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Monday, April 22, 2019

stripe mining

I've just returned from what has to be one of the strangest fishing trips I've ever been a part of. I described it to a friend as surreal, like a Salvador Dali painting of a fishing trip.
Everything started off normally enough. I was below a huge TVA dam casting for stripers. There I met Koobmeej who it turns out was a pro at fishing big dams for stripers. I really learned a lot from him that day about this kind of fishing as well as watching him catch more and bigger stripers than me all day long. And then the rain started. A little at first, then a deluge of biblical proportions. You have to climb down a goat path of sorts to get to where we were up lose to the dam. And the rain just poured over the cliff turning it into hundreds of little waterfalls. Climbing back up before it slowed was out of the question, we were trapped out in one of the hardest rains I've ever seen. About a half mile below us a bridge spans the river and even at that distance you could see the water pouring out of the drains underneath the bridge like busted fire hydrants. We were catching fish and yes it was raining cats and dogs and getting cold but things could only get better from here right? Wrong. It was nowhere near rock bottom yet. As soon as the storm passed, Koobmeej, being the more sensible of the two of us, took off for home. Down the cliff came a couple Hispanics and began fishing next to me. Well the stripers left to be replaced by paddlefish. Several doubles were hooked at once, with much confusion, crossed lines, general yelling in English and Spanish, and no stripes. A small sturgeon kept rolling in the waves at my feet, several times beaching itself inches from me. And the rain began again in earnest and the temperature dropped even faster. Every one else who was supposed  to join me thought the better of it and said they were coming tomorrow. Finally, exhausted, I crawled into the car threw my sleeping bag and extra clothes on top of me and passed out asleep in the parking lot. The next day started with 40 degree temps ( down from 80 ) rain, wind, but with reinforcements. A boat on Watts Barr, two guys at Fort Loudoun, two guys at Melton Hill. Somebodies got to find fish with all that right? Nope. I mean things like the occasional white bass or walleye were landed but none in any numbers and NO STRIPERS. At three of the best lakes and spillways on earth. Nothing. I did get to go out and fish the boils below Fort Loudoun Dam with Tim and Rob in the boat. Except for the feeling I was going to die at any moment it was uneventful though. Well I take that back, I did managed to accidently snare another D@#% paddlefish, which memorably jumped completely out of the water like two feet from Tim and I. I'll be honest if I never hook another paddle again I'll be a happy man. The things seem to follow me around.
The next day was if anything even slower. Well unless your name was Dave. Dave caught a gorgeous fat as a pig striper that then got below him in a raging current below the dam. It was a standoff. The fish unable to gain line, Dave unable to move the fish even with his giant surf rod. I ran down the bank with his landing net stuck it in the water behind the fish and tried to scoop the fish up. Holy cow the current was raging so hard I literally couldn't sweep the net forward to net the fish. Dave and I shouted gibberish, unable to hear each other over the noise of the water. Finally I waded out on a rock as far as I dared, trying not to think of the consequences of a slip and lipped the fish. And then a few minutes later something thumped my line and took off. Like for Nepal. I tightened the drag down. Then some more, more, and then all the way. The thing was still ripping off line at an astounding rate and I could see the bloodnot where I put on a 150 yards of new 40 lb braid on top of old the night before. I had to try and stop the fish before it spooled me completely. With the drag cranked as far as it would go I began putting pressure on the spool with my fingers. POW! new 40 lb braid broken off on a run in open water. 100 lb paddlefish? giant sturgeon? orca? Like I said surreal. The new striper rod Jeff at Little Miami Rods had made for me was obviously tough as nails as well as lightweight. I half expected it to shatter under the strain but it held up like a champ. (*blatant plug, buy a rod off Little Miami Rods, love the things*) Then a fish swirled at some shad at Daves feet and he dipped his giant swimbait in the water and canepoles out an 18 inch smallmouth, hooking it and sweeping it out of the water in one motion.  Me? I caught a walleye and a white bass in 16 hours of fishing. Somewhere in all of that, I forget exactly when now looking back, I'm in the parking lot at Melton Hill Dam after running over to check things out there. I tried to change into dry clothes in the restroom but it was occupied. Well my little car was tucked in between two huge 4 wheel drive trucks and I was hidden. I quickly shed my pants and had dry ones halfway up my ass when I hear, "Well now that looks like a feller that's been fishing in the rain" And seemingly half of the state of Tennessee comes around the ends of the trucks. They all gather round bitching and moaning about the fishing as I finished changing. It seemed to be the same tune everywhere..."well I caught em here good two days ago...We caught four at Loudoun day before yesterday...three at Watts Barr". At least I wasn't the only one catching nothing.  But I soon got a major dose of good karma. A few hours later a guy fishing next to me let loose with a giant cast towards the dam and his line intercepted an osprey in mid swoop. He reeled the tangled mess in. We threw my shirt over the osprey and I cut loose the line while he held the bird still. I said okay let her go and he said "my hand". I looked and the osprey had sunk a claw threw his into his hand getting her revenge. I literally had to pry its claws out of his hand but in the end the bird flew off unhurt. I told Dave that's what my karma needed. But it was almost dark and too late to help that day. The next day started off cold. I had a deer hunting parka over a hoodie over a long sleeved shirt. I got to the dam early to make sure I had a good spot on this my last chance. Just as dawn broke a medium sized striper hammered my swimbait and then a much better one that had me scrambling way downstream to land her. Dave dunked his swimbait in the same spot as the night before and canepoled out another gorgeous smallmouth. Again. It was just one of those trips. And then the sun rose. And it was like magic as the temperature soared. Off came the parka, the hoodie soon after and I was still sweating after the previous cold days. And the fish were turned off again. Time to head for home. But not before a very cool detour. I had the entire day to make the five hour drive so I detoured to look closer at something Id found the year before in Eastern Kentucky. Down a gravel road out in the middle of nowhere while hunting up a covered bridge Id come across a wide spot in the road. And in the cliff face at the back of the wide spot were two huge caverns going back into the mountain. Entrances to a long ago abandoned limestone mine. And so far out in the middle of nowhere there were no signs telling you keep out. No signs of any kind, even telling you who owned the place if you wanted to ask. So armed with a flashlight, a headlamp and the phones flashlight as a last resort backup I headed in. There were all kinds of side passages, at the entrance to each I made a little pile of stones to make sure I kept going straight and didn't get turned around. I went in as far as I dared, till the entrance was long gone and everything was pitch black except for the light of the big flashlight. It felt like a long ways but probably wasn't. For sure it was one of the spookiest places I've ever been. Surreal just like the fishing and a perfect ending to a strange and wild adventure.















Sunday, April 14, 2019

The purpose driven rod...

So I told my friend rod builder extraordinaire Jeff Byrd who makes Little Miami Rods I need a special rod. A rod I can cast a really long way below the huge dams on rivers like the Clinch or the Tennessee and land a big striper in the heavy current. But that was the easy part I need a rod I can cast a 1 or 2 ounce jig or big popper all day with and still be able to move my shoulder the next day. There are lots of big long rods that can land big fish. Lots of surf rods can do that. They also weigh an absolute ton and if you've fished below the big dams you know it's often just plain hard work. Well, I picked up my new rod and must say Jeff has created a rod that seems as close to the perfect rod for the job I've ever seen. The first guide above the reel is set out from the blank so the line will flow off a big striper reel smoothly to give distance. Solid saltwater hardware that will hold up to the strain of a big fish. An 8 foot blank with power. But, when you pick it up that's when you fall in love. Compared to other rods of this length and power the thing weighs nothing. I think even an old buzzard like me can cast the thing all day. I'm pretty excited to try and will get the chance in a few days when we head south. Now just to count the hours till time to go...






foraging...

Harvesting some ramps for the dehydrator. One of the best wild foods out there. And of course looking at all the beauties of springtime...














Friday, April 12, 2019

And then the smallmouth fishing just went off...


Multiple nice smallies all in shallow slack water right next to fast. I've been sweating the fact that for a couple weeks now I'd been catching smallmouth but none really worth taking a photo of. But then tonight the big girls came out to play. It was nice to finally see the Little Miami Rod bent double and hear the drag on the Pflueger purring. On a clear with silver three inch grub because several times I saw small silvery baitfish scatter on the surface as white bass or smallies ran thru them. Not only were the smallies on fire but the white bass seem to be taking off as well. They were in slightly deeper and faster water than the smallmouth. I think the good times are here again...







another walking the creek session...