Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cheap Saltwater Fishing Rigs so You can GO FISHING!

If you read the books about fishing, particularly about salt water fishing, they generally implore you to buy a rod and reel that are a few steps up from entry level, or what I refer to as a "starter" outfit. They tell you, and probably rightly so in most cases, that the cheapest gear will often not last for 4 or 5 trips of salt water fishing, no matter whether you are bay fishing, pier/jetty fishing, surf fishing or some other kind of salt water fishing.

I know lots of people going to the beach for a summer vacation don't fish, but I want to encourage you to think about doing some fishing to liven up your time by the water. You can easily take along a few items from the house and buy the other necessary equipment for less that $75, or less than $5o if you already have some equipment or make judicious purchases.

I was going through some rods and reels today, preparing for a hoped for brief trip down to the coast for some early morning surf fishing. I came across one of these so-called starter rod and reel outfits that I bought 14 years ago this month. It is still going great.

I have some pretty nice fishing rigs for both fresh and salt water. Although the Shimano Curado has more or less captured the immediate spot of 1st string bay and light surf fishing go to reel, for different types of fishing I often like to use different types of rods and reels. Also, many of the rigs I have see duty in both fresh and salt water. A good rinsing with fresh water and a light oiling and greasing of the interior parts is the key to keeping a reel serviceable for years.

I was at a coastal location with some friends, and although I did have a tackle box in the trunk of my car, it was the rare occasion that I had not brought a rod and reel along. Unbelieveably, there was no WalMart or KMart around, and the only store that was open at the particular time that had fishing gear was a Sears store. It was one of the smaller ones, and by 1994 the Sears fishing gear selection was slim.

Still, for $35 they had what I though was the perfect general purpose salt water fishing rig, and with an 8' 2 piece rod, it would fit in the trunk of my car quite nicely.

It was a combo salt water spinning reel and rod made by Abu Garcia. The rod is model 200 Conolon and the reel is a model C508GLX. It's pretty much a cheaper version of the standard Abu Garcia spinning reel design. But it's lasted through at least 25 salt water fishing trips since I got it, and it's really just in tip top shape.

Most of the general purpose salt water fishing low price rod and reel combos that you see at Walmart or Academy go for anywhere from $35 to $50. They can be a spinning reel, a level wind reel or a spincasting reel paired with a medium to heavy duty rod. Most come with line prewound on the reel, and if given a preference for general salt water fishing, 20 lb test is a good all purpose line. You can get away with a lighter test in the surf and bays, but I've found that when pier or jetty fishing that 20 lb test is about as light as I want to go.

Some recommended items and lures for saltwater are as follows:

-needle nose pliers, as salt fish often have mouths you don't want to be sticking your fingers into. I use a pair of needle nose pliers to hold them by their mouth and use a cheap plastic hook remover to get the hook out with a minimum of pain and damage to the fish.

-a fillet knife and a cheap "ginsu" type knife about 5" long from the dollar store. Ideal for cutting up bait and the fillet knife is for cleaning any of your catch that you decide to eat.

-The following lures will get you a long way on a few dollars:

-a red and white topwater plug about 4-5" long;

-some gold and silver spoons medium and large sized

-some mid-depth running green and silver rapala like plugs

-some plastic tail type and imitation shrimp baits, with weighted jig heads to fish under popping corks or on the bottom.

-Some Berkley Powerbaits in sand eel or crab or any of the other types and brands of these types of lures. Several companies make these soft plastic lifelike lures that are impregnated with fish attractants, and I've had good luck with several of the salt water kind in my California fishing.

Popping Corks, torpedo and bottom weights, a variety of circle hooks ranging from small (8) to large and some nylon and steel leaders.

This selection of lures will again work on most Texas beaches and salt waters. Don't be afraid to ask at the bait store what the fish are hitting or where they are biting. The guy at the WalMart might or might not know, but the guy at the baitstand more than likely has heard the recent fishing reports of the day and knows where to go.

If I could have only one lure for fishing in the surf, it would have to be the gold spoon. I went on a North Padre Island fishing trip a few years ago where we chased the birds down some remote areas of the National Seashore park and when they stopped to feed on schools of shrimp and baitfish, we fished hard with large heavy gold and silver spoons. I had far better luck on the gold spoons when fishing them in schools of baitfish and shrimp. The key is being ready to move down the beach as soon as the birds are, because like the birds, schools of fish are often also chasing the bait fish and shrimp.

This is not the only cheap fishing rig I have had good luck with. Back in 1997, Billy Ray and I were visiting our good friend and earstwhile bandmate Ricky Ray at his place in Celeste, Texas. Celeste is just outside of Greenville, which in turn is just outside of Dallas, and back then Ricky Ray and his wife were living on the old home place up there where his family had run cattle for the past 10o years.

It was in January but it was unseasonably warm. One of their stock tanks was just brimming with bass, and as we were walking his property lines one afternoon we noticed the bass hitting whatever they could on the surface of the lake. Ricky Ray didn't have any fishing gear, being more of a guitarist and an artiste than a sportsman, so I hot footed it on down to the local Greenville WalMart and bought a nice Zebco 808 reel and a 7 foot rod and a few lures and headed on back to the lake.

Almost always a good selection for farm ponds in Texas are a few of the following:
-some weedless soft plastic frogs in lime green and dark brown
-some topwater heddon plugs in yellow with silver scale markings on the side
-a yellow or green Jitterbug or Hula Popper
-a white medium size with silver sparkle Hellbender
-a mid-running medium sized rattletrap slabsided lure in green with orange and silver highlights
-some grape or red plastic worms rigged Texas or Carolina style
-some abu-matic spinners in yellow with white dots and white with black dots
-some silver or gold spoons
-medium and large Beetle Spins, particularly grape, blue and black

These lures, plus either earthworms or minnows, will take care of 99% of your fishing needs on just about any Texas farm pond with bass or perch. If it's catfish you're after, in addition to worms or minnows, they also favor a wide variety of stink/blood baits and the ever popular chicken livers from the meat market.

Billy Ray and I traded off fishing with that outfit, catching nice sized 2 and 3 pound bass with nearly every catch. We were catching and releasing, so the prospect exists that we were recatching some of the same fish, but it matters not. We basically fished until we were too tired to fish any more, changing lures every so often and we could not find a lure they wouldn't bite. That's my kind of fishing.

So a few years later, Billy Ray came by on the way to an improptu fishing trip to St. Joseph Island and had of course forgotten to bring a rod. I wasn't going on that trip, so I loaned him that zebco rod and reel to take, because it is heavy duty enough for surf and pier/jetting fishing.

Billy Ray decided to appropriate that rod and reel, and to this day has it at his house, ready to go fishing. Fair enough, we've traded lots of stuff over the years, and I still owe him for a big ass saltwater rod and reel we spent $200 to go catfishing back in 1989. That expensive rod and reel got stolen from the back of a truck on a ill-fated fishing trip to Matagorda about 12 years ago, and I still haven't replaced it.

So I guess the point to the story is stick to major brands if you're buying an inexpensive fishing rig for some salt water fishing. Shakespeare, Abu Garcia, the Zebco Saltwater series reels, Pflueger and Daiwa are the better brands to look for at bargain basement gear.

And if you remember my earlier post, The Kings of the Gulf of Mexico, about my friend who caught a HUGE KINGFISH on the beach using only cut mullet, I'd suggest getting some mullet at the bait store near the beach you're going to be fishing and hoping like heck you get lucky he they did and catch a king. And they were using a bargain basement rod and reel and just casting not very far out from ankle to knee deep surf.

Lucky folks.

Dear Mr. President: About last Wednesday night...

I actually wrote a long essay about the Gates arrest and the subsequent proclamation of stupidity by our Commander in Chief. I just about fell out of my chair Wednesday night when I heard it, for I had been reading up on the various news reports and had even read the offense report online.

So instead of me posting, go and read The Race Issue over at Texas Ghostrider. When I read what TG had to say about the issue, well, he succinctly said it all. I can't improve on it one iota.

Excellence in Police Work

Read this article in the LA Weekly paper about some LA detectives who went above and beyond the call, by using their noggins and thinking outside the box, to nab a rapist that terrorized the city for many years and had escaped capture for decades.

It all started with a hunch by LAPD Detective Diane Webb, to follow up on all registered sex offenders in LA who had not given DNA samples, as they were required. Although the killer targeted has not been caught, a madman who killed and terrorized for over thirty years is now off the streets.

An interesting item I learned in this article was that California had required sex offenders to register SINCE 1947. That's roughly 40 years before Texas and many other states began requiring sex offenders to register. The Black Dalia case was the impetus for registration

That was some damn fine detective work, Detective Diane Webb! Your fellow officers deserve credit too for a job well done, but I'm holding out for a departmental commendation and promotion, with accompanying HUGE raise in pay, for talented dedication like you, LAPD Detective Diane Webb, exhibited here!

There's no telling how many lives you saved, Diane. Just remember that. Commendation and promotion and recognition may have escaped you thus far, according to the above article, but child, you did a good thing for humanity.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hankering for a boat and Need Advice

I've got a hankering to get a boat, and I'm interested in any advice or recommendations that anywhere here has when you read what I've got in mind.
My family had a ski/fishing boat when I was growing up, and it was a dandy. Billy's Ray's folks had a similar boat up at their old farm in East Texas. I used our boat quite frequently going back to high school days, and have traversed bays and lakes all over the state in that boat. But at some point, it began to show stress cracks in the fiberglass, and the engine was nearing the end of it's reliable useful service period, and although I considered buying the boat from my folks when they sold it, I ultimately decided I didn't need another huge project like that in my life.
But I'm ready now for another boat. It'll look something like the Orkney boat pictured above, which is a 15 and a half footer with a forward cabin. What I want is something a little longer, perhaps a 17 or 18 footer, with a larger cabin that covers the driving console. I'd even consider one that was enclosed, if it had a rooftop air conditioning unit on it.
I've seen some boats that are just a little bigger than these, say 23 to 25 footers, that have the covered forward cabin and then a cuddy cabin down below with a small dinette and tiny kitchen, a head and a forward sleeping berth.
I'll be buying a used boat, for sure, preferably one without a motor. I'd like the motor to be new, because if the boat is structurally sound, all that is usually required is some decorative refurbishing and some updating of limited electronics. Maybe a rewiring.
I've seen a few boats fitting both the larger and smaller spectrum at some used boat yards in my recent travels. But that's what I'll be aiming for.

Damn it's hot

News flash, I know. At least if you live in Texas.

I don't care where you live in Texas, it's hot and it's dry. Some parts of Texas are getting little bits of rain here and there, but nothing near what they need. And many other parts of the state are in dire drought conditions. All over the state, counties have burn bans enacted because of the dry nature of, well, nature.

Farmers and ranchers are having lots of problems, as if even in ideal weather conditions they don't have problems enough. I've talked to several friends about their stock tanks and farm ponds and it's the same story just about everywhere. No rain and record high temperatures means rapidly shrinking lakes.

Many of the central Texas lakes, like Canyon and Travis, have no public boat ramps left open. I have not heard if Buchanan has any ramps still open. That is to say, all the public boat ramps are high and dry. The constant level lakes that lie below Buchanan still have lots of water, but because the water is not coming out of the feeder lakes like normal we're seeing lots of bacterial buildup in the constant level lakes.

This all adds up to very little fun for El Fisho and his fishing buddies.

Of course, during the 100 degree + days much of the state has been having, the fishing usually stinks. Yes, you can still have some good fishing if you go early or go late, but daytime fishing is almost too miserable to contemplate.

And the drought affects myriad other factors that affect fishing quality. In freshwater, water gets stagnant and sour, and not only is this unhealthy for fish, it also puts them in a reduced activity mode and it affects the health of the entire food chain of the system.

In saltwater, it's even worse. Our bays throughout Texas are dependant on the influx of massive amounts of freshwater infused into the bays. When drought strikes, the freshwater influx is greatly reduced and bays develop high salinity conditions, which are not conducive to anything good when it comes to active, hungry and healthy fish and really, the entire eco-system of the bays.

And it's not just the heat, it's the humidity. I bet you've never heard anyone in Texas say that before...

EDIT: The only interesting thing that occurs in lakes when levels drop is hunting for interesting artifacts in the dried lakebed. After writing the above, I remembered trips I took on 4 wheelers with my college roommates in the greatly drought stricken Lake Buchanan in the early 1980's. My roommates, from the town of Llano, had found the original village of Tow, and we visited a church (Catholic, I believe) that had been submerged since the 1930's when the lake was impounded.

This article talks about other trash, artifacts and treasures that have been found in Central Texas lakes in the recent past when drought strikes.

I also remember my open water dives in 1982 at Windy Point in Austin. My dive master, who was a Harris County assistant district attorney, took our class for a weekend of check out dives there, and I recall swimming around the rusting hulks of 40's and 50's automobiles that had been sunk off the sides of Windy Point. Fish loved the structure and the habitat. I can say that diving off of Windy Point on Lake Travis was a big improvement from the lesson pool at the Northshore diveshop where we took lessons.

I remember that on my trip to the dried lakebed of Lake Buchanan that I literally filled up a tackle box with metal and plastic lures I collected off tree snags, brushpiles and rocks. I collected a small tackle box full of nice lures, which were mostly from the 1960's and 70's. Most of the bodies of the lures were intact and full of color, but they had rusted hooks, but the hooks were easy to replace on many of the lures.

Goodbye not farewell

Three bloggers shut down operations this week, and it was three blogs I frequented near daily. They were good blogs, each very different in format, subject matter and writing style, but each served to ease some daily stress for me because they were often hilarious to read. Who they were or why they decided to quit blogging is not really as important as for them to know they were appreciated and very talented writers.

If they read this, I hope they do know how much El Fishing Musician will miss their wit and stories. I know that one day I'll see some of their writing again, perhaps in a bestseller book or a magazine article.

I'm going to keep talking about Texas, fishing and musicianing, but I have to say I'll be missing quite the inspiration I got from these three blog writers.

Adios, my freinds...I won't be taking any comments on this subject.

Monday, July 20, 2009

McKittrick Creek and the Guadalupe Mountains

The little oasis pictured above is what's known as McKittrick Creek, which runs through McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountain Range in far west Texas. And guess what? It holds rainbow trout. Not native, of course, but imported by a former owner of the land several decades ago. They are still there and apparently doing fairly well.

McKittrick Creek is something of a rarity: it's a west Texas creek that has not only water but fish in it. It runs underground and then emerges in McKittrick Canyon, and then goes up and down again before winding it's way to the Pecos River. The folks I know who have been there say the creek runs year round, again, a rarity in west Texas. True, there are a few good rivers in west Texas, most notably the Pecos River, but most of what you see in west Texas are draws, which are basically gullys or dry creekbeds that will transport water when rains of biblical proportion hit.

The backstory is pretty interesting. A lodge was built by a fellow named Wallace E. Pratt, who was the first geologist ever employed by Humble Oil Company. Seeking a cooler locale to relax with his family when Houston got hot in the summers, Pratt built a place out there in the canyon designed by noted Houston architect John Staub. Platt added to his holdings and ultimately built a larger place higher up the canyon out of flooding range and retired there with his wife until health concerns caused them to move to a larger city.
Meanwhile, Judge J.C. Hunter was buying up other land next to that of Pratt, ultimately calling it the Guadalupe Mountain Ranch, and it is the Judge who is credited with introducing rainbows into McKittrick Creek in 1930 or so. The Judge and Pratt ended up lobbying hard with various federal congressmen to get the government to by Hunter's land to create a national park. Pratt and his descendant's donated thousands of acres to the government, and helped find buyers to buy Hunter's land and then in turn donate that land. And that is how two men and their families created the Guadalupe Mountain National Park.
Writer Larry Hodge of the Odessa America writes in one story that some speculate that the rainbows stocked by Judge Hunter may have eliminated a native cutthroat trout population in the creek, but other naturalists and scientists have dated the cutthroat trout demise many years before Judge Hunter stepped foot in these mountains.
The entire story of the history of the Guadalupe Mountains is quite interesting and I'll save that for another post. The point of this post is, I'm happy that there is a self-sustaining population of rainbows other than those in the Guadalupe River, but I'm woeful I can't go fishing for them. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife publication about Rainbow Trout in Texas, no fishing is allowed in McKittrick.
I still have to go up and see that creek though. I can take some pictures instead of catching fish, and it's a mighty interesting place to spend a few days.

Friday, July 10, 2009


I'm always looking for primo Garcia Abu-Matic 290 fishing reels. I'm just saying.
These reels were made in the 1970's by Garcia, which back then was one of the major manufacturers of fishing and hunting gear. Their shotguns were ornate and very well made, fetching then what would still be a high price nowadays. Three of their fishing reels are considered classics and at the time, although very reasonably priced for the quality of the product, we considered the penultimate in fishing reels.
The Mitchell 300 spinning reel, the Ambassador 5000 baitcasting reel and the above shown Abu-matic. I still use each of the original three reels I got as a kid and teen today, more than 30 years later.
The red Ambassador 5000 was considered classic, but advances in baitcasting reel technology, most noteably by Shimano with their ever evolving Curado series have rendered the venerable 5000 a victim of technology. At less than half the weight and better braking systems that are a product of far better technology and materials, it's hard for the Ambassador 5000 to compete some forty plus years after it's introduction.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not throwing away my 5000 anytime soon. It looks near new still, with one tiny nick that cuts through the red enamel paint into bare metal on the casing of the reel, a haphazard result of a poorly stowed rod (by me) in my our ski boat. It slammed against some piece of trim in the rod box and bam, tiny but noticeable nick.
The 5000 is the type of reel that will still be working with Fishing Musician jr. is my age. It's the kind of thing you want to hand down to your kid, the thing he'll hopefully think is cool and hang on to it as well.
The thing is, it got nicked more than thirty years ago, and despite heaving fishing and being kept in garages for much of it's lifespan, it has not rusted or tarnished the metal. At all. The tiny gouge into the side case of the reel is as bright and shiny as the day it happened. And although I've wiped the reel down periodically and after rinsing with fresh water after a fishing trip, I've never paid special attention to making sure that nick area was totally dry like I should have when it was wet.
I guess that is because it always looked the same and never got tarnished. Which all means that those little reels made in Sweden at the Abu reel making factory from the 1950's up until probably the late 1970's, were made of superior grade metal. Lack of impurities. I don't know what kind of stell the casing of these reels is made of because it is high quality metal.
But as I say, the Ambassador 5000 is iconic. I'm aware I've used this phrase a lot recently, and I apologize for that. But if the shoe fits, wear it. It's one of a kind and amongst my breed of my age, it's a legend.
The Mitchell 300 is likewise iconic. It is the blueprint for hundreds if not thousands of reels made since it hit the scene in the 1950's at well. As I recall, it was made in france, and like the Ambassador 5000, it is a classic that still sees daily use in many fish hunting arsenals. I have mine, again purchased when I was in my early teens with yard mowing money, more or less permanantly mounted to a Lew's Speed Stick from the 1970's as well. A serious bass worm rod for a serious fishing reel.
But to me, the Abu-matic 290 spincasting reel is still at the top of the heap, after more than 35 years. At the time I got mine, it was certainly the pinnacle of durability, solid design and absolute functionality. It will cast far further than any other spincasting reel, and it's drag is about as close as you can get to the Ambassador 5000.
No matter how much bait casting I do, I still get backlashes. I've been baitcasting for over forty years, since I was a small child, and although I got the hang of it, my propensity to change lures without *correctly* changing the settings ends up with a lot of back lashes. I have had far less back lash with the Curado than I ever had with the Ambassador 5000.
But with the Abu-matic 290, backlashes don't happen. The few malfunctions I have ever had on a 290 have been minor and usually were some fault of mine. The 290 sports a large capacity of 20 lb test line, a hardy drag and is a great bay reel for specks and reds as it is a freshwater reel for bass and larger gamefish.
The Abu-matic 290 was ultimately discontinued in the late 70's or early 80's, but scores remain on the used market, most in solid condition. It's just a well made reel with well made components. In 2000 or 2001, Abu reintroduced a remodeled Abu-matic line, including a heavy duty reel. Bought one, hated it, sold it on ebay 6 months later.
So if you've got an Abu-matic 290, grey in color like the one above, give me a holler.

Sixty year old rock legend Robert Plant gets CBE from Prince Charles. Commander of the British Empire.

I'm still going to start calling him Sir, even though he didn't receive an Order of the British Empire that allows him to be Knighted. The next step from Commander would be Knight Commander, which would make it proper to call him Sir.

I bet he never saw this coming back in the 1970's.


Yes indeed, the Arc Angels have reunited. That's old news, but since they're playing tonight in Houston, they garnered some ink, er, I mean, bytes, on the Chronicle website. See it here

If you like rockin' blues with a harder edge and some of the best geetar playing you're ever likely to see, you need to see the Arc Angels. As Rolling Stone said in their 1992 review of the above-pictured album..."As is true for most music of this genre, Arc Angels offers few surprises: Guitars collide with guitars; the lyrics often are merely syllables serviceable enough for role-playing. But skill and zeal lift the Angels above the pack – it may be an old leather jacket, but these guys wear it well. "

Their story is more or less captured fairly well in the Chronicle piece, but I've got some fluff to add. Of course, bassist Tommy Shannon is not taking part in this tour, but hopefully he'll be involved in future studio efforts. He and drummer Chris Layton, once known as Double Trouble, as in Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Touble, lay down a rhythm section groove that few bands can match. Stevie's untimely death catapulted them into the Angels in the early 90's, and I have to say, I think they're better now then they were in their first tumultous version.

I last saw them play as Arc Angels back in 2005 during some gigs in Austin at world famous Antone's club. Since then, they've done other gigs and last year announced they would be doing some more stuff together.

The melody talent lies in the dual guitarists/singers Charlie Sexton and Doyle Bramhall II. Together, they have a creative tension that is the stuff of legends like Jagger and Richards or Lennon and McCartney. Or at least to a Texas blues and guitar rocking listener like me.

I dont' know as much about what Sexton, a teen guitar prodigy, has been up to in the last 15 years, other than stints with Bob Dylan and a score of producing gigs. He's been doing well, VERY WELL for a working musician that is not in a big name band.

Doyle Bramhall II, on the other hand, has been on my radar for a long time. After the Arc Angels stopped playing in the nineties, he released a string of critically acclaimed solo albums, as well as serving as sideman to Roger Waters on his In The Flesh tours, with Doyle performing the vocal and guitar duties of the absent Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmore.

But Bramhall doesn't stop there. In the early 2000's, he had a band called Smokestack that was just awesome. But altough they did some touring and released a killer CD, it just didn't happen I guess. The next thing you know, Eric Clapton decided that Bramhall was a kickass guitarist and hired him on to be his second guitarist for his near constant touring and recording projects. As expected, Bramhall kicks ass on just about every Clapton project save for Cream that Clapton has done in the past decade.

But again, it doesn't stop there. The back story on Bramhall is fascinating. His father, well known Texas blues drummer Doyle Bramhall, was big buddies with Stevie Ray Vaughn. I've heard that he literally grew up with Vaughn, because Big Doyle was the drummer with Stevie Ray up until Stevie Ray formed Double Trouble and hit the big time.

Like those famous people who don't forget their roots or their friends, Stevie Ray took care of his old friend Doyle by recording numerous hit songs Doyle had written, thus spreading the wealth of residuals with his old friend. Whatever his faults, SRV was a stand up guy to his friends.

So Doyle II grew up learning to play around on guitar at the feet of a master. That plus his other exposures to 1970's Austin blues icons like the Thunderbirds and so many other acts.
Check them out if you're into good Texas hard rocking blues. You won't be sorry. The band is promising a live CD/DVD of highlights of their 2005/2006 gigs will be out this fall. I'm hoping that they do a second album. It'll always be compared to the first album, but I suspect it will be every bit as good as the first.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Crappie Houses

Not what you probably think. Crappie Houses are warehouses on piers over the water basically, generally at a lake, and they have a big hole in the floor, which is of course over the water, where you fish. It needs to be really well air-conditioned. Usually the owners of these houses put old Christmas trees or the like down below these Crappie Houses to create habitat for fish and the food chain they feed on.

They're called Crappie Houses because, well, mostly you catch Crappie, perch and other panfish in them, but I've seen catfish and bass caught in them as well. Live minnows seem to work best, but if it's breeding season the old "Fle-Fly" lead headed jig works well, in either yellow or white. But like my late Uncle Prito used to say, "them jigs got to have eyes on them. If you can't find any with eyes on them, get some black model paint and a toothpick and put some eyes on 'em. Ain't no good without no eyes on 'em. " Uncle Prito was a one man Crappie Fishing machine on Lake Palestine during my teens, and fished for Crappie with the same maniacal passion that some of my friends stalk trout or billfish.

Usually, the Crappie House is attached to a marina or contains a bait shop and concession stand.

When I was a kid, we'd go to Crappie Houses all the time. Most of the big lakes had them. They were perfect for going fishing when it was as hot outside as we've been here in Texas recently. We used to go to the one at Lake Somerville all the time, and I know there is at least one still operating there. Never caught many fish at Somerville though, from about the age of 8 until I was about 30. I always had a good time on Lake Somerville outings, and most of them were in sail or ski boats. Still didn't catch any fish.

The last time I was at Lake Somerville, or fished at a Crappie House, was when a good friend, Mr. Spock, got married in 2000 over the July 4th holiday. Mr. Spock married a nice girl named Stacey. Stacey was significantly younger than Spock, but none of Spock's friends were concerned because Spock was in danger of being referred to as "the old bachelor Spock".

I'm happy to report that they're still happily married with a gorgeous daughter, and that she treats my friend well. All the old gang from Astroworld and Police days gathered in Chapel Hill at an old plantation for the wedding. It was nice having guys I'd been friends with for anywhere from 30 years to 20 years as the wedding party. I was the best man, and the other guys were all groomsmen. All of the bridesmaids including the maid of honor were young enough to be out daughters.

In any event, the night before the wedding, we loaded up a couple of trucks with the fellas and drove to Lake Somerville and went fishing at a Crappie House there. Actually, we went drinking at the Crappie house while Billy Ray and I fished. Caught nothing, naturally, but it was hot as hell.

So Crappie Houses are an opportunity to go fishing in the heat of the day here in Texas. Although you're likely to catch more fish most times if you fish a river or lake at sunrise and sunset, if that is not in the schedule it's nice to have an option like a Crappie House.

Ever been to one?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Homer Circle and the Green Sponge Rubber Spider fly

When I was learning to fly fish in my early teens, I was an avid reader of the three sporting magazines available, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield. The fishing editor of Sports Afield was a guy name Homer Circle, and he often wrote about fly fishing for bass and panfish. For panfish, Homer loved him some sponge rubber green spider fly lures.
For a few years, Sports Afield would have a fly fishing issue, and you could always count on Uncle Homer to do some talking about these lures and how good he thought they were. No telling how many articles I have read by him over the years that make mention to panfishing with these lures.

I couldn't find a picture of the ones I use, but mine are a little different than the ones pictured above. I like those in the picture though. Orvis sells an excellent rendition, with three sets of legs instead of two sets. Also, the Orvis green spider features white rubber legs.

I've fished this lure longer than I've driven a car. On rivers, creeks, streams, tanks, ponds and large lakes, I've caught many panfish and bass and even a small catfish on the green spider. For Texas, if I could have only three flies to fish with, this would be one of them. The other two flies would be some sort of mosquito/gnat immitation and a Dave's Hopper grasshopper fly. Solid producers in all types of Texas locales year round.

I've caught as many bass on this lure as I have panfish. I have even caught a tiny channel cat when fishing this fly deep like a wet fly/streamer. That's part of the versatility of this fly. If you want to fish it dry, it naturally floats on top of the water. If you want to run it deeper, you simply squeeze the sponge and fill it with water and you're going deeper.

In my youth I bought this fly from places like Netcraft. Orvis and other fly tyers began tying this fly a lot in the late 70's and early 80's and you can find versions just about everywhere. The white and the green have produced best for me, although I once had a good run of large perch on the Medina River near the road to Tarpley crossing just outside of Bandera on an overcast day with a yellow spider.

Mr. Circle is still writing and fishing. He was named the 2008 Samuel C. Johnson Fishing Journalist of the Year. After being with Sports Afield magazine for 35 years, he now writes for Bassmaster. He was a pioneer of fishing television shows, but I'll always remember him for the green rubber spider.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Orvis Part 2

James Hathaway, who works for Orvis as the Communications and Conservation Director, a/k/a PR man plus, responded to my all too brief post on my strong opinion about Orvis Rods, particularly, my Orvis Rod.

I did make a foray into the nether reaches of fishing gear and found the original aluminum tube and rod sock that came with my first Orvis Rod, an 8'6" 4 piece 6 wt from the Green Mountain Orvis series. It came with a lifetime warranty and I bought it in a kit that included a reel, backing and line. The reel is a dandy, and despite many hundreds of hours of fishing, looks new. It is from the Orvis Madison series and was made in England.

I've had it over 20 years now, and it's been the perfect rod for many types of fishing. From small creek fishing in California and Texas to largemouth big lake fishing in Texas to big river fishing to salt water fishing in Texas bays and even out to the bonefish flats of the Bahamas.

It's caught fish in all of those places, and in many more. I bought it at the Orvis retail store in Houston, which had just opened back then in the late 80's. How I became an Orvis fan starts years before.

In my early teens, I was already subscribing to the fishing magazines of the day, such as Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield. In my later teens, there was an excellent monthly newpaper style magazine I often read called The Texas Fisherman, and it featured some of my favorite Texas fishing writers, guys like the late Russell Tinsley and the late A.C. Becker. Together and apart, those guys fished all over the great state of Texas for decades, back before so many of our rivers had damage done to them from the footprint of man.

Every now and then in those early 70's magazines, you would see a mail-in offer from Orvis for a nice small item, like a wallet with fishing leaders or various types of flies and streamers in some sort of case. It was usually 4 or 5 flies or in the case of the leaders, a plastic leader wallet with different leaders to try out. It was priced cheaper than what you would have to pay through the Orvis catalog, and was usually a selection of items that you couldn't get in that small of a combination, a special offer item for a cheap price. Seems like it was $4 or $5 dollars for some of these items, designed to attract new customers and introduce them to Orvis quality.

Well, I know Orvis continued doing specials like this over the years, and every so often I'd get whatever item they were offering. By the time I was 10, I had found an old Sears Ted Williams fly rod I got for a great deal at a garage sale, and at some point in my later teens bought a Berkley Bounty Hunter fly rod. Both of these were and are great rods, I'm constantly amazed at the fiberglass strength of the Ted Williams rod, being an 8 wt. designed for large bass and light saltwater use.

In the mid-eighties, when I would often visit the now defunct Austin Angler, I would try out various used Orvis rods, some made of graphite and some made of Bamboo. That was really the first time I had ever tried out an Orvis rod, and I was just so impressed with the feel of both types of rods. I went fishing a couple of times with one of the guys that owned the Austin Angler back then, and they'd always bring a nice Orvis rod for me to fish with. But they were really expensive. But it would be a few more years until I had an Orvis of my own.

When I was graduating law school, as I said, I bought the cheapest 4 piece fly rod outfit that Orvis had, and I think it went for about $300 for the whole outfit. Of course, I bought some leaders and flies. It was actually a semester before I finished, and it counted also as a Christmas present to myself. I promptly went to the Guadalupe for some winter Rainbow Trout fishing, and that began what has become my near constant companion on the water.

It all started from those postcards you could pull from the Field and Stream and other magazines with the special offer from Orvis. You'd also get a catalog from Orvis with the special offer, and let me tell you, those golden days of Bamboo Rods from Orvis are just great rods.

So I'm still trading with Orvis after all these years. Like many American companies, they're working hard in these troubled times to take care of their employees. It's owned by the Perkins family, who bought it back in 1965. It's stayed a family company, albeit a large one, for all of these years. It all started back in 1856 with Charles Orvis, who opened a fly fishing store in Vermont, and had continued all of these years, an American company.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Travel Fishing Tackle, Part 2: The Orvis Experience and Garcia reels

All though 1970's and the 1980's, the Zebco travel rod served me well. I used different reels with it, most often an Ambassador 5000 or an Abu Garcia Abumatic 290. I used that reel in numerous trips to California in the 1980's, and it saw a lot of action in the Hill Country on various hiking and canoe/kayak trips.

Somewhere along the way in the early 1980's, I got an Eagle Claw "pack" spinning rod, a medium weight rod that was about 6 foot long. I generally used my Garcia Mitchell 300 with this rod. There still were not very many travel (or "pack" rods, for backpacking, as they were called back then).

Over the last 30 years, many of my go-to reels have been Garcia products. In the 1970's, you could find no finer made reel, especially at it's price. I've owned several red 5000's, and used them regularly up until a year or so ago when I acquired a Shimano Curado. Man, that Curado is a fine reel. Likewise, the 300 spinning reel is the icon of the genre,

I've also used the fresh and salt water versions of the Abumatic spinning reels, the 170 (red) and 290 (silver) since the mid-70's. With the advent of Ebay, I expanded my collection of these reels, and now have enough of these fine reels that my son will be ensured a healthy legacy of Abumatic reels. He's already realized he likes the red ones for freshwater fishing, and despite the fact that he has quite a mini-arsenal of gear to pick from, the red 170's are already his go-to choice.

My original 290 Abumatic has been fished in Ft. Lauderdale, San Diego, Los Angeles and it's surrounds, Laguna Beach, San Francisco, Sonora and Napa Valley, New Orleans (swamp fishing for bass), the Congaree River in Columbia, South Carolina and even to The Bahamas. I bought it in 1973 at a hardware store that sold fishing tackle in Port Isabel, Texas, and it still works like new.

When I was graduating law school, I decided to treat myself to a low end Orvis fishing rod, and I got the 4 piece travel model. This rod has also been to California, Florida and the Bahamas and has been fished all over Texas including both fresh and salt water areas. It's a six weight, and is about as versatile as a rod can be. Orvis still sells a similar outfit and you can find it here

Mine wasn't called the Clearwater but Billy Ray liked mine so much that he bought him one about a year later, and by then they had changed the name of the series to the Clearwater series. It's the same rod.

The cheapest Orvis rod is, I have found, generally far better than the more expensive offerings of other makers. Sure, there are lots of good rod making companies out there making great products, but as I grew up reading about expensive Orvis rods, I always knew I would have one when I grew up.

Having a good fly rod is like any other quality item that you might use, like a good shotgun or a favorite car. You get used to how it handles and you like that familiarity. So it is with me and my old Orvis rod. A few years ago, I got a nice lightweight 3 wt. Orvis rod for a steal at the outfitting store in Fredericksburg. It was winter, and I got a $450 Orvis for just over a hundred bucks. Screaming deal. The rod literally weighs nothing and is perfect for fishing Texas rivers and creeks for smaller fish. It makes a bluegill seem like a big ole' fish.

I'd love to have a nice bamboo Orvis rod, either an old one or a new one, particularly a short 5.5 or 6 foot 3 wt. model that would lend itself to brushy bank fishing on the Texas creeks I love to fish. I've once had a cheap bamboo fly rod, but it didn't have the action and feel that a quality rod would have. That cheap rod busted in half in the heat of a fight with a Lake Conroe largemouth many years ago, and resulted not only in a ruined rod but a lost fish.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Travel fishing tackle, Part One: FIshing on a Sailboat

Way back in the pre-cell phone days of the seventies, I used to often go fishing to get away from civiliation. Even then in my teen years, I enjoyed being incommunicado, especially on a boat. I was lucky to have a good friend throughout my teen years whose dad had a 27 foot sailing yacht at Houston Yacht Club (or HYC, as they call it down at "the club"), which afforded me countless hours of sailing in Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico from about age 13 to age 21.

It was then in those days of crewing on the boats of my friend's dads and others that I met at HYC that I began using a travel rod. Even on large sailboats, space is at a premium. Compartments that can used on a motor boat to store fishing gear are used to store extra sails, ropes and the like. Since large sailboats are much slimmer and deeper than many similarly sized motor yachts, space is at a premium on most sail boats.

In other words, the captains of these boats didn't want me bringing a 2 piece fishing rod because there was no good place to stow it on the boat where it wouldn't be in the way or in some critical spot.

I used my Popeil Pocket Fisherman on many of these trips, and often to good results. The limited casting range of the Pocket Fisherman and the tiny stout rod portion of that invention don't make for a lot of sporting action when playing and landing a fish, but in a lot of cases it was use the Pocket Fisherman or nothing to avoid pissing off the Captain who didn't want me lumbering around his decks with a 6' or 7' rod, afraid I'd snag a sail or rope with a hook.

None of the folks I sailed with minded the Pocket Fisherman, but I wanted to have more of a traditional rod to fish with. I do enjoy ultralight fishing in both fresh and saltwater, and that meant having some kind of rod about 5' or 6' long that would be sporting. I found that in what was one of the few travel rods available back in the 1970's, the Zebco spincasting travel rod, a five piece affair that broke down to about 14 inch sections.

That Zebco rig became my new sailing fishing rig. When the boats would take anchor, or when everyone was lounging and the boat was cruising at a slow speed and nothing was happening, I could quickly pull that rod from my boat bag and have it into action, already rigged in the case, in just a few minutes. I would often throw a popping cork with a Tout tail jig on the business end of the rig. A small plastic Berkley Triline fishing line box had been converted to a small tackle box, holding pliers, clippers and some various weights, hooks, spoons, a plug or two and some spare Tout tails in various colors.

My friend's family also had a couple of Sunfish sailboats down at HYC for their kids to use when the parents didn't feel like sailing. I often took out one of the Sunfish for fishing expeditions near and far in East Galveston Bay, and the Zebco rig was a mighty handy thing to have near.

I got so fond of fishing from the Sunfish that on one family vacation down to South Padre Island when I was about 14, I made my dad carry one of my friend's sunfish sailboats inside our family's tri-hull fishing boat. We laid the Sunfish on it's side and put it into the middle of the boat, with the bow of the small sailboat poking through the walk-through windshield of the ski boat my family owned. It was quite a site towing our ski boat from Houston to Port Isabel with the Sunfish positioned amidships in the ski boat, but it worked and it got the sailboat down to South Padre.

I did quite a bit of sailing and fishing in the Laguna Madre that summer. With the adjustable centerboard, I could sail into ultra shallow parts of the bay deep enough to hold specks and reds and yet too shallow for any motor boat to venture. It was silent, and with a little practice, you could position the sail to shade you from the glaring sun while you fished.

The only bad experience I ever had fishing with that Zebco rig out of HYC in the seventies was one bright sunny morning when I was just out of high school, spending much of my days off fishing and sailing down at HYC with my buddy. I took the Sunfish out to do some fishing, going quite a few miles with the strong winds that were blowing. I had checked the weather with the Harbormaster before leaving, and it was supposed to be all blue skies all day long.

I sailed into East Galveston Bay heading towards the Gulf of Mexico and several hours out into the trip, I was having some pretty good fishing. The bay was like glass where I was at, in about 6 to 8 feet of water, just west of the Intercoastal Canal. The only waves were the occasional one from a passing tanker heading in or out of the Houston Ship Channel. Fishing was good, and I had fallen into a big school of specks, who were chasing a huge school of shrimp.

It was very cool being in the middle of the bay, amidst a flipping, moving mass of shrimp perhaps 100 feet square. The trout were just plowing though the shrimp and enjoying the feast. I was able to sail back and forth through this shrimp school as the trout were feeding, and caught quite a few fish on the Zebco. I had a good shrimp articial I was fishing with a weighted popping cork and a light unweighted plastic shrimp.

All of a sudden, the wind picked up substantially. Within a few minutes, it was gusting from about 10 to 30 miles per hour. The sky went black, almost like someone had turned off the lightswitch. A nasty gulf storm had blown in and it had only taken a few minutes to go from perfect to dangerous. The bay went from flat and glassy to one foot whitecaps and two foot swells.

I was hauling ass, and well aware that my aluminum mast was the tallest thing for miles in the middle of the thunder and lightning storm. Hiked out for about half my body over the water and probably running the Sunfish at what is top speed, surfing from swell to swell, being airborne for a second ever other wave, it was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

It took fraction of the time to get back near the yacht club because of the raging wind, but for the last part of the trip the hard rain pelted me like so many stinging rocks. It was such a hard rain that I had to put my sunglasses on to protect my eyes.

As I turned in to the HYC protected harbor, I felt relief, I quickly beached the craft and sought refuge in the outdoor covered patio of the HYC Club building. I watched the lightning rage and the rain pour, blown by the fierce wind.

It felt good to be alive.

Pier Fishing in California and other California fishing thoughts

If you plan to go to California in the near future, forget about the Government vouchers that the state there is giving it's residents instead of state income tax refunds http://http//,0,4177099.story and focus on what may well be the best written compendium of coastal fishing in the golden state.

Of course, I'm speaking of what is one of the finest books that you can buy about coastal California fishing, Pier Fishing in California. You can get it here
This book is 528 information and picture packed pages of pier and surf fishing opportunties from south to north in the Golden State. A fellow named Ken Jones has spent over 30 years gathering and more importantly, updating this information. When I travel to California on either business or pleasure, this book and at least one traveling fishing rig travel with me. Even when I don't take a travel fishing outfit with me, this book tells me the piers and tackle shops where I can rent a fishing rig for a reasonable price.
The past year, I've been to L.A. several times. On those trips, I've either fished at The Malibu Pier, surf fished in Malibu, or fished at The Santa Monica Pier. The guidance that this books gives, as well as the up to the minute accurate updates that the forum Ken runs on California saltwater fishing from the shoreline, provides you with everything you need to know about where to fish, what to fish with and what to fish for.
Probably the best fishing trip I ever had in my life was in San Diego about 12 years ago. I went out on a small party fishing boat, fishing about 10 or so miles offshore. It was nonstop fishing action from start to finish. There was about 20 of us customers on the boat, many of whom were pensioners seeking to augment their meager social security and retirement incomes with some tasty fresh fish. Since I didn't have any way to take fish home with me on that trip, my newfound friends were more than happy to take my fish as part of their limit and provide me with liquid refreshment in exchange.
Although that trip was in chilly early December, the fish were biting like mad. Really, six hours of fishing until you could no longer lift your arms was the kind of tired I like to be.
Although hopefully my fishing expedition to California at the end of this summer will be inland and in search of freshwater Golden Trout, later this fall I want to take the ferry out to Santa Catalina Island and do some fishing out there. I hear it is marvelous, and it's not all that expensive to head to Catalina either.
Too bad Ken hasn't written the ultimate fishing guide for freshwater trout fishing like he has for saltwater pier fishing.