never seen a room filled with as much passion as that night in the house. We all wanted someone from Reel Krazy to win...preferably ourselves but any of our buddies would be awesome. After I had tied on my lures and checked my tackle I had to attend to my weather beaten hands. A week's worth of constant wind, wetting then drying due to paddling had caused my hands to crack in numerous places. I'd had them crack before but never like this. The only solution I could come up with was to super glue the wounds. It probably wasn't the best thing to do but it eased the pain which also cleared my mind. I was ready for Saturday morning.

  I awoke to frost and a very strong north wind, drove to my launch site at 0530 and was surprised to find a vehicle with a couple of tournament anglers waiting for legal fishing time. I also noticed that their Kayaks were still loaded in the back of their truck. With very little conversation I unloaded my Jackson Big Rig and launched into the darkness.

I could hear the wind but the bay I launched in ran east/West which sheltered it from the 30 mile per hour north winds that I was soon to meet. As I left the main lake point and headed across the 100 yard stretch of open water towards my little island I encountered 2-3' white caps and the most brutal winds that I had ever paddled in. The only thing to do was slightly angle towards the island while facing the wind....duck my head down and paddle my butt off in an attempt to ferry myself across the opening. Normally a 100 yard paddle would take 5 minutes...in those conditions, it took 30 minutes and that was paddling as technically perfect as I could at an all out balls to the wall pace. Once I reached the sand bar I thought, "it will be impossible to fish from my Kayak out here", I was sure my anchor wouldn't hold and it would take constant paddling to stay in that area. I remembered from the captain's meeting that the rules stated that we could fish from the bank as long as our boat was in sight, I pulled up the rules on my phone to verify and there it was, verifying that what I had heard was right. I have never went out in my Kayak only to fish off of the bank but in this case the rules were working in my favor so I beached my Big Rig and waited on 0630, official start time of the 2016 KBF National Championship.

  Like clockwork, I was rearing back to cast when 0630 hit. I started out with a crankbait and threw it for an hour with no bites then swapped over to a 6" swim bait. With the wind howling out of the North and me casting with it towards the south I had to be careful "not" to spool my reel...I was making two handed casts reminiscent of those Eastern shore blue and rock fishermen except with a touch of Happy Gilmore added in. It was fun just making those casts but at 0845, I got bit. A very nice 20" largemouth bass caught, photographed and released. My plan had payed off for day one of the tournament. At days end I had 35.75" in my two biggest fish and was sitting in 18th place out of 230 but what was even more amazing is the top 25 was separated by only 4"... I was 3.25" out of the lead. I had caught 3 fish off of that sand spit that day and had a very large fish get off due to me worrying about the wind instead of fishing. I was pleased with my day but i did realize certain mistakes i had made and set forth correcting those for Sunday. Back at the tournament headquarters there were many stories about fighting the wind and the loss of some amazing fish. This tournament was going to come down to the wire.

Going into day two, it was anybody's game.

On Sunday I was determined to be the first one at my spot, I knew some others were fishing the area and I feared someone would beat me to it. I got up at 0300 and drove to the launch. I was indeed the first one there but I didn't wait on anyone to show up. I immediately unloaded my Kayak and paddled out under a full moon. The wind wasn't as bad as the day before but it was colder and the wind had shifted from the north to a due west flow...changing things I would eventually find out. I reached the island, beached my kayak, set the alarm on my phone to 0625, found a comfortable spot amongst some buckbrush and went to sleep. I woke to one of the most memorable sunrises that I can remember and started fishing. I tried everything in my box from 0630 until noon when I caught my first bass. It wasn't a big one but it gave me some confidence. The bite was slow...I don't know if the fish had moved overnight or if the change in wind and temperature had shut the big fish bite down but at the end of the day I had 3 fish limit totaling only 42.25", my overall total was 78" which placed me out of the money in 51st place. Not where I wanted to be but definitely not as low as I may have placed if I hadn't went to check out those pelicans.

   At the weigh in all of us from Reel Krazy stayed to watch Clint get his big prize, talk to new and old friends and celebrate with our good friend and his precious family on his amazing finish.

...Clint asked me before we left, "When do you want to start preparing for the next KBF National Championship?", Tomorrow, "I answered."...If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.  Thank god for little plastic boats, Peace