Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Headin' South

Marty with his personal best musky!
A very good friend of mine is heading south this April. Marty and I have been fishing together for about 10 years now and I probably have to take credit (or blame) for the fly fishing addiction that I started in him. We met through a work situation and quickly became good friends thanks to our mutual passion for death with fins, the freshwater cuda, the water werewolf (it is a bit more than just a water wolf..), yes folks, I am talking about the muskellunge! I was even fortunate enough to have been paddling the canoe when Marty got his personal best musky. We have fished together a lot, but not as much as either of us would like. Marty and I have had some of the best days on the water together (our two best days of musky together were a total of 7 fish landed each day and each of those days had some rapid fire action) and some pretty sketchy days (we got trapped on an island on the rapidly rising Salmon River in March) but we have always had a really great time on the water.

Cordell in his natural habitat

This April Marty is heading down to the Bonefish Bootcamp with Cordell Baum Jr aka the Bonefish Whisperer. If you don't know about Cordell yet, you really need to look him up. This guy is a master of the flats in the Miami area. He fishes out of a canoe for bones, tarpon, reds, permit and even sharks! I guide out of a canoe on Lake Champlain so I have mad admiration for someone willing to take on saltwater bruisers like that. And he has figured out how to catch the exotics and native fishes found in the canal systems around Miami too.  I fully intend on spending some time with him myself as soon as I can. If you are heading to South Florida and want some challenging and exciting fishing you need to hit up the Whisperer! 

I already tied up a bunch of flies for peacock bass to send down to South Florida with the Pikin' Redneck Ken Capsey so I definitely can't send Marty down empty handed. Over the next couple of months I will put up some photos of the flies I am putting together for Marty to nail some fish with. I want to make sure he has the right ammo to take down everything from peacocks to bones to sharks and tarpon..... A lot of fun for him and just as much fun for me to tie that kind of variety! I do have to admit that I feel a bit bad for sending Marty down there with a bunch of my flies since Cordell has some sweet patterns he has developed for the fishing he does but I can't resist the variety of flies it lets me wrap up! So check these out:

 I am loving these epoxy minnows I have come up with. The epoxy minnow is not a new fly by any means but I think my materials and construction method are a bit different than anything else I have seen. I can't wait to see them in action!

Yea, Clouser minnows. I know, big surprise right? There are few places in the world where these flies don't work so I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't send a variety with Marty to go down there. And chartreuse and white is the classic color. Plenty more of these coming in a wide variety of colors and materials too!

Some nice rabbit strip tarpon flies. I saw this pattern in a magazine a couple of years ago. It was rabbit strip in the back and wool in the front. I love the Hareline Sculpin Wool- great stuff to work with and it looks great in the water. It catches fish too! So I tied up these tarpon bunnies on some 3/0 Gamakatsu  Live Bait hooks. It is a stout hook and wickedly sharp. Hopefully that will penetrate the mouth of those brutes fairly easily! The weight of the hook combined with the materials should make for a cool neutrally boyant fly.... Let's see what the field tester says about that!

5/0 Crease flies
I have been having a lot of fun with Crease Flies too. I did them in a couple of different sizes thinking that they could be used for peacocks, snook, reds, small tarpon... lots of things. When I tie them I get to play with epoxy too! I think before too long I will post up how I do epoxy and maybe some instructions for making your own epoxy wheel pretty inexpensively. If anyone is interested that is....

More stuff coming soon!

2/0 Creasers

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Fishmas Everyone!

I would like to take the time today to wish everyone a very Mery Christmas! I hope you have the opportunity to spend it with your loved ones. I am also going to wish everyone a fantastic 2011- filled with success in all your endeavors and of course with many, many fish caught! I am going to take a few moments now to put up some photos of people I am very happy to have had in my angling life over the past few years with some words to go along with them. 

Tim, we only got out together for the steelhead trip this past year. I know we tried to fish more, but it didn't come together. That will be a different story this coming summer. I really have a blast out on the water with you. Its time you got a nice carp!

Hey Pete, I could not ask for a better brother! We need to get out fishing more. I know the schedules don't always mesh well, but you do have a score to settle with a certain river... Tossing fluff to Esox is going to happen this year! And lets get you a nice big carp too. (just remember not to set the hook like you would for a bowfin!)

Wesley- you are undoubtedly one of the best young anglers I have had the fortune to fish with! Your postitive attitude, enthusiasm, always growing skill set, and hardcore fishing ethics will take you far with the long rod. We will get out again soon!

Ken it was awesome to get out with you this year finally! Too bad it wasn't earlier in the year though... lots of other critters to get into, but that is what this coming year is for, right?  We have plenty of Esox to tangle with!

Todd, we don't get a lot of opportunities to fish much longer since you are on the left coast, but it is always a great time when we do! I am going to get out there as soon as I can, but we need to do some fishing around Constable again too!

Kurt, we have had a lot of fun every time we have gotten out. Let's make a lot more of that happen in this upcoming season. I am really looking forward to collaborating with you on some work this year too!

Kevin I knew from the first time we fished together that we would put a lot of time on the water! We got out a bunch this year, but is it ever enough? Let's get a picture of you with that musky this year!

Marty, we need to find the time to make trips like this one happen again! Only a couple of days out with you this year was nowhere near enough time on the water with you. That has got to change this season!

Beth,  we don't fish together as much as I would like to but I have to say that without you my fishing would not be possible! Your support and understanding let me do what I do and I cannot thank you enough for that. I am sure we will have a lot of fun on and off the water this coming year. I love you kiddo!

With that, here are wishes for more fishes for everyone reading this blog! Have a very happy and safe holiday season!  And for plenty of tight lines in the coming year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pucker Up!

Hey! Your maxilla is showing!
So class, last time we had Fish Geek Out Class, we were learning about the different types of fishes out there. Of all the categories I talked about, the most modern and most numerous class is the Teleosts. About three quarters of all fish alive today belong to this class. A vast majority of those fishes that we toss feathers and fur at are Teleosts. I hear the cry now: Semper Teleostei! Ok, maybe it should be Pene Semper Teleostei! for me (translation: almost always Teleostei)
The caudal peduncle makes a great hand hold

So what makes the Teleosts Teleosts? Well, since they are all in the Actinopterygii they all have rayed fins (those little lines you see radiating out through the fins are rays). They all possess a homocercal tail- one that is equal in size top and bottom. Their spines end in the caudal peduncle- my favorite fish part name!  The caudal peduncle is what attaches the fish to its caudal fin. This is what you grab onto when you tail a fish. I bet a lot of you have used the caudal peduncle and never knew the name of what you grabbed onto until now. Use it with your friends when landing fish for amusing confusion! “Grab the caudal peduncle!”  “The what?”
Now, the characteristic of Teleosts that you have all been waiting for- these fish all have movable jaws. The maxilla and premaxilla are able to protrude from the fish. The pucker! There it is! What an amazing ability that we mostly take for granted! I suspect that I need to explain a bit more about this capability.

The maxilla is the upper jaw bone of the fish and the premaxilla are a pair of small bones that usually carry teeth (we all like fish with teeth right?). When these are able to extend it does some cool things. First the jaws extend out- think of it as the fish version of reaching out to touch someone. The mouth also gets a whole lot bigger. Finally, and potentially most importantly, it lets the fish suck in a bunch of water (very technical there huh?). So maybe it isn’t a classic pucker, but this blog entry gave me the idea for the name. Blame them. Great article though…

big bass, cute chic

What does that mean for us fly chuckers?  A whole lot actually if you think about it. I am going to use the smallmouth bass as an example. Look at the fish when it is just sitting there. The mouth doesn’t look too big (hence the name). But what happens when the bass goes to eat something? That mouth opens a lot larger than it appears to. As it opens up water rushes into its oral cavity too. It all happens in a split second. The prey item is washed right in. If you have ever fished bass in relatively clear water this is quite apparent. Your fly is swimming along and then WHOOSH, gone in an instant.

Now, for an instant, think about where you probably hook most bass. I find that much of the time it is in the skin just behind the extendable jaw (the maxilla). Because that maxilla is still attached to the fish when it extends, that flesh behind it is fairly thin right? An easy spot to get a hook into wouldn’t you think? Does that help us anglers out a bit perhaps? Darn tootin!
Kevin's slab rock bass

Here is something else to think about with these extendable jaws. A fish can now eat much larger prey items. Ever caught a small fish on a big fly? Of course you have. Especially bass and other Centrarchids (the sunfish family of which the largemouth and smallmouth are members… I gotta get going with the name game post too…). I have had it happen with a lot of the Esox genus as well. Next time you have a rock bass in your hands, open up its jaws. Don’t worry, be gentle and the fish will be fine. That little guy can open up his mouth pretty far. That is how they get those little poppers so far back in there making it such a pain in the ass to get them out. They open their mouth and suck that popper right in. Just an awesome way to feed!
48" musky- death with fins thanks to that mouth!  

I used to work at a small public aquarium that dealt with fish native to Lake Champlain. We had a pretty small tank, about 10 gallons, and we had a couple of 8 inch pickerel in there. I came in one morning and there was only one pickerel left in there. It was a really fat pickerel too. And he had a tail hanging out of his mouth. That fish was only slightly larger than the other one. The way the jaws open up in members of the Pike family really lets them eat big prey and suck it in. They can, and do eat things that are about 2/3 to ¾ their own length. Obviously they have no issues with being cannibals either. That is why big flies can be a great idea for them too. It is all about that extendable maxilla though… open wide, suck in, and yummy, yummy in the tummy!

I think that it is pretty easy to see what implications that this Teleost adaptation has for this very successful group of fishes. It also seems pretty obvious to me why it really helps out those of us who toss feathers and fur (and flash, and rabbit strips, and hair, and wool and…). It lets these fish grab our flies a whole lot easier and it lets us hook them a whole lot easier too. After catching many bowfin, I can tell you without hesitation that it is much easier to put a hook into the mouth of a bass. And a whole lot easier to get your fingers back intact!

Speaking of that… is anyone interested in learning a bit about dentition?  The Tooth Tale shall be coming up soon!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Golf vs Fly Fishing: Guess Who Wins in My Eyes?

Gierach in his natural habitat
Ok, I am going to get off my fish mouth foray to comment on something else. Trout Unlimited just put up a great interview with John Gierach. If you are not familiar with Gierach, you really need to read his works. Great stuff, lots of humor, lots of insight and of course lots of fly fishing. Anyway, I read this wonderful Q&A:

TU: Why fly-fishing instead of golf?

J.G.: Well, it’s doesn’t destroy habitat, for one thing. Golf courses destroy habitat. Fishing depends on habitat not being destroyed. Culturally, golf is just pointlessly ridiculous. If you don’t just see that golf is ridiculous, then you don’t get it.

So perfect. So absolutely perfect. I have to admit to have never played golf in my life and I have absolutely no desire to do so. I never understood the game and it never appealed to me. I am always amazed at how many times people have compared the two pastimes. I suppose in some ways there are some similarities. Learning to use the equipment properly takes time and practice. Even after you have learned a lot about it, you will always be able to learn more.  Both take place outside. You have a good chance of being struck by lightning because of the gear you are using. That is about where the similarities end in my mind. 

Let’s look at the differences. 
Very dangerous- now hit it with a club!
-The object in golf is to outsmart a white, inanimate object in an excessively manicured setting. The object in fly fishing is to outsmart a wild animal in its natural habitat. The habitat changes a lot, the fish’s prey changes over a season, the fish move, etc. Correct me if I am wrong, but the environment of a golf course is intended to remain exactly the same every time you go there. The weather might change, but the level of the grass on the golf course is not likely to change rapidly with a good thunderstorm. And the balls are not likely to go on the feed in that event either. I think if I were to get to a trout stream, pike river, wetland, lake or pond and found it perfectly groomed, I would cry. Although I guess I might consider a tournament bass boat to be similar to a golf cart.

Grizzly hackle, flash and eyes- it will catch a fish!
- Every time you go to a golf course, unless you are a member of the club (and sometimes even then), you pay a greens fee. I pay for a fishing license once a year and I can fish for a year. There are fee to fish places in the States (I know it is much more common in Europe and elsewhere) and I admit I have fished in one on occasion, although the fees are rather prohibitive now. Since I buy a yearly license in Vermont ($20) and in New York ($70-just went up last year from 40) I still pay less than going to your average golf course 3 or 4 times. In some places that $90 won't even cut it too! And I can fish dawn to dark, not just 18 holes. Can you imagine “I am sorry sir, you have already fished 6 pools, 7 runs and 5 riffles. If you want to continue you need to pay the fees again”.

Is it golfing or clown college?
- Most fly fishermen (and women) try to dress so as to be more part of the environment. If you blend, you generally catch more fish in most situations. Not all the time, but it definitely can make a difference on a wild trout stream in the East. Ever seen some golfers?  Need I say more? I am amazed that the golf balls don’t flee in shock from the discordant patterns- enough to cause a Woodstock hippy to have a serious flashback.

- Golfers count their strokes and rate themselves by that measure. I suppose that some folks will count a tally of fish caught and compare that to others as a measure of success, but I think that most fly anglers don’t mind having a nice day out on the water without even catching anything. Sometimes it is just about being out there. I guess that if I had to pay to be having fun I might want to have a measure of my success though.

One of the reasons for those greens fees!
- Fly anglers generally have an honest concern for the environment. Look at groups like Trout Unlimited, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, and the Fly Fishing Federation. Many fly fishing companies like Orvis and others give generously to conservation efforts. There is a genuine consciousness of the need for healthy habitat and keeping that habitat wild. And there is a long history of anglers being whistle blowers on those that cause damage to those environments we spend time in. Don’t mess with our fish man! Remember those perfectly manicured greens? The grass that needs to be kept perfect for the little white dimply balls (I mean the ones the folks are playing the game with)? Do you think there might be a few herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, other pesticides and fertilizers used to keep those greens so obsessively compulsively flawless? Check out this article, the doctor says not to chew on grass or tees from the greens and not to put your cigar or cigarette down on them either. Now, if there are potential impacts to the humans on the golf course, do you suppose there might be risks to the fishes, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, plants, and all the other biological entities in the local ecology?  Don’t even get me started about water use to have golf in places like New Mexico, Arizona and Las Vegas….

It strikes me that there is a pretty distinct difference in mindset between the two “sports”. I don’t get golf. I never will. I know that some people will never get fly fishing too. That is ok. But at the end of the day I know that as a fly angler I am likely to have less negative impact on local habitat than golfers. What would you think of a guide service that offers a day of fly fishing combined with a day of golfing? A bit of a split personality perhaps?

I guess some people will just never get it.....

The Taxonomy Tangent

Continuing from Friday, more on the fishes’ mouth! 
Open wide!
So a quick review: we know that there are some basic mouth styles: terminal (at the end of the mouth- a typical fish mouth), superior (pointed upward), inferior (pointed downward) and some fish have specialized mouths for different food preferences.  What does this mean for the fly angler?  A whole lot actually!
Grannoms galore!
Spring sucker

So it is early in the year and the suckers are kicking around in big numbers getting ready to spawn or even in the act of spawning. Being an open minded angler (you are open minded enough to read my blog so I am hoping you are open minded enough to target suckers when they are present- right?) you think to yourself, how do I target these fish? You notice that there are tons of Mother’s Day caddis kicking around (aka the Grannom or Brachycentrus to be exact- the warm water guy knows a bit about bugs- cool huh?). There are literally thousands of adults on the rocks and in the afternoon they are in the water. After reading this weird blog about fly fishing and geeking out on fish you know that the suckers you are seeing have inferior mouths. This explains why they aren’t jumping up on the surface to take the adults there. But they are moving around on the bottom. You then put on a caddis soft hackle (green body with a brown/grey hackle) with a couple of shot a foot ahead of it or you put that fly as the dropper behind a heavily weighted bugger to get it down. Within a couple of minutes you are into a nice 5 lb redhorse that goes airborne several times.
Banded Killi- look out, I am coming!
See, learning that the sucker family has an inferior mouth actually helped you choose the fly that caught the fish. While I have caught a few suckers on dries- truly a rare event, but it does happen- the vast majority have been caught with flies right on the bottom. They don’t often move much up the water column to take a fly. Their mouth doesn’t make it easy for them to feed anywhere but on the bottom. And having a nice fleshy set of lips makes it really easy to get a hook set. Conversely, when I go down to the Amazon and have a chance to target arowana I won’t be using heavily weighted flies. Dahlberg Divers all the way man! Their mouth is in the superior position. They probably won’t be overly interested in critters crawling around on the bottom. Knowing your target species mouth style does make a difference. I used the arowana as an example here because the only fish in Vermont that I can think of that has a good superior mouth is the banded killifish (Fundulus diaphanous). Until I can get a 000 weight rod with 10X tippet and size 32 flies, I probably won’t target them. Probably… but I am now considering it… look for the killifish post this coming summer!
As I have said before, the majority of fishes have a terminal mouth. It should come as no surprise that not all terminal mouths are alike. There are a wide variety of shapes and functions (which also holds true for inferior and superior mouths as well, but I want to geek out on the terminal mouth). Before I get into that too much, let’s get into a few things about fish evolution and taxonomy. It is a pretty important part of the mouth story….
The Fishes are in Phylum Chordata (animals with backbones, although there are some invertebrates that are Chordates, but that is another kettle of fish – pun intended), in the sub division Craniata (animals with skulls). The Class Pisces that used to encompass all the fishes is no longer used. Yea, confusing, but that can be science at times because as we learn more about the world we live in, we re-examine earlier thoughts and refine them using new data. Pretty cool really.  Alright, from there we have three SuperClasses of fishes:
Hagfish- purdy ain't it?
SuperClass Agnatha, the Jawless Fishes. Skeleton but no jaw. Lampreys and hagfishes are in this group. While I have caught a few salmon with lamprey still on them I have yet to make a “salmon fly” to catch the lamprey itself. These guys are not that important to us in this conversation (although the lampreys have very cool mouths and might come back in at some point).
Chimera- Charismatic Cartilagenous Critter
SuperClass Chondrichthyes, the Cartilaginous Fishes. These guys have a skeleton made of cartilage and have jaws. Sharks, rays, skates (no you can’t play hockey on these fish), and the chimera (I would love to find someone that has caught a chimera on a fly, but it is highly unlikely since they live at a depth of 200m or deeper). I definitely want to catch sharks on a fly at some point, but for now these guys are going to be out of the discussion. They might come back in at some point though.
Who doesn't love Ray Troll?
SuperClass Osteichthyes, the Bony Fishes. This is what we are talking about! These are the “modern fishes” which have a bony skeleton and a jaw. Almost all fishes that we target with a fly rod are members of this group, the only exceptions being sharks. Let’s break Osteichthyes down even further:
Class Sarcopterygii, the Lobe-Finned Fishes. To simplify these fish have a fleshy lobe that their fins come out of. There aren’t a whole lot of extant (currently living) fishes in this class. Lungfishes (only found in South America, Africa and Australia- super cool fish I would love to catch…) and the Coelacanth (two species of living fossil). They won’t be part of this discussion but since amphibians evolved from them, then came reptiles until eventually came the mammals then us. Gotta love us Tetrapods! In a way we owe the whole sport of fly fishing to our lobe finned ancestors. Think of it as fishing thanks to fish.
Big sturgeon.. Can I get that in Fly please?
Class Actinopterygii, the Ray Finned Fishes. Alright, lets break this class down.
Subclass Chondrostei, the sturgeons and bichirs. Cool fish that have skeletons that are primarily cartilage but have some ossification (bone development). Not frequently caught on flies, although the Beluga sturgeon is reputedly quite a predator….
Amia calva- Holostei bruiser
Subclass Holostei, my personal buddies the bowfin and gars. These are pretty primitive fishes that a select few intrepid anglers choose to target with flies. They have some mouths that are pretty interesting and will be part of our discussion.
Subclass Teleostei, the most diverse group of fishes alive today! Almost all fish that are typically fly fished for are in this group. These guys have mouths that are of critical importance to us. Most of the next discussion will be all about their oral adaptations! 
A little Teleost diversity from the Amazon
Ok, that is a whole lot of science for one day for everyone. I am sure I lost a few people somewhere along the way. Maybe I can figure out how to make a horn go off somewhere halfway through all the science. But hey, as anglers I think it is good to be aware of what fish are all about. Part of that is learning the science behind them. Having a better understanding of what fish are separates an angler from a fisherman.

Next topic- the pucker… yes, seriously, the pucker…. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Fish with its Mouth Closed Never Gets Caught

Open wide!
As anglers one aspect of a fish’s anatomy is probably more important than any other in our pursuit to catch our finny adversaries. Without this feature we would not be able to do what we do. As a matter of fact, the fish would not be able to do what it does either. The morphological characteristic that I am referring to is the mouth of course. Whether or not we are conscious of it, we are rather obsessed with the oral cavity of fish. With pretty good reason too! To legally catch a fish a fisherman needs to have the fish pick up the hook (lure, fly, bait, etc) in its mouth where we do all we can to make sure that hook gets a good hold so we can bring the fish to hand (alright, there are a couple of exceptions like "fishing" for paddlefish). I bet you never thought of fishing as a fish mouth fixation before!
yes, it is real, now don't ask that again!
But what does a fish’s mouth tell us about the fish? And how does that help an angler catch more fish? Well, I am glad you asked! In a lot of ways the mouth tells us the primary occupation of that fish. It tells us where the fish prefers to feed which in explains what it likes to feed on. When we know this information we can use it to our advantage. 
I dare you to put your fingers in there!
There are three basic mouth locations in fish. Yea, I know what you are thinking: they are all at the head of the fish. True enough. But the placement of the mouth on the head of the fish is what I am talking about. If the mouth is pointing up it is called a superior mouth, right at the end of the fish it is called a terminal mouth, and if it is on the bottom of the head pointing down it is an inferior mouth. This tells us the preferred method of feeding. 

Silver Arowana
African Butterfly
A superior mouth generally points upward and indicates a fish that feeds mostly off the surface, especially on things like insects. In Vermont, we really don’t have a lot of really good examples of this although the banded killifish (Fundulus diaphanus) is pretty good, but not familiar to a lot of people (this is a mid-sized baitfish that is common along Lake Champlain and some other areas of the state). Some of you trout guys might question that trout often feed on top (especially the dry fly nuts), but let’s face it, trout don’t spend all that much time feeding off the surface of the water in all reality. Compared to some tropical fish like the arowana or the African butterfly fish and of course the tarpon, which have very good examples of superior mouths, trout are definitely not surface feeding specialists. Take a look at the photos for comparison. Sorry hatch matchers!
 An inferior mouth is not one that doesn’t work well. Yes, a bad joke, but I did have to go there. It just means that the mouth is partly or totally at the bottom of the head. We have some great examples in this area in the Catastomidae- the suckers. I suspect that almost everyone has seen these fish before and probably caught them too- mostly by accident, but a few of us (myself and JP “Roughfisher” Lipton in particular) really love to fly fish for them. The suckers, like their name suggests, suck food off the bottom of the river. The common carp is also another good example of this. Some fish with inferior mouths are very suck-sess-full. (groan) The white sucker (Catostomus commersoni) is the most widely distributed fish in the state of Vermont. That does say a lot doesn’t it? There are others that have not done quite as well, like the lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens). Unfortunately that is more of a function of human activity rather than a function of their mouth’s location. Shameless plug here- get rid of the stupid #@$%ing dam in Swanton already!
Even a hybrid can exhibit a terminal mouth....
How about the terminal mouth? That is a “typical” fish mouth. The mouth is right in the middle of the head pointing forward just like you see in most fish. Bass, sunfish, perch, trout, and fallfish all fall into this category. A mouth like this allows a fish to have a wide range of options in its diet. They can feed all over the water column with little issue. Pretty darned handy! Which also explains the success of these fishes… one moment the bass nabs a little crawfish on between a couple of rocks on the bottom, then darts up and grabs a damselfly on the water’s surface, then chases down a minnow that is straggling behind its school. Not many worries about locating food huh? Fish with a terminal mouth are less likely to specialize and generalists seem to always do well.
Just because you are specialized doesn't mean I can't catch ya!
There is one general category of fish mouth that I have not mentioned yet, and these are specialized mouths. Fish like this have a mouth that is dedicated to a specific type of food item. In Lake Champlain an excellent example of a very specialized mouth is found in the longnose gar. This primitive predator has a very long, slender, bony mouth loaded with lots of needle sharp teeth. The gar’s mouth allows it to slash rapidly to the side to grab onto baitfish. Once the gar grabs the fish it repositions it in its jaws to swallow it headfirst. This specialized mouth structure is a very common specialization found in fishes (and even a couple of species of crocodilians- the gharial and false gharial) to be able to prey on smaller baitfishes. 
There's a little convergent evolution for ya folks!
It seems like I have fish geeked out enough for a while now. Next time I talk about the fish mouth I will tell you how this information relates to fishing. And it does…. Oh yes indeedy do!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010 Fishing Season- the Second Half in photos

Here is the second half... Hope you like....

Again, some sweet tunage from Ominous Seapods with a soulful rendition of Steven O'Rourke!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

GASS BAG- the Primitive Post

Well, yes, sometimes that is exactly what I am (especially after certain meals).... but what I am referring to are the Gar Anglers Sporting Society and the Bowfin Anglers Group. Yes, it is true that there are indeed websites catering to those of us who have an unnatural inclination toward the primitive fishes swimming in our local waters! Lake Champlain is the easternmost natural distribution for both the longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus) and the bowfin (Amia calva) and has impressive populations of both species. 
A nice gar during the spawn
The longnose gar is a fun fish to target. They get big, are easy to see in the water, and will readily take a well presented fly. I fish for them from May until September using rope flies on 8 to 10 wt outfits. A few years back Lawrence Pyne asked me to take him out to fish gar and film it for Vermont Public Television. We got a few nice fish in some tough conditions and the show was a hit (and I will put up a link as soon as VPT has the show back on their website). I don't want to give away all my gar secrets, but it does take some practice to be successful. A gar fly is semi-hookless (here in VT there has to be a hook point so I use size 20 dry fly hooks in the body of the fly) and if you set the hook, you lose the fish! 
Close up of the gar's mouth
The longnose gar is a Mississippi drainage fish that likely entered Lake Champlain via the Great Lakes then the St. Lawrence after the last glacial period. The environs of Champlain were very conducive to this primitive fish- providing many shallow, weedy backwater bays and slow moving rivers that these fish love. The gar was well known to the Abnaki who used its scales as arrowheads. Samuel de Champlain definitely saw them and wrote in his journal (this has been taken as early evidence of "Champ"):
"... there is one [fish] called by the natives 'Chaousarou', which is of various lengths; but the largest of them, as these tribes have told me, are from eight to ten feet long. I have seen some five feet long, which were as big as my thigh, and had a head as large as my two fists, with a snout two feet and a half long, and a double row of very sharp, dangerous teeth. Its body has a good deal the shape of the pike; but it is protected by scales of a silvery gray colour and so strong that a dagger could not pierce them."Just awesome fish. 
Master Class bowfin on Lake Champlain
The bowfin is the last of its kind. The family Amiiade  is well represented in the fossil record from all around the world from as early as the Jurassic Period. Just think, at one point there was a bowfin species that reached 8 feet long. If there were a fish like that in Champlain, I don't think I would be fishing out of a canoe let alone wet wade! Eastern North America is the last holdout for this primitive family of fishes. Characterized by a gular plate (throat plate), slightly heterocercal tail (similar to a shark, but less pronounced), and its namesake long dorsal fin. These predators love shallow weedy wetlands and feed on pretty much anything that gets in its way, although they seem to have a preference for aquatic crustaceans.
Look at the teeth on that puppy!
Angling for the bowfin on Lake Champlain is a relatively simple afair. They take a variety of flies, are easily sight fished, and put up a great fight. The weedy environment that they live in often requires a fairly heavy tippet on an 8 wt rod. There are times however that a 6 wt rod and lighter tippet can make this angling a whole lot more fun. It is not too difficult to get a take, but getting a good hookset in their bony mouth can be tough. A really good hook makes all the difference in this regard. I put many anglers on Master Class bowfin this year. As a matter of fact the bowfin is the most numerous fish species in the Master Angler Program largely because of me.

Great fish on a 6wt!

To my knowledge I am the only successful fly fising gar guide in Vermont. (another guide service does advertize gar as a target but no one in that guide service has yet to catch one- truth in advertizing???). Along with the gar, I brought guiding for bowfin on the fly on Lake Champlain to Vermont. I know I am not the only guide who does this, but in all honesty I taught most of the other guides how to do it. I will have gar and bowfin flies for sale on my website shortly for those of you who might be interested and I will definitely be guiding for them in this upcoming season. Please get in touch with me if you are interested- I would love to help you chase down some primitive fish!