Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"The Vermilion"

"There's a trail through the trees that goes down to the river. Come on, it's not very far." The year was 1969 and my older brother, a Boy Scout at the time, was leading me down to The Vermilion's Wildcat Canyon at Mathiesson State Park south of the Illinois River. It seamed such a long way from the parking lot where the scout tents were pitched to the trail head at the tree line. I don't remember much about it. I was only seven years old. You see, I did most of my growing up on the Little Vermilion in an area known as Forty Steps on the north side of the Illinois River. It was there where my friends and I would make half attempts at being fishermen hooking less than average bullhead and bluegill, and spending most of the day swimming, catching crawdads, and pulling the occasional leach from our shins.

Last Saturday I decided to take Jonn Graham's advice and revisit the The Vermilion with my brother-in-law Steve. The walk to the tree line was much shorter this time, even with all my cold weather gear, hip-waders and boots. As we followed the trail down we ran into Tom Levy, Site Superintendent for Starved Rock and Mathiesson parks. He was inspecting the trails for Sunday's mountain bike race. The three of us chatted for a few minutes about the trails, the river, and Jonn's blog at Prairie State Outdoors. It turns out that Steve's son James worked for Tom at the park a few years ago while he was studying forestry. Today James is an Indiana District Forester.

Steve didn't bring fishing gear so he played photographer while I fished. I spotted some nice rip-rap behind a boulder about 20 feet from shore and hooked a nice two pound Bronzie on the fourth cast. My blood was racing because this guy was a fighter, and I was thinking, "This is going to be a great day!"

It was the only fish of the day. I spent the next hour trying different approaches, different boulders, different flies, but nothing developed. Steve, on the other hand, was quite successful.

The Vermilion is a perfect refuge for smallmouth bass. There are plenty of rocks, boulders and rapids to make a happy home. Caution is advised. Footing can get tricky if your used to trekking mud. The Vermilion offers the only true white water in Illinois. Check this out for some interesting facts about Vermilion's Wildcat Canyon.

I'll be making many trips to this river.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Have to Say It

The only thing outstanding about Rush Limbaugh is his teeth.

And you can quote me on that.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

There's a Kayak in My Future Present (Part 4)

Be Happy...

Ahhh... if that's not a picture of happiness I don't know what is. No sooner did I bolt the unpainted rack to the trailer did Clif and I hit Banner Marsh after work. We put in about 5 PM. I brought both fly and spinning tackle. Clif went solely on fly. I started the evening with a plastic worm on the spinner but quickly lost interest. There's something about casting line that tickles my fishing fancy.

Clif was first to hook a nice largemouth. I raced over to snap a couple of pics. After he weighed in we decided to do a fly-by. I started the sprint with an easy peddle to avoid cavitaion. After I reached a good speed I turned it up to 11 about 30 ft from the frame. If you listen closely you can hear the fins slapping the bottom of the kayak. I'll have to work on that in the future to avoid scaring the fish. Don't blink!

(Note: The next day at work we ran some calculations, as engineers tend to do, and estimated a top speed of 3 1/2 mph.)

About an hour later on the water I hooked the specimen in the first pic on a chartreuse popper. I doubt it reached 3 lbs, maybe 2 1/2, but it still put up quite a fight on my 6 wt. Clif paddled over to capture the moment. And what a moment. First fish in the kayak on the first time out and on the fly. Thanks Clif! It was the only fish of the night for me. It didn't mater. I was just happy to be out there in the new toy.

There's a Kayak in My Future (Part 3)

Buy Kayak...

There she is in Ivory Dune as received from St. Louis Sailing Center via the UPS stork, although much dryer than the day received. Included are: standard Mirage Drive peddles, two piece adjustable paddle, high back deluxe seat with lumbar support, dry bag, one liter water bottle, bungee cord for rear deck storage (not shown), and an 8 inch drop in tackle tray with cover. Other items integral to the kayak are two 8 inch round sealed mid and rear storage ports, large sealed front hatch, two mesh pockets, two scupper plugs to keep the rear deck dry, two molded-in rod holders, flip-up rudder, and something the boys at Honda forgot to include in their S2000 two seat'r sports car offering... a molded-in cup holder. She's 13 ft 5 in long, 28.5 in wide, weighs 58 lbs empty, and costs the full 1,749 US dollars (oak leaf not included). You can search the world over and never find a cheaper price for a new Revolution. Believe me, I've tried.

Clif was on site during the delivery. I thought he was going to faint but he stayed tough. My wife arrived from work a few minutes later and just rolled her eyes at the two kids with a brand new toy.

Happiness is just around the corner.

Friday, July 24, 2009

There's a Kayak in My Future (Part 2)

Buy Car Rack Trailer...

Okay, So, it's not really a flat bed but it was inexpensive and it has everything I need for the purposes noted in the previous post. It's a 4x6 with 12 inch wheels. The first thing that was apparent was the trailer is designed for landscaping so the suspension was very stiff, easily remedied.

(Before I go any further I have to admit I've pulled the kayak on the trailer with the stiff suspension (Thanks to Clif). But for the sake of the blog we'll pretend that hasn't happened yet.)

The first thing I did was remove the middle springs and flip the lower springs. This had a significant and positive affect on ride. I also reduced the tire pressure from 90 psi to 15 psi. I'm not concerned about over stressing the springs or the tires. The trailer and tires are rated for 2000 lbs. I won't get close 200 hauling the kayak and all that goes with it. The next thing I did was build a rack out of 2x4's, painted it black, then added soft plastic threshold beading to the tops to protect the kayak hull. Because the trailer is for landscape work I had to remove the tilt pin and add a bolt to eliminate all the rattling during roading. Here's the final result.

Part three coming up. And this time I won't make you wait 4 weeks for an update. I promise!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

There's a Kayak in My Future (Part 1)

Last year I spoke with Bill during a family gathering. I hadn't seen Bill for a over year. Among other subjects we talked of fly fishing. "Dave, you gotta get yourself a kayak. It's the new, hottest thing. You can get right up in the reeds, sneak up on `em real quite." Later when we were saying our goodbye's he rings in again, "I'm tellin' ya, kayaks are the way to go." The seed was planted and over the next few months I was obsessed with canoes and kayaks. I eventually narrowed my desire to the Hobie Mirage kayak line. In an earlier post a wrote about test driving one in Florida. So, yesterday I drove downtown and ordered a hitch for my Toyota Camry. I know what you're asking. Hitch. Kayak. What's the connection? Well, it's like this...

Buy car rack. Buy kayak. Be happy.

I was scoping out Yakima's car top rack system last month, but the `05 Camry limits the rack spread to only 30 inches, which limits the haul length to approximately 10 feet. And since I'm seriously considering the Hobie Revolution, which is over 13 feet long, the rack system would require the extender kit. Being an engineer I realized that the extender kit doesn't increase the foot print on the roof of the car. Lots of questions arose. Plus, I miss my truck. (That's a story for a different blog.) So I got to thinking, Maybe a trailer would be a better option. I can mount a storage box for all the "stuff" and add a rack for the kayak. I can also use the trailer to haul "other stuff" from Home Lowes-enards. I even have the boss's approval. It's all coming together

Next, a small flat-bed trailer. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's Been a Dry Month...

...for fishing. We've had so much rain in May that fishing is nearly shutdown except for die hard retirees and those with private lake memberships. The water on the Illinois river in the Peoria area is so high that the Coast Guard posted a no boating policy over the Memorial Day weekend.

I'm looking forward to doing quite a bit of Smallie fishing this year in the local rivers, but I'm worried the spawning season has been interrupted with high, muddy, fast moving water. Never the less I'll be out there. After all, it's not just about fishing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Nose Full of Rabbit Hair

Clif has been bugging me for some time about instructions for the double weed guard I use on my bass flies. Last night I tied a few so now I've got some photos and I'm ready to post. The nice thing about weed guards is they don't interfere with the tying method of most flies. It's simply an added step in the recipe. I'll use an eyeless modified Mad Tom pattern on a Mustad #2 streamer during this instruction.

Begin the tying session normally. Start with wrapping the hook shank with thread and tie on the zonker for the tail. Then build up the body as shown here.

There's no need to build up the body to the eye, just go forward enough to place the weed guard. The guard will be sloped back but still in front of the hook tip by 1/4 to 3/8 inch. The goal is to allow the fly to glide over an obstacle as you strip your line slowly but deflect enough to set the hook.

Let's attach the guard.

In case your wondering where the hook point is, when I tie I place the hook in the vise so the point is just inside the jaws. I do this to allow the thread to slip over the jaws, instead of getting caught up on the point as I wrap, and also to avoid getting poked. Now, back to the guard.

Cut off about 4 inches of 40 lb mono, straighten it with your fingernail, fold it in half with a crease, and place it over the hook. Then wrap it with 5 or 6 turns of thread as shown above.

Add a couple of over and under wraps, similar to the second step of tying on weighted eyes, to spread the mono to a "V". Add a drop of your favorite glue to the turns to set it. As the glue dries hold each end of the mono in position so it looks like this.

After the glue sets push the guards to the hook tip and trim the ends about 1/4 inch past the hook tip. Finish your fly as you normally would. Here's how mine turned out.

I'll call it a Mad Bugger. The body is made with an
anemic black zonker so it ended up looking more
like a woolly bugger.

Here's a couple more.

No name yet, it's a zonker tail with a maribo body and Flashaboo. Maybe I'll call it Dave's Clam Shouter. Think about it for a while, it'll make sense. ;)

The Red Green Show (In honor of our fearless leader of the Possum Lodge)

I'm going to tie more Red Greens because of this...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Honey! Have You Seen the Sun?

Damn it! I know I left it somewhere. Let's see I put it down here about three days ago and it should be right HERE! Not in the living room. Not in the kitchen or bedroom. Sigh! Okay, let’s backtrack. I walked in the door, dropped my keys, wallet and phone on the tray. Then I walked into the family room and kicked off my shoes, continued to the kitchen and set my lunch box on the island. Opened a beer and went to the living room to practice some guitar licks. Watched some TV `till ten and went to bed. …Same thing every day this week. This is driving me insane. “HONEEEEEY! Are you sure it’s not up stairs somewhere?”

“Don’t worry about it. It’ll show up when you least expect it.”

Alright, this is really starting to PISS ME OFF! I’ve looked in every place I can think of. Wait! The car… Center console, glove box, back seat, trunk, NOTHING! If there truly is a god he’s one cruel SOB.

Check the garage. Workbench, storage shelves, cupboards? SIGH!!!

Did I leave it outside when I was measuring for the deck? Sighhhh… Wow, the trees sure popped these last couple of days. I can’t remember the grass being this green before. Terri’s Bleeding Hearts are just about to open. I hope she remembered to sprinkle repellent on the Hosta. Her garden is gonna be awesome this year. And with the deck this year, summer is going to be awesome.

What the hell was I looking for again?

Monday, April 20, 2009


I do not hug trees. I don't chase international fishing boats with over powered inflatables in the deep blue. And I laugh when my brother-in-law says that PETA stands for "People for the Eating of Tasty Animals". But I do have a mildly soft spot for the environment. I make it a point to retrieve other's discarded mono to my vest pocket, provided I can. And I absolutely will not toss trash out the car window when the Quarter Pounder and fries are finished.

One of my chores around the house is to take out the garbage every week, and every week I dump paper, plastic, and metal in a large plastic Hefty bag and drag it to the curb. Should I feel guilty? Should I curb my appetite? Should I feel good that the non-biodegradables will be dumped in a landfill and not the local waterway? The town I live in does not encourage recycling any more than charging for the service. I will not store a hundred bags of un-crushed aluminum cans in my garage just to drive them to the local recycle plant once a year for a few thin dimes.

I have to admit I tie all of my flies with synthetic material. Does that surprise you? It shouldn't. All the fly tying thread I purchase at Gander Mountain, Dick's Sporting Goods, and Cabela's at $1.99 a spool is synthetic. Some of it is polyester. Some of it is Nylon. Most of it is polyethylene. None of it, as far as I know, is biodegradable. And nearly all of it will end up at the bottom of a body of water.

Maybe I'm being anal about it because of my atrocities at the other end of my lifestyle. Maybe my pathetic attempt at cleaning up the environment is really just for my own mental well being. I suppose nothing in humankind is certain but death, taxes, and hypocrisy.

I'll continue to collect discarded mono, when I can. And, I'm going to see what happens when I tie my next flies with cotton thread and natural materials.

It's Official

3.8 Lbs.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Colder than a Witches Teet

Last Wednesday Clif and I hit Banner Marsh after work to chill the toes to the bone, and maybe catch a fish or two. It's one thing to cast from a boat, but it's another thing entirely to get into the elements. Scott may never understand.

Clif fished one of the ponds a few days earlier and was gracious to ask for company the next time. Banner Marsh is a series of coal strip pits that are ever popular in Central Illinois, so you're never quite sure where the drop is unless you're equipped with a fish finder. To date I know of no apparatus for wading, line casters. The quip "walk softly and carry a big stick" was the theme for the day.

The night before I tied a Barr's Meat Whistle, and it's now wondering Banner Marsh in the company of "Walter". If you happen to hook Walter at Banner and you notice two lures in his mouth, kindly return the other to your's truly. If you prefer throwing line instead of lures then consider it yours and enjoy. The day ended with Clif netting a nice 19 inch large mouth among the floating logs. It's weight is currently in resolution mode. Clif's mechanical scale read three pounds but we're both sure his catch was closer to four. Stay tuned.

Fishing this particular pool was the second closest thing I got to what I consider the pinnacle of fly fishing. Nipple deep in cold water, ankle deep in mud, frozen knee caps, casting to the reeds, and a *ping* after 15 seconds of something big at the other end of the line is not considered waisted time. It was a great evening. I plan to return when the weather suits my clothes.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Weed Guard for Brownliners?

While wandering the streets of Boca Grande three weeks ago I ducked into, what else, Boca Grande Outfitters on Park Ave. I was looking for a wide brimmed hat for the coming summer days on the water when I happened upon their stock of saltwater flies. They had the standard fair of home spun goodies (from Singapore no doubt). What interested me most was their offerings from Enrico Puglisi. I've never heard of this guy before, but they carried a wide variety of his streamers in just about every color combination I've seen. So, I perused the rack for what I'm sure seemed like eternity to the local help. Oooo, a blue over white, neato! There's an olive over yellow with red gills, nice. And this one with vertical stripes, looks like a baby bass or crappie. That's a winner!.

"That'll be seven dollars and fifty six cents. Cash or credit?" (not including a hat.) Regardless, it's a pretty cool fly. Enrico calls it an Oscar. My older brother had one in his aquarium for about 4 years until it out grew it's 20 gallons and became fertilizer for the bushes outside his college apartment window... probably not the same breed.

"So, how is all this related to weed guards?". Well, if you're a regular Enrico customer you know that some of his flies have a double drop weed guard made of heavy gauge mono. I was particularly interested in this because according to Mr. Barton over at Singlebarbed, I'm a brownliner (well... almost), and I need weed guards on my flies because of where I cast. I also, like most fly fishers, tie my own from time to time and I'm not convinced the single loop guard is as reliable as the fly manufacturers seem to think. So I decided to incorporate the double drop into my own creations. It's actually a pretty easy technique, and you can add it to just about any design.

Still on board? Read on...

Enrico Puglisi Oscar (length: 4 inches)

If you look closely (above) you can see how the guard is draped over the hook near the eye. It's tied in with over-and-under figure eights to hold it down. I'm guessing the mono is pre-stressed at the bend to keep it's shape and speed up the production process. I was able to tie mine (below) with four or five loops around the drops under the shank, followed a few over-and-under figure eights to hold them tight to the shank.

John Graham over at at Prairie State Outdoors featured a Holschlag Hackle Fly a few posts ago that caught my eye. It seemed to me a good candidate for a weedless. Here's my version.

Weedless Holschlag Hackle Fly

The guard is tied in before the chenille and hackle are brought forward. It's no trouble at all to thread both between the two sides of mono on the way to the eye. I'm fairly happy with my first attempt. Next time I'll try to get the guard to lean back a few degrees so it slides over obstructions easier.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Yes, I am an Idiot

Don't ask. I know. There's something wrong with me. I spent a week in fishing paradise and didn't cast a single fly. I brought no tackle with me, and I have no pictures of me holding a red fish or a tarpin. I even took a day trip with Terri to Boca Grande, quite possibly the Tarpin Capital of the United States and all I did was wander around town and shop. I am an idiot.

On one of the warmer days I sailed a small trimaran into a shallow protected bay on the east side of Captiva. The red fish were definitely catchable. The weather was, as was every day, perfectly beautiful. A couple of days later I rented a Hobie Mirage Adventure. If your not familiar with Hobie's kayak line you're in for a pleasant surprise. A few years ago Hobie invented a pedal drive system that's now available on their Mirage class kayaks. The friendly folks at Captiva Kayaks set me up with a kayak, drive pedals, kayak paddle, drybag, and water. I spend about forty-five minutes cruising up and down the shore and criss-crossing the ICW effortlessly peddling in recumbent style and making a wake (I kid you, not). I was in heaven. The only time I used the paddle was to see top end speed combining both drive methods. It was a bit awkward, and the paddle spent most of the time strapped to the gunwale. As soon as we got home to Illinois I did some research on Hobie and discovered their newest creation, The Pro Angler. All I'm sayin' is Google "Hobie Pro Angler". Here, I'll do it for you. I recommend you follow the link to Kayak Fish Nation. Those guys are sic.

Terri and I promised each other we would return to Captiva soon. I promised myself I would would bring my tackle and rent that Hobie Kayak again. And next time I'm bringin' home pictures.

We're Surrounded by Millionaires

Original writing: Feb 23rd

What a difference forty years makes. Terri and I are in Captiva, Florida as I write this. She's out shopping in Sanabel and I've just finished a walk through the asphalt streets to reacquaint myself. My wife and I planned this trip a few months ago as our annual late-winter vacation. Travel costs are out of control so we decided to stay within the contiguous forty-eight. The last time I was here I was about five years old. Young enough to get lost and just old enough to remember what it was like here so long ago. Back then most, if not all, of the roads were nothing more than shell covered sand. The homes were small, one story unconditioned cottages tucked away in the lush green of palm and banyan trees wrapped in vines of every sort. Every day on the way to the beach my older brothers, sister, and I would run from shady forage to shady forage lest we burn the bottoms of our feet. In the evenings we'd follow mom and dad to the local diner, all the way pushing and teasing each other about snakes and crocodiles hiding in the bushes.

As I reminisce I realize the monsters have been replaced. Nestled among the bushes and finely trimmed lawns are two and three story million dollar McMansions. Oh, they're fine looking homes, but what bothers me is the slow and comfortable pace that's missing on the island. No longer are the quaint sandy roads. No longer are the people walking about visiting. No longer do lemonade sipping elders wave from their front porch as I walk by. Everyone is snug in the cool dwellings of modern convenience surrounded with DO NOT ENTER, NO TRESPASSING, ARMED RESPONSE and FOR SALE signs. Today there was a traffic jam at Andy Rosse Lane and Captiva Drive. The UPS truck was double parked for a delivery at the Bubble Room gift shop. I simply walked through the mess in amazement that they absolutely needed to hop in the family Rover to drive 5 blocks to The Mucky Duck. "Hey folks! The high today is 74!. How `bout ridin' a bike?"

Our rental unit is not fancy by any stretch. But it
serves it's purpose in modest comfort, and it's in the middle of "town". Live music plays every day from across the street at the Key Lime. It soothes my soul when I can hear it between the passing cars.

It's two o'clock and my beer's about finished. Terri's not back yet, so I guess I'll head over to the general store, pick up a tin of Macanudo's and an ice cream Drum Stick, and read my book on the beach.

I'm gettin' pretty good at that ring game.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

All's Fair in Love, War, Politics, and Fly Tying

This line has seen it's share of embellishments. Including mine over at LunkerHunt. But my wife surprised me yesterday, one of our Maltese in hand, and looking over my shoulder while I was tying a few Clouser Minnows. "Maybe you can make one of those with Molly's hair."

"Yea I don't think so. That's a little creepy."

But after thinking about it awhile, it started to make perfect sense. Heck, the dog won't need it come summer time. It has natural oils unlike the purified, hermetically sealed fox tail at Gander Mtn. It's fine texture is almost pure white. If I venture into purist mode I can dye it any color I like. It'll be available in lengths up to 6 inches. And best of all, it's free.

Let's see, puke flies, minnows, nymph dubbing, not a bad short list. So when warmer weather is upon us and you happen to see my dogs, just ignore the bad hair cut.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Catfish. The Other White Meat.

I'll be the first to admit that my fishing skills... well, they suck. Clif will be the first to agree. Sure, I can cast a fly 50-60 feet with a good back wind. But ask me to CATCH a fish, and you'll be waiting a long time for results. Most, okay, maybe all of the fish I actually hook are by matter of luck. That is until Clif and I took the long walk at Powerton last weekend. While I was tinkering around with X-Rap shads, craw fish cranks, Rapela minnows, and a jitterbug (you read that right) Clif was shoring seven catfish within a half hour. They weren't the lunkers he hunts, but fish just the same. I had to get me some a' that action. So he set me up with "stink-bait-on-a-stick" and on my second cast I was hooked. Netted in a nice little specimen. Wow! that was easy. I didn't want to interfere with his claimed spot on the rocks so I returned the rig to his backpack and started throwin' another minnow. We eventually turned to the fly rods with no success. Just a few lost flies in the rocks.

So, this week I started pondering. It's time to broaden my horizons. I believe I'll mosey on down to the local bait shop and pick me up some stink.

I love catfish!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Once bitten...

A few years ago my wife and I were visiting her brother and family in Traverse City for a week in late July. It's really the only decent time to travel that far north and still feel comfortable in Bermuda shorts, tees, and flip-flops. So there I was sitting on the veranda with Bill after dinner smoking $8 cigars when he turns to me and asks, "Ever fly fished before?"


"Excellent. Let's go down the Boardman for couple hours."

Forty five minutes later we were pullin' on waders and boots and slathering mosquito repellent. Then he retrieves his bamboo fly rod, assembles it, turns to me and says, "You're not fishing today. You're just here to watch." Ouch! I can't say I blame him. I discovered a couple years later why. Apparently that custom made bamboo rod set him back a few hundred bucks.

We walked to the rivers edge and he showed me how to read the water. We lifted a few rocks and examined their landscape. I apparently saw nothing and leaned in for a closer look. "What are those little tube thingys?"

He explained all about the life cycle of the average mayfly, how it lives on the bottom, how it rises to emerge as a mature mayfly, and breaths air for only a day to mate and lay eggs. This evening we're using dry flies. The Hex's were still rising. We waded down stream while he showed me the best places to cast, under overhanging brush here, in a small eddy behind a rock over there. He netted a couple of browns and a rainbow and explained how delicate they are and why they should only be handled with wet hands.

As we rounded a bend into an open meadow we startled a pair of mallards and they immediately took flight into a red evening sky framed in pine trees and rolling hills behind, and me with out my camera. "Man, does it get any better than this?"