Tag Archives: Toothy Critters

Seeing Red

The day started off quite well. I woke up early, took a shower, brushed my teeth and headed west. The brisk nature of high desert winter still loomed from the night before. The sunrise peeked assuredly from mountains slowly fading into the horizon. I felt as though I raced time herself, like the sun was setting again as I drove opposing the rotation of Earth. I was unknowingly driving back in time, back to the Miocene Epoch when ancestors of the modern Esox genus roamed the deep. Of course, this could have also been my imagination.

pano

These prehistoric critters have had a lot of time to become more and more efficient. If I was on the Earth for over five million years, I would be one hell of a fisherman too. Time after time, these fish remind you of how long their species has been smarter than ours. It only took us 20,000 years to develop the fly rod that we use today. Even after all of this time we have yet to develop polarized vision. They even have sensors on their bottom jaw that contain little tiny hairs that detect the signature of swimming fish. This is standard issue on these fish! We had to spend THOUSANDS of years just getting smart enough to figure out side scanning sonar! GAH! I digress…

These fish can present difficulties, they are even called the fish of 10,000 casts. There are intensely difficult days and I think I know exactly why. Have you ever brought a muskie up to your fly and it stares at it for a second, gives you a “Pfft” and a giggle as it meanders back off into the deep? Sucks, right? Let us say that someone drops a pink hat on the ground. Roughly 5% of humans would pick it up and wear it. The other 95% would look, but scoff at it instead. Due to the individuality among groups of muskie, they would also rather not wear a pink hat. At least not today. After all, it only took them five million years of being angry and territorial to become more individual. Although the group of fish has very common habits as a whole, each fish also has a set of personal tastes. Call me crazy…

tigereye

I looked over the partially frozen lake to find an ice free section of water that has been known to produce a handful of fish. I sat down to dig through my box for the weapon of choice. A green and blue double articulating streamer, deadly in the fall here. After one fish and a handful of follows, I gave up on the fly and fumbled through my box for other patterns. The idea here is common for me. Change flies, cast twenty times, count follows and takes, rinse and repeat. I tried many different patterns over the next few hours, ruling out common streamers and color combinations until one nearly punched me in the face. I felt stupid when I pulled it out of the box. Every other fly that day was weighted. This was not. Just simply a red and black articulating streamer. Armed with a sink tip line, this fly would suspend exactly where and when I  needed it too. Within ten casts, I was into two fish with no follows (follows are usually bad). This means the fish were taking the fly when they saw it. Red. It had to be red. Every other color did not produce results. I really think this was a sign. Muskies are, as usual, plotting against you.

deephooked

barred

If you have been reading this blog for the past few months, you will know that the muskies and I are at war. Allow me to paraphrase, the muskie took flies and snapped hooks, I vowed to go after their entire race and here we are today. I should have known they were out for blood when they chose red as their feeding color. The bad color. When landing fish, I noticed they would tightly close their mouth. Unusual for all of these fish to display this. They were telling me something. Getting them to open up requires a simple trick, just put the fish underwater until they become buoyant. Their mouth will open right up. This puts you in a rather precarious position when fishing from shore. Crouched and unstable next to the subject who is in it’s element almost entirely. Mano a fisho. The last fish of the day went well. Quick fight, hook removed, easy release. Until I looked down. A pool of blood was gathering at my feet and the line was sticking to my fingers. I hadn’t injured the fish, the fish injured me. I did not feel a thing. I have nicked my knuckles and other parts of my hand on teeth before, but apparently thumb wounds are like head wounds. It was just bleeding and I couldn’t stop it. For a couple minutes I fished on. I never realized how important your thumbs are while stripping fly line. I had to stop. Since there was no superglue in my Jeep, I went home with my tail between my legs. The muskie won the battle that day, but I learned a very powerful lesson. Never trust a muskie.

Lesson #18: Although they appear soft and cuddly, the muskie is a voracious predator and a reckless surgeon. Try to keep your hands out of it’s mouth full of tiny scalpels or lose your scruples. And by scruples, I mean your digits. And by digits, I don’t mean your phone number.

*Warning!!! Graphic image below!*

Much like bigfoot, the culprit is always fuzzy.

culprit

The aftermath

aftermath

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From Birth to Change

My birth into fly fishing began at age ten. My father, brother and I combed the shores of Bluewater Lake for catfish twenty years ago. Instead of finding catfish, we found a trout. At the time, I had no idea exactly what it was, but I did know that it was cool looking. My head was then wrapped around this fish. My nose buried in untouched books and magazines. My mother probably thought it was a child’s addiction, a passing phase. We were all unaware that this was a precursor to a life made from that addiction. A life so infused with fly fishing, time away from the water seemed like an eternity. Fly fishing ruined my life and saved it at the same time. Relationships were lost, friendships destroyed, all for one goal. To fish. The Lake...

Naturally, after twenty years, I returned to this lake. The lake of my fly fishing birth. Things had changed wildly. Upon my departure in 2002, the lake was so low and temps so high that the goldfish and white sucker population exploded. Gold bands largely covered the lake. Around the same time, Ramah Lake turned over and died taking its huge largemouth bass population with it. For the time, fishing was dead. I took my leave to Florida to study the worthless career path of “Audio Engineering”. Just before I left, there was talk about introducing bass to the lake. Then, talk of tiger muskie. The operation had momentum in 2003 when I returned. It takes a few years to grow a muskie and as I hiked down to the shoreline, thoughts of age began to surface. The oldest fish in this lake is ten, and we broke the state record five times last year. If you dig around in the world of studies and boring graphs, you will find that on average, these fish should only be around fourty inches. Not here, records are already topping fifty inches. This place has become world-class and it will remain that way for the next ten years.

I sat down on the broken shoreline and stared out across the lake. I was looking for signs of muskie. Ducks dove down into the water catching my attention, tricking me into the thought of swirling fish. There were no signs of fish, just calm and very cold water. I began casting clousers and other small flies to no avail. After the first couple hours, the story was about missed hook-ups and failing gear. I even had one snap a hook in two. Something wasn’t right. I tied on an articulating streamer pattern, only about five or so inches and the only one I had tied. On the second cast, I hooked up and lost the fly.frayed

It wasn’t long ago that I was out here and it happened in the same way. I swore I would come after the entire race to retrieve my fly. That day, I tied a ten inch double articulating fly that looked strikingly similar to a parrot. This could have been fueled by my subconscious hatred of parrots, but it was created to be big and bold. I tied with revenge on my mind.

On day two, I threw caution to the wind and tied on the monster. Within the first few minutes I had a fish in hand. They continually came after it, the fly bombarded by swimming baseball bats with teeth. In the wake of each miss, the fly would shed some hair and feathers, floating debris after being struck center mass by a torpedo. The fish came abundantly, sometimes waiting in the dark three feet from shore to come screaming out of nowhere. It became a suspense movie. My little brother was reeling in his lure humming “Pop!  Goes The Weasel”. Automatically, when turning that crank, you know a scary clown will pop out of the Jack-in-the Box. The question was, when? The clowns who stood before me in this lake weren’t happily colored clowns with red noses and a chipper attitude. These were voracious predators. Imagine a hand crank on the side of a lions cage, that is about the level of fear that works through you when you are trying to entice a strike from an unseen monster with a mouthful of razorblades. You expect the clown to jump out of the box at the end of the song. It never happens that way. Ever. That isn’t even the worst part of it! When you look down at the water and your fly, you will see the shadow lurking behind it. Even when there isn’t a shadow, your mind will create one. You will dangle that fly in front of the shadow, then the shadow disappears. It isn’t over yet. It’s like a dog waiting for you to throw its ball. Before you know it, you are evacuating your bladder while this fish tries to rip your arm off. You thought you would be casting until your arm turned to jello, but it isn’t the casting that gets you. It is the huge takes. They even give you a warning twitch! As if to say, “Hey! Watch this!”the take

The excitement never really ends. If you aren’t a smoker, by the time you finish muskie fishing, you will be. Just one to calm the nerves, just one more to calm the nerves… I couldn’t tell if my hands were shaking from the cold or from me being on edge. I walked around the corner into the sun for warmth. A cast and an immediate take and set. I didn’t know I was on with the biggest muskie of my life. As it lifted it’s head, I realized this fish could potentially put me in the hospital. I couldn’t tell the difference between excitement and fear. My whole life lead up to this moment. My life of fly fishing started here. Events of my life had been changing, as did with this lake. We evolved together. Even though we had our times apart, maybe the beginnings will be our future endings.Monster


The All Night Buffet

Maya mythology has a name for the inky darkness that  water takes on at night, Xibalba. Translated, it means the place of fear, the underworld. The Maya would make sacrifices into caves filled with water. Sacrifices not just to the dead, but also the lords of the underworld. They would make these sacrifices, sometimes human, with the theoretical thought that the barrier between water and air, or light and dark was the magical entrance to another world. Water at night has a different feel, different unknown factors. A fear of what lies beneath the water is in every person to some degree. Night multiplies the fear. Your eyes play tricks on you suggesting an alligator, or even Nessie (sans apple pie), are casting shadows beneath the water. Waiting for you to get too close.

Casting a fly rod into the darkness is a humbling experience gauged by feel rather than sight. You don’t realize how much your cast is based upon vision until your line pierces into the veil of darkness. It requires a certain mastery of your rig, or at the very least, luck. Once the line hits the water, instantly your eyes widen to accept incoming light, trying to see some sign of where your fly is. The stars that reflect off of the water are your only guide. A short strip and water pushed away from your indicator glistens with reflected starlight. There it is, waiting for nocturnal leviathans stalking prey in the shallows, for the denizens of Xilbalba to give it a tug.

A quick evening session before eating and calling it a day, that was the plan. The water was on the extreme side of murky and the fishing was slow. No fish to hand after about an hour, but the cool rain moved in and changed that. Offering a few fish before the sun finally made it’s way behind the steep canyon. As night began to set in, we headed back to the car and with unspoken words, Xilbalba called us. “Stop. Fish here for just a moment in the fading light. The car is right there. Cast.”

Passing motorists thinking, “What fools.” And fools we were. Hopped up on caffeine and fishing.

It was an all night buffet. A fish on every few casts.

We doubled up on fish more than a handful of times.

They began to grow in size.

Before we knew it, the clock rolled over to 1am. Both of us starving, in need of a break. Time to go home… Relish in one of the greatest, once in a lifetime fishing day nights. Keep remembering it, don’t fall asleep while driving to dream about it.


Death From Below

Throughout history man has created monsters in fable. Some of those monsters are personified in literary context based upon legends and such, while some are real genetically altered beasts. The thing we never see scare us the most. Seriously, if bigfoot was your neighbor, you would probably be exchanging apple pies and talking about the weather rather than allowing him to haunt your dreams. Unless your greatest fear is having bigfoot invite you to his BBQ. Even known species such as bears and cougars, while not being seen can still strike fear into you and keep you on guard.

Even though fishing takes up a third of my life I still have an irrational fear of the water. If the bottom can not be seen, Nessie could be lurking somewhere, without an apple pie. Maybe I saw Jaws when I was far too young. Toothy critters give me the heebie jeebies. Which lead my brother and I to a place which is known for it’s goldfish population until the arrival of the genetic mutant that is the E. masquinongy x lucius aka Tiger Muskie.

Even smaller tigers can tear you up.

These mutants are among the funnest creatures in the world to catch. Almost no fear of humans and don’t know when to stop, wildly flailing and thrashing while you try to bring them. Swinging their razor sharp teeth in all directions and rolling as you try to get your hands around it without winding up with your arteries sliced open. The first day, I hooked up with the dream fish and lost it just as quickly. I could’ve cried. It wasn’t long before “accidental master angler” Nate answered back with a few of his own fish to hand.

The smallest of Nate's fish, still a formidable foe.

I’m aware that these fish were small, but the monster fish didn’t seem as active or as plentiful as they used to be. I pressed on, searching for the monsters while Nate was catching fish 2-3′ from the shoreline. Nothing to hand for 2 days on my end. I know the tricks, but the grass hasn’t grown back yet. For me, I’ll just hold this fish and hope for the best next time.

I can pretend that I caught one.