Friday, February 15, 2013

Why do I bother?

I have been staying with my efforts in building good and productive lures despite (or perhaps because of) the hell that is winter. I am not a fan of frozen lakes. I know people that enjoy ice fishing more than they do open water. I have also heard some people will not eat bacon or drink alcohol. It is difficult to understand why people are as they are.

In an attempt to learn how to mold and cast resin hardbaits, I molded a Black Dog Shellcracker. I rationalized this two ways. First off and most importantly, I do not intend to gain financially from this transgression. And secondly, after buying several of the damn things at a not insignificant price, I have determined that I am not destined to get one that has been properly constructed. Maybe I would have better luck with the injected model? At any rate, if I can use the mold to build myself one that actually swims properly and has paint that does not look like it was done by a penguin, I consider that fair play.

Beyond that, it has been useful for me to have the opportunity to play with different resins and processes. I finally got around to molding a bait I have been working on, in fits and starts, for a couple years. I started off thinking I would carve and finish a wooden bait, but after the carving turned out pretty good I decided that it would be a waste to destroy it by using it to catch fish. So that led me to investigate the techniques involved in molding original masters to create fishable duplicates.

I got the mold for the bait in question done a couple days ago, and today I got the sections cast for the first time. I intend to continue experimentation with different processes, but I am pleased (in a hesitant way) with the results so far. I still need to attend to some cosmetic imperfections, mostly due to not being able to pressure cast the bait yet. I'll need to get a compresser and a pressure pot for that. Still, nice to see it finally in the real world instead of my head.

I intend to add fins of some sort, though as a rule I dislike the rigid fins found on most hardbaits. I plan on using some sort of flexible translucent material. This bait is about seven inches in length, a size I consider to be in the "sweet spot" locally, as it gets both decent numbers as well as attention from the big girls. The resin needs to outgas for several days before it is painted to ensure good adhesion of the paint and topcoat. In the meantime I will experiment with ballast. 

I am pretty eager to be out throwing this. 

These are the softbaits I have been pouring the last year or so. I have done well with them as have several of my friends, and I am stoked. I will be incorporating a couple minor changes, adding  hook slot and changing the tail slightly, but overall I am really happy with how these have turned out. They track dead-straight even at blistering retrieves when they are rigged properly, and the soft eyes get bit through by pike, but not torn off. One of my biggest gripes with soft swimbaits is that the eyes all too often get ripped off after a fish or two, and these stay put. I am using an Owner 6/0 weighted Beast Hook with a spring coil keeper, a bloody expensive hook but the best by far for the purpose. 

The master in the background is resin. I use it to make duplicate molds. 

I am also working on a spinnerbait design with the gracious help of my friend Ken Iles. He has contributed several hours to the CAD drawings needed to get aluminum molds cut. I will be showing that as soon as possible, but I can say it is a compact hidden weight design with a large eye. It is intended to be fished very fast at the surface to fish busting bait, or dredged in water deeper than is typical for a bait its size. I am excited about that as well. The nascent TOADWERX marches on.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Storing finesse baits

   I do a lot of light line fishing for bass. I started light line finesse fishing in about 1991 or so. Prior to that I was fishing nothing lighter than ten pound monofilament. That was what was handed to me as a kid. I caught plenty of fish as I recall, but that had perhaps more to do with the relative abundance of fish in south east Texas than it did with my skill set. 

   Sometime in the early nineties we moved to Austin. A long time ago (a few hundred years if you believe young earth creationists) what is now central Texas was covered by a warm, fertile and shallow sea. Marine life was eventually left high and dry as the sea retreated. Walk the hills around Austin and pick up rocks in gullies, and you will encounter abundant marine fossils. The remnants of this ecosystem were encased in sediments which eventually formed limestone. Limestone is a chalky and porous sedimentary rock that is extremely effective at filtering impurities out of water, and so the streams in the area tend to be crystal clear. Having grown accustomed to the muddy brown waters of the bayous and ponds of south and east Texas, the clarity of the water was a shock. 

   One day I was fishing Walnut Creek, a small stream that flows through Austin, using my standard seventeen pound Berkley XL. As a kid with no money, I reasoned that using line heavy enough to free most snags was best practice. After all, if I lost a lure it was unlikely to be replaced. 

   My standard method for fishing the creek at that time was to go early, capture crawfish, minnows, and sunfish with hands and bait nets, and fish these on Carolina Rigs. For reasons I did not understand, my spinnerbaits and worms were not met with the same degree of receptiveness in Walnut Creek that they enjoyed in Rusk State Park or at Toledo Bend. 

   An older gentleman made his way down to the water a respectful distance away and began casting a tiny lure. Almost immediately he caught a nice little bass of about fourteen inches. There are a type of spotted bass in Texas called Guadalupe bass, and these predominated in the area we were fishing. He then repeated the feat, and again. I started watching him closely. He had a tiny spinning rod, and was casting an item so small it made hardly a ripple when it landed. I could not stand it, I had to see what it was. 

   I approached the fellow and asked what he was using. He dug a small Plano box out of his pocked and allowed me to inspect its contents. Microscopically small spinners, crank baits, and jigs stuffed the box to overflowing. I was astonished with how tiny all the lures were, and more than a little skeptical that they would be of interest to the sort of fish I was after. I enjoyed catching the Guadalupe bass, but I had seen some pretty solid largemouth lurking in darker places in the creek, and it was these I sought. 

   He reached into the box and handed me an inline spinner, a black and yellow Rooster Tail with brass willow blade and a pad printed bee on the body of the lure. The identical bait was tied on his line, I noticed. I did a double take when I looked at his rig. He was using the thinnest line I had ever seen. Asking him about it, he told me it was four pound. He asked me what I was using, and I told him seventeen. He chuckled and told me “Stay right here for a bit, I’ll be right back.” Curious, I did as instructed. He returned in a few minutes with a spool of line, the four pound he was using. He wanted to spool up my reel with it. What the heck I thought, I can always take it off when I get home. 

   He set to work stripping off my seventeen and spooling up the four. He tested my drag, and loosened it till I expected the spool to fall off. Job complete, he handed me back my rig and I tied on the spinner. As small as it was, I would not have expected it to go ten feet. 

   The first cast was a revelation. The tiny spinner flew well clear of its intended mark and bounced off a concrete retaining wall. Snapping the blade to motion as soon as the spinner splashed down caused a swirl in the water and the drag slipped as a large fish went tearing across the pool. 

   A tense minute or so later I was holding the biggest largemouth bass I had ever pulled out of Walnut Creek, a solid three pounder. And I had caught it on a bait so small that it looked ridiculous. The man had a satisfied smile on his face as he watched me release the bass back to its lair. I did not realize it at the time, but looking back, that moment had a profound impact on my development as an angler. 

   After that, I started paying attention to details with my gear. I had always been good at seeing what was going on around me, but had not considered the ways that my choices in tackle could be guided by those observations. If the bass wouldn’t eat a Jelly Worm or a spinnerbait today, they would eat them tomorrow. I was pretty basic in my methods. 

   As my inventory of finesse tackle began to grow, I realized that these items presented special storage problems. Micro-sized hooks, minute split shot, and undersized plastics had ways of getting lost or damaged that never happened to a Devil’s Horse or a Scum Frog. So I started looking for a better way to store them. Plano Micro-Magnum two sided boxes, the size of a pack of cards, would do for spinners or micro-jigs, but plastics were another matter. Later, when I discovered western style hand-poured worms, the problem of how to store them safely was compounded by the softness of these new baits. 

   After years of trying different storage methods, I found a solution. Michael’s hobby store sells a storage system intended for printed photographs, but it works extremely well for my finesse baits. 

I put all the baits into new poly-bags first thing. The bags that most baits come in are heavy duty types that don't like to be folded. I lay them into the bags as evenly as I can, and I typically squirt a shot of crawfish Bang! into the bag. 

I label the bags for easy identification. I found markers won't last writing directly on the bags because the oils make the writing smear, so I use masking tape to write on. Observe that the size limit of plastics that you can put into these boxes is about 5.5 or 6 inches. Bigger baits will need to live elsewhere.

I also label the individual boxes so I can see at a glance where my Roboworm Sculpin FX are hiding, for example. Shameless plug here, go buy some Roboworms. They are the greatest baits out there for quality, consistency, and amazing colors. Plus, the guys at Roboworm are SUPER cool people. Mike and Ken are just awesome dudes. I can't say enough about how much I love Roboworms. 

All the bass below were caught in Colorado, in public water, on four pound test. In my opinion, they make a strong case for finesse fishing. 




Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fishing the Arkansas Tailwater

   I have been fly fishing for the better part of ten years now, and have (somehow) never made it to Pueblo to fish the Arkansas tailwater. I guess yesterday I decided enough was enough so I headed down there. 

   Arriving in Pueblo to find that Google Maps had led me astray concerning the most direct rout to the river, I resolved to flow, like water, down hill. This led me again and again to vistas overlooking the Ark, but with limited access due to private property. Increasingly annoyed with the less than practical layout of the city, I finally found a place to park that was neither posted nor perilous. 

   My first sight as I parked the car was a bald eagle perched in a cottonwood tree, scanning a slow pool formed by a diversion structure. There was not a breath of wind, the air was tolerably warm considering the time of year, and enthusiastic birds heralded my coming with a cacophony of song. In winter, we keep bird feeders stocked with oiled sunflower seeds and suet. They attract mostly finches and sparrows, with a smattering of chickadees, creepers and the odd woodpecker. Clearly this river bottom was better habitat than my front yard. A surprising array of bird life was in evidence along the wooded river corridor, and I was delighted to observe it. Geese and mallards of course, but also ducks of many sorts, from grebes to coots, goldeneyes, buffleheads, mergansers and a small flock of what I took to be teal flying by at a terrific speed. The sound of the wind ripping through their primaries, a course vibrating rasp, was the only evidence of their passing. 

   I saw kingfishers and herons, and besides the eagles (there were several patrolling the corridor) there was an assortment of hawks. The hawks claimed their perches with high, piercing calls. A number of smaller birds including robins, finches, wrens, chickadees, flickers, and a great flock of starlings rounded out those I was able to identify. An unfamiliar bird caught my eye, robin sized, with a dusty greyish breast and slightly curved beak. It was rustling in the undergrowth and looked quite content. 

   The sky was overcast, and a sparse hatch of blue winged olives was coming off. One alighted on my chest pack, and I paused to consider the fact that I never carry dry flies. When I started fly fishing, I foreswore dries and streamers in an effort to develop my high-sticking chops. I suppose I should discontinue that practice, as I am now fairly confident in my nymphing abilities. Still, sight fishing to a trout feeding sub-surface, with fine tippets and tiny flies, is my preferred way to fish. The mechanics of nymphing are more tricky (as a rule) than those of the dry fly, and streamers have always reminded me of fishing with a Rapala. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but personally I do not derive much satisfaction from catching trout on lures. Why the same does not hold true for me when it comes to other species of fish is anyones guess. Perhaps I am an idiot. 

   I waded out to a current seam at the head of a long slow pool, armed with a tiny glow-bug (Oregon Cheese) and a red and black Go-Go Dancer, size twenty. I was soon fast to a decent fish, and a flash of gold made me think I had hooked a walleye. There are a few warmwater fish in the Arkansas tailwater, but what I had was not a walleye, it was a sucker. Luckily for the sucker, my freezer is stocked to overflowing with sucker meat, which makes excellent laker bait. He went back to the river, as did his chums that followed. A couple small browns came to hand, much too small for me to pump their stomachs for clues, and I quit for another location. 

   All the “perfect” looking winter spots yielded nothing, so I resolved to fish imperfect water. I prospected swifter runs at the heads of pools, using a large amount of Mojo Mud for weight. A couple decent rainbows resulted. The better fish I caught were eating anything red. A red San Juan Worm, a red Miracle Midge (properly dressed!) a red Go-Go Dancer. Red flies in swifter water is a pretty flimsy pattern. Still, a few fish in a new river, in low flows, in the middle of winter, is something I can take. 

   I was making my way up stream, passing the occasional riser, loathe to tear down my nymphing rig, when I came upon a pod of steady rising trout. They looked small, but there were at least twenty of them, and perhaps more. "To hell with it" I thought, and I broke down my rig. The emergers the trout were eating were alarmingly insubstantial, perhaps a size forty. Nothing I could match. Still, I tie some pretty sparse midges, so...

   I tapered my leader down to 7X, and tied on a single midge. The pattern is simple, but extremely effective. It is essentially a Disco Midge on a Tiemco 2488, with an Organza wingcase, divided over the thorax. You might call it a guide fly, it is as quick and easy a tie as exists. The variant I tied on was blue with a cream thorax, in a size 28. I straightened and greased up my leader, and put it in front of the fish. 

   I am not sure how many trout were actually in that pod, but I think I caught most of them. I need to fish greased leaders to risers more often! They were small fish, eight to fourteen inches, but acrobatic in their efforts to rid themselves of the annoyance. 

   It was beautiful.