THE LOOMING DEATH OF OUR COASTAL FISHERIES

In case you missed it, here it is. A clear and passionate explanation of not only what’s happening in Florida but all of our coastal fisheries. Rise up fly people, and force our politicians to end the bullshit.

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SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE FLY
WINTER 2016: ISSUE no.18
THE LOOMING DEATH OF OUR COASTAL FISHERIES
By Joe Murray

Our coastal fisheries are getting fucked because of pathetically poor habitat and water management, and fly anglers (hell, anglers in general) aren’t doing shit about it.

First, let’s do the historical baseline test. Let’s choose 60 years ago, if for no other reasode429092f4f77f13b58bf67e78ade813-1.jpgn than some of the people reading this will have fishing memories from back then, and can attest to the next statement: How is our coastal fishing now compared to then? Almost across the board, a mere shadow of what it once was. I have yet to speak with an older angler who has told me that fishing now is as good or better than back then – and “back then” could be 30 years, not 60. If we’re talking about evaluating the state of our fisheries, we don’t want to just look at the past five or 10 years — we need a bigger picture. And that bigger picture looks pretty damn sad. It sure as hell isn’t something you’d hang on the wall of the man room.

Sure, there are spots here and there where a fishery is pretty good, but even these spots tend to be hot and cold, anglers often having to work harder than they used to for good fishing. And once again the old timers tell stories that make a big day today pale in comparison.

So compared to 60 years ago, our fisheries aren’t doing well. Why are anglers okay with this? Are they so consumed by denial that they accept it as the new normal and just fish harder, or travel to find good fishing? I wonder how much of the fishing travel outfitter business in recent years is the result of anglers giving up on their home waters and traveling to scratch the itch? I bet it’s a lot. And that’s classic avoidance behavior. Plus, this only works if you have the money to do it. Everyone else is screwed.

To those who are reading this and think that fishing today is just as good as it’s ever been, you need to see a shrink, because you’re in a majorly altered state of reality.  Or you’re too young to know any better. The data say the fisheries are in decline, as do the accounts of those who’ve been doing this for a while.

So what’s the source of the ills that have befallen our coastal fisheries? Bad resource management. For most coastal recreational fisheries (there are a few exceptions), I don’t think it’s bad management, it’s bad resource management. Florida is a great example. By and large, the recreational fisheries are well managed. Size limits, seasons, bag limits are all based on best available science and are doing what they’re supposed to do.

In glaring contrast, the state can’t have its head much farther up its ass when it comes to habitat and water management. Due to ast errors in judgment, Florida has already lost somewhere around 50% of its mangroves. Since a lot of recreational fish species rely on mangroves, that’s a problem. Now, when the state reviews an application for clearing mangroves for development (yes, this still happens), it reviews the application as if there are just as many mangroves as there ever were, not as part of a larger, cumulative loss of habitat. This generally leads to the permit being approved at the expense of the fisheries.

 

And the outlook for salt marshes is no better.

As if to underscore his inability to grasp basic economics, Florida Governor Rick Scott recently declared that state parks and other state-owned lands had to prove their economic worth and pay for themselves. What he fails to grasp is that in large part it is these public lands that are the factory that produces the recreational fisheries that are worth somewhere between $5 billion and $8 billion annually to the state’s coffers. His shortsighted “management” is resulting in reduced habitat and fishery health that will be felt by Florida for generations to come. Saddest of all, this guy is now in his second term.

But that’s nothing compared to the mismanagement of the water. Decades ago, folks had the bright idea to drain the Everglades for development and farmland. Now the southern half of Florida is crisscrossed with varicose veins of water canals, and many other watersheds in the state were similarly violated. Now there are few places where the freshwater that flows into the estuaries follows its historical path, not to mention all of the excess nutrients and pollutants that are in that water.

Not enough freshwater is getting from the Everglades into large areas of Florida Bay. This is causing the salinity (salt content) of the water in Florida Bay to get so high that it’s killing seagrass and fish. he typical salinity of ocean water is 35 parts per thousand. At one point this summer, the salinity in parts of Florida Bay was 65 parts per thousand. This has been killing toadfish and pinfish, which are virtually indestructible. The low amount of rainfall this year in the Everglades is certainly exacerbating the situation, but the real cause of the problem is diversion of the freshwater flows for “water management” (and you thought California was the only state with bad water management practices).

In contrast to too little freshwater, other parts of Florida get way too much. Two rivers connect Lake Okeechobee to Florida’s coasts. When the water level gets too high in the lake, the Army Corps of Engineers opens the locks that keep the freshwater in the lake, and it pours out the Caloosahatchee River to Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast, and the St. Lucie River to the Atlantic coast — billions and billions of gallons of freshwater. A few years ago, the plume of muddy, tannin-stained freshwater bellowing out of the Caloosahatchee River could be seen more than five miles offshore. No matter the tidal cycle, water flowed out of the river mouth top to bottom, 24 hours a day, for weeks. And in the St. Lucie River, not only did most of the oysters die due to the deluge, but people got rashes and got sick from being in the water.

You can imagine what this did to the fish and fishing.

How bad is the water in Lake Okeechobee? A few years ago during a drought, the water level in the lake became so low that large areas of the mucky bottom were exposed. Someone had the idea to dredge out some of the muck that had accumulated over the decades. But when they tested the muck, it came back as so contaminated that there was no place to put it other than a sealed landfill. It remains in the lake to this day.

Here’s another gem for you: The levels of mercury in freshwater fish in South Florida are so high that the state recommends that people do not eat freshwater fish. Period.

The frustration here is that Florida’s water is still being managed like it’s the 1950s. The world is different now than it was back then. We know more and we should know a lot better, but the old ways just won’t die.

One of the bullshit arguments you’ll hear over and over again is that this is competition for freshwater between agriculture and the fish. If agriculture used reasonable conservation measures with its water use practices, this wouldn’t be an issue.

A lot of the water management canals were built to move water – to prevent flooding in some areas, deliver water to others. Because these canals drain a lot of agricultural land and take runoff from urbanized areas, the water is full of all kinds of crap. At the top of the list for many is that the water contains too many nutrients. Too many nutrients entering coastal waters and estuaries cause plankton blooms, which kill seagrass, shellfish, and other organisms, which – you guessed it – greatly impacts the fisheries.

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For water management purposes, the entities in charge want long, straight, clean canals that can move a lot of water. So on a regular basis, these entities spray herbicides in the canals to get rid of plants like Hydrilla, which can clog the canals and water control structures and pumps. This, of course, not only introduces yet another pollutant into the water, but also puts the nutrients that had been soaked up by the plants right back into the water. This makes for a nasty nutrient soup heading straight for coastal waters.

A few locations in Florida and other states use barge-mounted, mower-like contraptions to remove Hydrilla. This seems like a decent alternative to pollutants, and it helps to remove the nutrients from the system.

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A massive plankton bloom driven by a long-term input of nutrients is to blame for the massive seagrass die-off in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon. The plankton bloom blocked sunlight from reaching the seagrass, and then the decomposition of the dead plankton and seagrass reduced oxygen in the water, which helped take out a lot more of the seagrass. This happened in 2010, and the recovery has been slow to say the least. Manatees, dolphins, and turtles are dying in high numbers, and fish have lesions. There hasn’t been a report of a decent shrimp run in years.

Some say that the 2010 event was the “perfect storm” caused in large part by the extreme freeze, to which I say bullshit. The Indian River Lagoon has been through freezes many times before, and never has such a die-off been documented. Some also say that 2010 was the death of the Indian River Lagoon, but the estuary has been dying the death of a thousand cuts for years. The 2010 event was just the accumulation of too many cuts — it had been coming for quite some time.

The Indian River Lagoon isn’t going to recover until something is done to fix the water. High-nutrient, polluted water can’t continue to be dumped into the lagoon on a daily basis.  It’s pretty simple.

The same can be said for Florida Bay and the Everglades. Until the water is fixed, the ecosystem – and the fisheries that depend on a healthy ecosystem – will continue to weaken and eventually totally collapse.

The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers will continue to be wastelands until water flows out of Lake Okeechobee are controlled.

All of these problems are shitting on our fisheries. And until these problems are addressed, our fisheries will continue to decline. Here’s the scary part – ecosystem and fishery declines aren’t slow and gradual. They are punctuated by cliff edges where they take a huge drop all at once to a “new normal,” and to many this is an “oh shit” moment that’s too late.

If the changes in the coastal fisheries that have occurred over the past 20 years instead occurred over a few weeks, people would be going ape shit. The declines would be obvious, painful, criminal, even to those who don’t fish. Instead, the changes have occurred in increments — the infamous “death by a thousand cuts” – it’s death all the same. It’s just that saltwater anglers can’t get out of their own way to see the changes, instead grabbing ever more desperately for that “good day” of fishing, whatever the hell that means anymore. So the perpetual optimism that keeps fly anglers chasing fish across the flats is also what has kept us from seeing how bad it really is, and makes the con job of the resource managers just that much easier.

I know it doesn’t sound sexy, but short of getting the band back together (read Monkey Wrench Gang), the only way to get action is to make life painful for those who make the decisions – the resource managers and politicians. That’s how democracies work. You have to participate to fix shit that isn’t working. So far, recreational anglers are sitting on one hand and drinking beer with the other.

Sure, it’s a pain in the ass and may take away some of your fishing time, but unless this shit is fixed, you’ll have plenty of non-fishing time available in the not-too-distant future. Then you can write as many letters as you want lamenting the way it used to be, and you can use what you’ve made selling your gear on eBay to fix up the man cave.

Just because it seems like it’s free because there is no charge for being out there wading a flat, walking a shoreline, or poling a boat, don’t fool yourself. It’s not. What we invest in now is directly related to the benefits we’ll get later. Unfortunately, those who came before us didn’t invest enough and didn’t protect the investment. Those charged with protecting the resource have failed at their duties. So here we are in the shit show. Now get off your ass and pay your dues, do something about it.

 

SCOF HISTORY: FISHNIK

 

We’ll dial up a little blast from the past on this fine Tuesday. Needless to say Georgia is on my mind…specifically the striped residents…not the zebras at the zoo…stupid crazy lookin’ donkeys.

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FISHINK
By David Grossman
Photos: Steve Seinberg
Southern Culture On the Fly
Issue NO. 7: Spring 2013


If you live in the South long enough, your path will inevitably at some point lead you to the metro Atlanta area.  Whether it be weddings, graduations, business conferences, Panic shows at the Fox, layovers, or perhaps even a family trip to explore the wonders of Underground Atlanta and the World Of Coke, no true Southerner escapes the great suck that is Hotlanta (one of my least favorite terms ever created by humans). My trips to Atlanta have been numerous and generally forgettable. There’s always traffic, a hotel lobby, more traffic, an event, more traffic, my car getting broken into (on three separate occasions), and more traffic. I stand before you today, my fishy friends, a converted man. Atlanta is the snip-snap double shiznit with some salami on top. The key is never going into Atlanta itself.

“What, whaat, whaaat???” you say. “How can you go to Atlanta without going into in Atlanta? What is this trickery you purport?” The answer to this (and many other mysterious questions), is urban sprawl, my confused friends. These days, you can technically be in Atlanta and still be miles away from, well, Atlanta. We could go round and round on this point like a Laurel and Hardy bit, but in the most simple terms, if you see Buckhead you’ve gone too far. You’ll know Buckhead because there’s a cop in every bar waiting on a tussle to break out.

By getting off the freeway well north of the big city, you not only save yourself a four-hour traffic jam, you land yourself in one of the most diverse and all-around fun urban fisheries in the country. You name it, Atlanta’s got it; trout, yup; carp, by the thousands; Bass, you bet your ass; redfish, well the boys over at Georgia Tech are working on it and expect to have it done by spring of next year in time for tailing season on the lower Hooch. The greatness of this fishery is that for the most part, it’s an in-town fishery accessible to all and utilized by not as many as you’d think, at least for what we want it for.

Timing is everything in fishing, and the same holds true when planning an urban jungle invasion. The moon phase as well as Steve’s menstrual cycle dictated one day of trout on the Hooch with our pal Greg Morgan of River Through Atlanta and one day of Lake Lanier Striper with the only Brooklyn striper guide we could find in Georgia, Henry Cowan.

The Chattahoochee is hard to spell and has a lot of letters. The other thing you’re gonna wanna know about the Hooch is that Hooch is a lot easier to spell. What the river lacks in ease of spelling it more than makes up for in ease of accessibility and sheer amount of fish both stocked and wild.  I am not gonna blow smoke up your kilt and tell you that if you close your eyes you might think you were in Alaska. Well, I guess if you close your eyes you can imagine you’re wherever you want, but we floated on a Saturday in Metro Atlanta and had six miles of river to ourselves for the majority of the day. On top of that we caught fish all day long. Just to put that statement in perspective, the last time I pulled into my local tailwater put-in, which is located in a town with less than a tenth the population of Atlanta, on a Saturday, there were 25 boat trailers. I have no idea where they all came from, but needless to say I did not put in there. Wild brown trout and solitude in a city with almost 5.5 million people… that ain’t a bad thing.

Our next little jaunt took us north to Lake Lanier, which provides all the previous day’s trout the precious cold water they need to survive. Above the dam is one of the most prolific striper fisheries in the Southeast.

Fishing for landlocked striper was a new game for me. A really good morning session has now turned it into what I lie awake thinking about at night. None of the fish we caught were huge by striper standards, but 12 pounds of pissed off runaway freight train striper is the most fun I can remember having for a long, long time, especially on a lake for that matter. Lucky for us, our first time was made gentle by the one of the South’s favorite carpetbagging adopted sons, Henry Cowen. I probably learned more things that I could take to my fishery in that four-hour session with Henry than I could have spending a thousand hours wandering the Internet and the lake blindly. There is something about hunting those fish that will stick with me and my future fishing plans like a bad case of striper herpes.

I live in what most folks consider one of the fishier spots in the Southeast, and I can honestly say a wee bit of jealousy crept up as I left Georgia in the rearview. To have all that water in your backyard is enough to make me almost consider leaving Asheville for Atlanta, but then I remember the traffic. I will say though that after a couple of days in Atlanta doing nothing but fishing, that next wedding invitation might not be met with quite so much derision on my end.

SCOF HISTORY: COAL CREEK CRAZIES

Allen Gillespie has a lot of schoolin’, as he constantly reminds us. I do dig his writing though…just don’t tell him.

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COAL CREEK CRAZIES

By Allen Gillespie
Photos: Phil Savage   (other photos courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Southern Culture On the Fly
Issue NO. 6: Winter 2013


“The dam is bare, and immobile, and lonely, just standing there. Norris Dam is what it should be: finished, unromantic and working.”  –  Ernie Pyle

A TWRA officer once confided in me that the devil dances in the gravel lot at Peach Orchard Access after dark on summer nights. This time of year don’t nobody dance along the banks of the Clinch River except for a few hardheaded fools chasing imagined glory dredged from the swift currents belched from the belly of Norris Dam. It’s not that our Southern Appalachian winters are overly harsh, they’re not. It’s just that the same humidity, which thrills the devil in July remains long after the kudzu has been rolled up to reveal all of East Tennessee’s warts and scars, and it chills you to the bones on the short January days that descend upon us like an epidemic. What’s worse, the hills surrounding the Clinch River valley in Anderson County reach skyward and grab any eastern bound weather front and wring it of its contents making humidity a bona fide fact in the form of precipitation, which lingers for months on end.

A scant six miles upstream from the devil’s dance floor at the Peach Orchard ramp, Norris Dam sits in silent occupation; a coldwater factory built on the back of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. The first project of TVA, construction on Norris Dam began in October of 1933 and was completed some 886 days later as concrete evidence of Weber’s central tenant. Norris’ linear façade sits in stark contrast to the natural lines of the surrounding hills. Its speckled and streaked surface now resemble the belly of a shoat hog laid out in an early spring sun. Trapped behind the concrete is a catchment area of 2,912 square miles with a capacity of over 2,552,000 acre-ft. Some 3,000-odd souls were displaced by the rising waters, which covered one of the most fertile valleys in the area, a fact which still finds its way into our conversation nearly 100 years later. At 265 feet high, Norris is not the tallest of the regions’ many dams, but it is sufficiently deep to churn out a conveyor belt of oxygen-infused water, which is chilled year-round to a near constant 50 degrees by the darkness lurking at the bottom of Norris lake.

I grew up fishing the Clinch and have seen it in every season and color. Perhaps due to this intimacy I have always viewed the Clinch as the most manufactured of TVA’s Southern tailwater fisheries. At low flows, the Clinch consists of ten miles of pools interspersed by perpendicular monolithic shoals. It is nearly devoid of any resemblance to the freestone rivers one typically associates with prime trout waters, and as such can test the abilities of even the most seasoned angler. It may also be the most productive water you’ve ever fished, depending on the day, and that’s what keeps you returning for more.  If the Clinch had a more constant flow it would arguably be the best tailwater fishery in the country. Unfortunately for us tortured souls, TVA isn’t in the business of growing fish and the river ebbs and flows with the vagaries of the valley’s power demands. While bucolic in nature when off, at full pull, with both turbines turning, the steady relentlessness of the flow belies its industrial origin. And at 8,350 cubic feet per second, it’s a fool’s game to even attempt to chase trout, particularly with a fly rod.

Fools and optimists still abound in East Tennessee. On cold, dreary January days they make their ways to the edge of the Clinch in twos and threes, emerging from trucks with hippopotamus-colored bags slung over shoulders and overflowing with monumental yellow boxes and bottles of bonded whiskey. Tin sleds are loaded in the muffled silence of the swollen river and a routine set about in order to pay penance for the sins lying in the darkness upstream. On most days even well placed offerings go unnoticed and so the whiskey serves as a condolence, and to ease tired shoulders and sore elbows. Every so often, however, golden absolution is ripped from the slipstream and the river becomes whole again in the exuberance of the moment.

SCOF HISTORY: THE ADVENTURES OF BOUDREAUX THE SWAMP BOY

 

 

 

Sometimes stuff doesn’t work out the way you want it to. We wanted a Bowfin story from Scotty Davis. Unfortunately no Bowfin were caught after many painful trips. So we came up with this instead. Enjoy.

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THE ADVENTURES OF BOUDREAUX THE SWAMPBOY

By David Grossman and Boudreaux
Art: Steve Seinberg
Southern Culture On the Fly
Issue NO. 6: Winter 2013


SCOF HISTORY: KNOXVILLE IS FULL OF BASSHOLES

If you know Allen Gillespie, then the title is pretty self-explanatory. All truth aside though, Knoxville might just be the best smallmouth fishery in the South, and is always on our itinerary this time of year.

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KNOXVILLE IS FULL OF BASSHOLES
By Allen Gillespie
Photos: Steve Seinberg and Allen Gillespie
Southern Culture On the Fly
Issue NO. 5: Fall 2012


“Thou source of all my bliss and all my woe,that found me poor at first, and keep me so.” – Oliver Goldsmith

Like your first shot of corn from a jar, the take from a substantial riverine smallmouth has the ability to freeze time.  During that brief interlude, the savage force of the fish’s grab plants a seed in the recesses of your mind, which will ultimately sprout and grow to possess all of the qualities of a high-grade addiction.

This is in part due to the fact that a smallmouth’s fight is rivaled in freshwater only by their anadromous cousin, the steelhead. And just like steelhead fishing, it is the later reflection, far from the river, which haunts you and twists your mind sufficiently to cause a serious case of the night sweats. The only cure is the journey back to the river to seek another taste. Hence the addiction.

Knoxville, tucked neatly in the bosom of southern Appalachia, lies at the southern extreme of the smallmouth’s natal range. Like Afghanistan is to poppies or Bolivia to coca, East Tennessee is ground zero for the southern smallmouth. The region’s longer growing season coupled with TVA’s Franken-water laboratory of habitats combine to cook lunker smallmouth in batches of varying grades, which have included the current world record fish (11lbs 15oz).

A purest within a subset of gentlemen anglers, I prefer to chase the species in their lotic habitats due to the riverine effects on the species phenotype, which results in an ornery disposition not found in their lake brethren. My preferences aside, stillwater anglers need not despair since the hundreds of acres of water in the numerous reservoirs that ring the Knoxville area are prime waters. In fact, in many cases the potamodromous species divides its time between the area’s interconnected lentic and lotic habitats depending upon the season.

My southern home is blessed with a longer fishing season for smallmouth than anywhere else on the planet. A typical Knoxville basshole gets his first itch for a fresh fix in early March when water temperatures begin to approach 60 degrees. From this point on, the fishing can be fantastic as post-spawn bass drop back off their beds into primary tributaries and put on their feedbags.

With the arrival of the dog days of summer, however, the smallmouth frequently affect a crepuscular crankiness that limits the better fishing to the early morning and late evening hours necessitating not only a pre-work fix, but also a post-work one for the junkies among us.

As the first hints of browning on the foliage begin to show in late August and early September, serious anglers are in full-blown addict mode, in a perpetual search for the next monster to ease their pain. All too frequently obligations and responsibilities are eschewed for the chance at one more taste as the anticipation of the fall feeding frenzy makes the need that much more poignant, as by early October there is no better time to be on the water chasing trophy smallmouth.

By early fall, the occasional angler has long since shifted focus to football or hunting. The rivers are devoid of any boat traffic and the big bass begin to sense the change in the air and switch back to a persistent diel activity pattern, feeding throughout the waning daylight hours. The big fish you’ve targeted through the summer months are more obliging. In anticipation of the colder weather, they’re no longer content to merely inspect your offerings, instead compelled to destroy nearly all properly presented flies upon entry into their watery world.

With a little luck, and favorable weather conditions, Knoxville’s primary tailwater fisheries’ season can stretch well into the later part of November. This, of course, leaves only three months to wait before the season is back yet again. Scant weeks on the one hand.

Yet on the other—a long cold winter before the junkie can score his next fix.

SCOF HAIKU …

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A great collection of one of my favorite departments in the magazine from the beginning…….enjoy!


SCOF HAIKUs

Southern Culture On the Fly Magazine

Issues 1-15


SCOF HISTORY: BENCH PRESS – GOLDEN TICKET

Another oldie but a goody. Thomas Harvey has been our fly tying editor for as long as we can remember…at least three years. Before Thomas was brokering the best tiers for our pages, Thomas actually used to tie for our pages himself. Hopefully he will again soon and for a long time. With the first pre-spawn carp hitting the flats here in the South, we figured the Golden Ticket might just be…well, the ticket. SCOFno4_cover   SCOF_benchpress_harvey_a


BENCH PRESS: GOLDEN TICKET By Thomas Harvey Southern Culture On the Fly Issue No. 4: Summer 2012


Materials List: Hook: Owner Flyliner (Size 4 – 6) Eyes: Dumbbell or Beadchain Flash: Gold Krystal Flash Legs: Metallic Gold Sili Legs Body: Gold Sparkle Braid Wing: Fox Squirrel Tail Head : Thread and Clear Cure Goo Hydro You look hesitantly at the Ziploc bag: six rings, three bracelets and a necklace with a broken clasp. You’ve collected them over the past month. Slowly, in stages as to not get caught, pillaging your better half’s treasure chest. You convince yourself that she would never notice. Besides, she has a case full of newer, sparkly jewelry. Cash 4 Gold. You’ve had to have seen it. It’s all the rage. In today’s economic climate, many are quick to pawn off priceless family heirlooms for a quick buck. Temptation is everywhere. Companies blasting you from all media outlets. Torn and tempted, you hit the river to clear your mind. As you pull onto the highway, you turn the dial on your radio and hear it, “Need cash? Trade with confidence from the world’s number one consumer gold buyer.” Yeah, better stick with the iPod. You remember your gas light has been on for the past week, so you pull off an exit early to fill up. “Cash Customers Must Pre-Pay.” You walk in and hand the teller two crumpled twenties. You can’t help notice his shiny gold ring as he hands you the receipt. Really? You finally pull into the gravel parking lot and take a walk down to the river’s edge. Carp. Tails up, mouth down, Hoovering the muddy creek bottom. The six-weight should do it. You open your fly box, scanning your neatly arranged inventory. It hits you again, that shiny golden glow. You pluck it from the box and tie it on—The Golden Ticket. Five fish, four beers, and three hours later, you are back at home satisfied, covered in that scent only carp anglers can appreciate. Before hitting the shower, you slip the Ziploc bag from your pocket and dump the jewelry back in the chest. Crisis averted.

SCOF HISTORY: COMMON CARP LOVER

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Another piece from the vault…..
Ryan Dunne explains his unnatural love for the carp to help you get ready for the summer fun.

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COMMON CARP LOVER

By Ryan Dunne
Photos: Steve Seinberg and Ryan Dunne
Southern Culture On the Fly
Issue No. 4: Summer 2012


When I bring up fly fishing and carp in the same conversation I usually get some funny looks. I hear comments like, “You actually touch those things?” or “My cousin’s brother-in-law’s nephew caught a big one on a bread ball down at the carp pond.”

While chasing carp with a fly rod has become quite the norm in certain parts of the country, here in the South they remain somewhat overlooked. Some people seem to think carp are dumb and not worth the time of day. Then there are those who are secretly interested in fly fishing for carp, but try not to show their interest in front of their friends (kind of like that case of warts down there you haven’t told anyone about).

I didn’t set out to become a carp addict by any means; things kind of snowballed after I caught my first carp on a fly. Carp are sophisticated fish with bi-polar tendencies (much like that aunt who just ain’t quite right). They always leave you guessing and wanting more pudding. Most of the time they are going to refuse you. They sense you way before you see them. Very few people are fishing for them, so chances are you will be sharing the mud flats with birds, turtles and other fish, instead of every Touron (tourist + moron) in town. Not to mention carp are measured in pounds instead of inches. If you hook a carp, your backing will actually see the sunlight. If you survive a nuclear attack, you will still be able to go carp fishing.

Nothing beats the early morning boat rides across the lake. The anticipation felt while stalking carp is just like the anticipation felt while hunting the rut during deer season. You never know what to expect. Sight fishing to carp is in many ways like hunting, because a bad cast or sudden movement will blow your cover. This is where things can get intense as you slowly and deliberately scan the flats for the slightest movement. You hope that when the time does come that your performance is up to par. If you blow it, there’s always that chance you will go home with a giant goose egg. Carp fishing isn’t a numbers game—it’s about the culminating of your skills to fool a wary fish and get him to eat your fly. When it all goes as planned you feel that sense of accomplishment. I’m a carp lover, just keep it on the DL if you don’t mind.

RED: THE LAST LEGAL DRUG

 

 

As I pack up the family truckster for our annual vacation in the low country, I am trying to stay positive. Trying is my new thing when it comes to redfish. I will not be defeated before I leave. I will be defeated when I get there, like a normal human being. So in honor of my impending mediocrity in the face of marsh donkeys, here is one of our favorites from the vault.

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RED: THE LAST LEGAL DRUG

By Scott Davis
Photos: Steve Seinberg and Scott Davis
Southern Culture On the Fly
Issue No. 4: Summer 2012


 “we spot each other clearly by the wet pant legs, the dubbing or flashabou bits in the beard, the raccoon eyes”

Step back and think where you’d be if fish didn’t control your life. What magazines would be by your toilet? What stickers would adorn your boat’s tow vehicle? Maybe you have another passion, but I doubt it. It seems to be all or nothing, and not by choice.

Watching a redfish commit murders among the crustacean community in inches of water has got to be it…it’s the last legal drug…these tailers. When they tail, something dies—simple. Once you’ve seen it, it generally grabs you like an untreatable fever. And like a disease you’d never want to cure, you feed it thinking it will satisfy the addiction, but you’ve really made it much worse.

I meet very few “casual” redfish anglers. Most are sunburned, obsessive, smell funny and couldn’t give a damn about who won last night’s game. They tie flies out of necessity, stop to skin road kill, eat in the car, and forget birthdays, but can tell you the tides for the next month. If the flats aren’t going to flood, they’ll go where the fish go even if that means casting through tourists and labradoodles at the beach. The fish are always out there somewhere as are these maniacs, these wonderful misfits.

It becomes eerily cult-like, this lifestyle of fly fishing. Most people can’t tell by looking, but we spot each other clearly by the wet pant legs, the dubbing or flashabou bits in the beard, the raccoon eyes. We can feel the push pole or oar calluses in your handshake so don’t fake it, we know who you are.

It’s the nature of humans I suppose, to seek out what makes us happy and pursue it relentlessly, at all costs. The simplicity of fly fishing is its greatest merit. I think it’s the same with the redfish tails. They are simple. Vaguely colored, adorned with only bronze, blue and a speck of black, they lure us like mythological sirens into a life of searching—waiting and hoping for the chance at another glimpse.

SCOF HISTORY: FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CUMBERLAND PLATEAU

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SCOF_spring2012_fear and loathing


FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CUMBERLAND PLATEAU
MUSKY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP 2012

By David Grossman
Photos: Steve Seinberg
Southern Culture On the Fly
Issue No. 3: Spring 2012


Insanity:  Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. ~AlbertEinstein

This is some medieval stuff we got goin’ on here. Tribes of warriors in pursuit of a mythical beast, armed with nothing more than a 10 wt and an exploding chicken lashed to a hook. The stage is Middle, Tenn. The supporting cast is made up of what can only be called a different breed of freaks (or musky fly fanatics), but the real star of the show is Mr. Muskellunge himself. That is if you think a star should only show up in fleeting moments of butt-clenching, and then disappear just as quickly, leaving his adoring fans mumbling, “Did that just happen? Anybody have a wet wipe?”

Cast…cast…cast…If you cast long enough at nothing, will nothing finally eat?…And if nothing does eat, how would you take a picture?…Cast…cast…cast…Has anyone considered the lunacy of having a world championship for a beast that only exists in the nightmares of small children and poodles?…Cast…cast…cast…What did Brad Bohen mean when he told me, “It’s the chickens man, the chickens.” I thought we were talking about hackles…Cast…cast…cast…Where did that 40-plus-inch fish come from?…Strip…strip…He seems to be following…Figure eight…He’s so close I could touch him with Murphy’s junk…Figure eight…Why won’t he just eat…Half a figure eight…Where did he go?…That is the closest we will ever come to calling ourselves world champions…Cast…cast…cast…I wonder if everybody from Wisconsin is nice and insane at the same time?…Cast…cast…cast.

After casting wet socks for the seven hundredth time in less than an hour, I think I spot what I believe to be a blue unicorn, or it could have been a really tweaked out largemouth, but I’m sticking with the blue-horned equine. I figure if there are blue unicorns in the hole, there must be a musky….figure eight….figure eight…a figure ten would be bad ass…I mean if eight is good, ten is like eleven…we have to move spots…no respectable musky would live in this shit hole.

I am starting to believe that this ramp at the Cane River is more elusive than the musky and the Sasquatch that delivered our pizza last night combined…while those cows do look delicious, I think they might be too fast for us. Following people to the ramp makes me happy, because this place is getting a little too freaky for someone of my delicate nature…was that a bat or a flying rat? If I drive the boat as fast as possible down river, and as slow as possible up river, I think we have a shot at winning this thing.

This many musky dudes in the same hotel room is probably illegal, or at least against some of the Days Inn by-laws, code, or regulations. When that guy said he was going to bring “pie”, the last thing I thought he would show up with is actual pie. I respect a certain level of literal interpretation, I suppose. Wasn’t there an after party we should be attending?…OK, more pie, then we go…Yes, I do think that a musky has a shot against Chuck Norris, but only if the musky was allowed a head-mounted laser beam of sorts…Who needs women with this level of musky discourse?

Editors Note: 

After an extended stay at a lovely residential institution for what we’re calling “somewhere in between exhaustion and hysteria,” I am feeling much better now. My doctors say with proper medication and daily intensive psychotherapy, I should be ready for the next Musky World Championships in Wisconsin (fall ‘13). I completely blame Todd Gregory (Towee Boats), Brad Bohen, Brian Porter and the rest of the crew at Musky Country Outfitters, and the town of McMinville Tenn., with their miles upon miles of fine Southern musky water for my current mental state. Thank you all, and always remember it’s the chickens, man, the chickens. Oh yeah, James McBeath of Jackson Kayaks won the tournament with what turned out to be one of two muskies boated on the day. The fish was 39 inches, and James is Canadian.