Missouri Trout Hunter

Blog for sharing thoughts, beliefs and opinions on issues affecting the world of trout fishing in the Ozarks.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In the mood to swing?

Hopefully, we're past the super-hot and super-dry weather for a while. We're getting some rain, and the overnight lows are in the 60's, and that usually means the bite's getting ready to improve. BUT it also means we may be getting into a time period when swinging flies downstream just might be a ton of fun.

If you are among my past fly fishing students, then you're likely familiar with my "ninja fly fishing technique." There's really nothing about it that is "ninja," other than the fact that I like calling it that. It's also not earth-shattering in its content. Essentially, I'm just trying to hit a variety of techniques on every cast, and it's a great way for a beginner to get into some fish.  Here's how it works:  (1) cast a nymph under an indicator upstream; (2) mend your line, raise your rod tip, and/or pick up slack with your line hand to maintain a clean dead drift; (3) at the end of the drift, allow the fly to swing across the current; (4) allow the fly to hang in the current for a moment or two; (5) strip the fly back toward you for 2 or 3 feet; (6) if needed, take one quiet step upstream; (7) water-load your cast back upstream.  Lather, rinse, repeat. 

Example of "the ninja technique" in action

With this technique, you're nymphing, swinging a wet fly, and also throwing in a touch of streamer fishing. If you don't get a hit on the drift, you'll often get a hit as the fly first begins its acceleration around the swing or after you reach the hanging-in-the-current part of the presentation. The weakness of the ninja technique is that you don't get a bunch of hits DURING the swing itself. While using the ninja technique, if I'm mostly getting downstream hits rather than dead-drift hits, I'll usually try a pure swing presentation for a while. If they're receptive, then I'm telling you, the swing's the thing. First, I'm going to tell you why. Then I'm going to tell you how. 

Imagine you're a trout hanging out in a crystal clear stream. As little bits of stuff drift by, you give it a glance. If it looks like food, you eat it. Pretty simple, right? Now imagine that the rains come, and now there are tons of little bits of things drifting by, and most of it is not food. The debris includes specks of dead leaves, bits of algae that have broken free from the stream bed, seed pods blown free from streamside vegetation, and so on. How easy is it for you to look at everything to figure out what's food and what's not? Seeing the issue? There's so much static, it's darn near impossible to feed efficiently. Now add to that the possibility of a faster current and murkier water. How does a trout adapt to this scenario? Simple. Since the debris and a typical drifting bug are too similar to quickly tell apart, a trout has to change the parameters of what he's looking for. If you're a hardcore nymph fisherman, you might have decent luck by simply switching flies to something that is easier to pick out of the static -- a huge black nymph tied with flash and rubber legs, for example. But if the trout has stopped looking at drifting food altogether, this won't help you.

At some point, the trout will instead look for food-sized items that are moving differently than the inedible debris. Any movement at all will snap that fly out of the background static. This should bring to mind a couple of options. One would be to twitch that nymph on the drift. That could work. Twitches can also startle the fish.  Give it a try anyway. See what you think. Another idea would be to strip a streamer. If they're not looking for bugs, maybe they'll grab a minnow or crayfish. Possibly! Could be fun. Give it a shot. The third option is to switch your technique to a wet-fly style swing.
Again, imagine you're that trout, and the debris and current have picked up the pace. You're trying to find something to eat, but the volume to debris drifting straight at your face is making it impossible.  But what if you saw some movement out of the corner of your eye? You glance over and see something that looks buggy moving from the streambed on your left toward the surface on your right. It sticks out like a sore thumb. You know it's not debris. It looks edible, and it's moving in a predictable path. You'd eat it, right? Of course, you would. That's the beauty of the swing.

The reason you won't get many hits during the swing when you're using my ninja technique is because there's too much of a bend in the line at the end of the drift. Our primary focus is the dead drift of the nymph, so we throw the fly upstream with a mend. When the fly reaches the end of the drift and swings across, the bend in the line forces the fly to accelerate downstream very quickly, and then it whip-cracks around that bend. This movement is just too sudden to interest a fish.  You'll need to focus your efforts on developing a more gentle and predictable swing.

Instead of wading and casting upstream, turn around. You'll be moving downstream and casting across the current at a downstream angle instead. Finish your cast with your rod held high, so you can drop the rod tip and give the fly some slack.  If you're using enough weight -- and if you've never done this before, it's a safe bet you won't be -- as you slowly drop your rod tip, the fly will sink. This is a balancing act. You don't want any tension between the rod and the fly because tension pulls the fly up. You also don't want any real slack, because you want to maintain some level of physical contact with the fly. As the fly sinks, slowly lead it across the current with your rod tip.  It's important to understand that I'm not suggesting you PULL it across the current. Throughout the drift, your challenge is to maintain that no-drag-no-slack thing. 

Early in the swing, a bite will look and feel like you've snagged a flexible tree limb. If you see that, just give it a touch of tension toward your side of the river to see if it pulls back. Later in the swing, a bite will feel like a bite. The trout will approach from behind, grab the fly and turn away with it. You'll feel that thump or tension, and there will be no doubt.

Any fly will work, but flies that incorporate components that move or appear to move seem to work best. Flimsy hackle, marabou, CDC, rubber legs, or flies tied with flash all fall into this category. If the water is off-color, darker colors will give it starker contrast and make it easier to see. Woolly buggers, emergers, soft hackles, big nymphs with legs and marabou tails... you get the idea. Get creative.

Last thought: the next time you're fishing dries during a hatch and not getting any action, try this technique with an emerger. And you're welcome!

Ok, I lied. Here's the real last thought. Don't forget that we're booking up for next year's Alaska trip -- I'm hopeful that we'll have enough interest to book two weeks. Obviously travel is never truly cheap, but this is seriously cheap for a week of fly-fishing in Alaska -- and you can make payments! Details are located here:  https://goo.gl/FomXnE


Friday, July 01, 2016

River Update -- transitioning into summer

We’re having a transition in feeding behavior, which tends to prompt me to write up a river update. Before we jump into it, one quick pitch.

I’m sure most of you are already aware I take a group to Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, every summer. I’m currently booking for next summer’s trip (2017). It’s $2000 per person, which includes the float plane from Ketchikan to the Island, lodging, access to one of three Ford pickups for exploring the island, and instruction and guidance from yours truly for the week. If that sounds interesting, be sure to let me know. HOWEVER, something new has just occurred. The lodge owner had three weeks worth of booked guests drop out on him at the last second, and he’s asked me to spread the word that we can put together a short-notice trip for THIS summer. That is really unheard of. So if any of you would like to go to Alaska NEXT MONTH, let me know ASAP. Like, I mean right now!  Ok, enough of that. Let's get to it.

The last month or so of fishing has definitely been interesting and a bit unpredictable, but things are starting to finally take on a typical summertime pattern, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to break it down for everyone.

In the spring, when the river levels are fluctuating and oxygen levels are high, we tend to see the trout migrate upstream into crowded conditions. They're feeling good, they're acting competitive with each other, and they feed pretty aggressively. Part of the reason is the decrease in available food, relatively speaking. More fish use more resources, so they don't have the luxury of feeding lazily. It reminds me of my local Chinese buffet. At 11:00 a.m. I can pick and choose what I want, because there's only a few of us there. At 12:20, you grab what you can, because the place is packed, and they keep running out of general chicken. In other words, the fishing is usually pretty fantastic, because beggars can't be choosers. A bit later in the season, suddenly, the action seems to stop on a lot of our rivers. Most folks simply chalk that up to summertime, and they're not wrong, but it's more complicated than that.

Late spring and early summer brings evening hatches, and some of those bugs are pretty big. Depending on your river, the volume of bugs can also be surprising. So we have heavy feeding on emerging insects that starts at twilight and continues well into the darkness. When the sun comes up, the trout are simply not as hungry for breakfast as they were the week before, so the morning bite is notably slower. By the time they actually get hungry, the natural bug activity has slowed down. That sets up an interesting event: a late day bite on pretty much any big fly. It's during this time when I'll tend to hit the rivers midday and fish until dark. The bite will often be best at the outset on big meaty attractors, since we have hungry fish but not much food available to them: glo-bugs, Y2K's, stoneflies, and woolies in size 8 drifted like a nymph, and occasionally a big foam grasshopper or Chernobyl Ant plopped on slow smooth stretches. As evening gets closer and the natural bug activity begins to pick up, you'll often need to switch to a fly that more closely resembles the typical trout prey.

This behavior pattern usually continues until the big evening hatches come to an end. Then we have a period of relative stability. The bugs tend to be active during the times when the sun is off the water, meaning morning and evening twilight, of course, but also off and on throughout the day in those areas in deep shade. Even in late morning and early afternoon, you can walk past fishing spots in full sun and fish the ones in shade and find actively feeding fish. It's during this pattern that I'll guide clients based on their skill level. If a client has sharp skills, I'll take them out in the morning, so we can get into fish right away during the morning bite, and as things slow down, we'll find those shady spots. If a client is a beginner or is rusty, we'll start early in the afternoon looking at those shady spots, so he can shake off the cobwebs and sharpen his skills as the bite improves into the evening. All-in-all, it's a pretty nice system.

Well, the pattern has officially changed. You might think that the late fishing trips end when it starts getting wicked hot in the afternoons. That's partially correct. The real kicker seems to be when it stays warm overnight. If it gets up into the 90's in the afternoon, but we're still seeing 60's at night, the late trips still tend to work out well. When overnight lows stay up in the 70's, however, the afternoon fishing results begin to worsen.

Warmer water sheds oxygen, so the fish find it tougher to breathe and also to feed. They won't move nearly as far to intercept food, so your fly placement has to be very precise. In addition, water levels are typically low and clear this time of year, and sudden movements and sounds tend to spook these fish already nervous about being so exposed. Not to mention lower slower flows do not add oxygen to the water though the normal churning you'd see at higher levels.

With cooler overnight lows, the rivers start the day in better shape and oxygen levels don't degrade enough during the day to really stop the bite. With warmer overnight lows, the rivers start the day in mediocre shape at best, making the morning hours perhaps the only time a trout can really feed well before midday oxygen depletion knocks him out.

Since fish are cold-blooded, warmer water means faster metabolism and greater hunger. This means we have late-day hungry trout without the ability to effectively hunt, and that CAN mean we have ravenously feeding fish at sunrise. It also means a late-day (hungry) trout CAN be caught with a great big fly drifted right to his snout, a big hopper dropped in his cone of vision, or even a slowly swung streamer tickling his nose. Some of my biggest fish have been caught that way. And, yes, while it stresses the fish, it's okay to catch those fish in warmer conditions. Just net them quickly and take plenty of time reviving them below some riffles, when the oxygen levels are higher.

So, to summarize this river update into an easy bite-sized recommendation: fish early and fish big. As a back-up plan, if the big flies aren't working, add a pheasant tail or scud or something similar as a trailer fly to double-check for selectivity. That's going to be a rarity though.  And before you give up and go home later in the day, plop a grasshopper in some fishy looking spots on your way out. Could be fun!

Hope that helps. See you at the Chinese buffet!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Picky Eaters?

20-incher caught around noon on a 97-degree day.
I haven't written anything instructional for a while, so I thought I might share my feelings on "picky" trout. This is a little complicated, and I don't want to write a thousand words, so let's see how concise I can be.

Trout are not picky (aka "selective"). That suggests an intelligence they do not possess. When they are hungry, they are looking for food, and the way they do that is similar to how the FBI tries to find a match for a finger print found at a crime scene.

If you've ever had your prints taken, you know how carefully they roll your finger over the ink and then over the paper in order to obtain the perfect print. Prints at a crime scene are never perfect. At best, they're smeared or incomplete. So the computer doesn't look for a perfect match. It looks for points of similarity. If they're casting a wide net to identify suspects, law enforcement may set the standard at just a handful of points of comparison, which doesn't really prove anything in court, or they might set it for 10 or 20 points of comparison. That narrows the results, but it also provides more compelling evidence of a legitimate match.

Trout sometimes only look for a couple of points of comparison between your fly and what their brain recognizes as food (i.e. color and size). Sometimes they look for more similarities. There's an interesting reason why, and it's counter-intuitive. It's not that they're educated. It's because they are as dumb as a bag of doorknobs.

A trout's itty bitty brain can really only focus on one or two things at a time. In regards to feeding, that leads to their zoning in on a set of qualities in the food they're actively eating. If there's a hatch going on, and they're feeding on a cloud of Baetis nymphs, they're simply hyper-focused on that one thing. They're looking at the size, shape, color, location, depth, and behavior. There's really not much else they can look for. That said, during Baetis season, I catch a ton of fish on #14-16 pheasant tails. Not an exact match, but pretty close. It works, because I'm matching the basic points of comparison to the food they're actively feeding on. That's it. If something like a #8 stonefly isn't working in that scenario, it's not because they are refusing it. It's simply that everything else becomes part of the background static. They've keyed in on specific qualities and tuned out on everything else. During these times, they even forget to be nervous about predators, because they can't really focus on more than one thing at a time. So, good news, you can walk right up on them if you're careful about it.

This behavior carries over to circumstances other than hatches, by the way. If river A has a crap-ton of bugs in it, the trout will become accustomed to the average or typical bug. So if most of the bugs are smallish light colored mayflies of various species, they'll typically look for (1) about the right size, (2) about the right shape, (3) about the right color, and (4) about the right behavior, and something like a Hendrickson or Hare's Ear nymph will probably work great most of the time. I know that seems picky, but it's actually lazy, and what makes it possible for them to be lazy is the fact that there's a "crap-ton" of bugs. They don't have to worry about starvation (in fact, they're almost never actually hungry), so they key in, sit still, and let the river feed them.  However, if you move over to River B, you may find the bug population is weaker. This is one of those classic good news/bad news situations. With fewer bugs, river B will have fewer and smaller fish than river A. These fish also tend to be spookier. Since they don't spend as much effort focusing on food identification, they can focus more on safety. That's the bad news. The good news: those fish can't be nearly as lazy as the river A fish. With less food, they must feed more opportunistically, meaning they'll only look for one or two points of comparison on your fly. Sometimes, it just has to be drifting in the water and visible (i.e. glo bugs). Other times, as long as it has the basic shape of a bug and is within reach, you're in business. In rivers like this, the trout are often hungry, and they'll generally go for the largest potential bite of food in the current. They'll also move a greater distance to intercept that food. These also tend to be good rivers for fishing streamers, if the conditions are right.

Taking it to the next step, River C may have a terrible forage population, which means the trout there are required to feed aggressively and competitively in order to avoid starvation. And, again, it means you'll find fewer and smaller fish. If you've ever fished a creek where it seemed like those 7-inchers wouldn't leave your fly alone, bouncing your giant dry fly into the air, because their mouths are too small to eat it, you may have stumbled into this type of situation. EDIT: To the best of my knowledge, we don't have trout streams in Missouri that would qualify as a "River C" type of fishery. That's due to our karst topagraphy keeping our water on the alkaline side, which bolsters our bug populations. Trout may not be native here, but our rivers are apparently made for them.

To put this knowledge into practice, you just need to learn which type of river you're on: A, B, or C. Are there a million big fish all over the place (i.e. Taneycomo, White River, etc.)? Figure out their primary food sources and try to match them in a mostly general way. The San Juan River, for example, has massive numbers of massive fish, but if you're not prepared to fish #20 midges (or smaller), you're probably going to struggle. It's their primary food, and they can afford to be lazy. You don't have to match a specific bug exactly, but you'll do well to be in the general ballpark. Moderate quantities of fish in a variety of sizes? You'll probably have luck using more generic or attractor flies like pheasant tails, hare's ears, zug bugs, glo-bugs, and san juan worms, mostly in larger sizes. But since these fish tend to be spookier, longer casts, quiet wading, and proper technique are more important. Fishing a creek that seems to only hold below-averaged sized fish in smaller numbers? You'll probably have a great time, but you may have to cover some territory to find them. Just be sure to take your camera, in case you manage to catch that elusive 11-inch trophy.

FWIW, 1088 words.   :-|

See you on the river!

(BTW, as of right now, I only have one spot left for next summer's Alaska trip! Click here for details: https://goo.gl/FomXnE)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

River Update -- 12/16/15

Hey all,

First, a bit of explanation. This river update used to be an email subscription service. It began as an effort to help potential guide trip clients plan their next guided fishing trip with me -- the link appears on my guide trip web page, located HERE. In other words, its purpose was to book more guide trips. Over time, word spread, and it's become something different. Largely through word of mouth, I now have somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 people subscribed to the email, and I'm fairly certain they're not all using the update to help them plan their next guide trip. That's okay. It doesn't hurt my feelings. That said, it makes a lot of sense to blog these updates instead, removing them from the "exclusivity realm." So, here we are!

Fair warning. This river update will continue to focus on the specific river(s) I guide, since I'm obviously most familiar with them. Currently, that is only the Meramec River. After the massive summertime flooding we had a couple of years ago, the Mill Creek trout population was devasted, so I haven't been guiding there for a while. In the future, I'll be guiding the Current River and probably Little Piney Creek for you little wild trout stream enthusiasts out there, so I may also include information on those streams as well. Overall though, the information I'll be sharing will be transferrable to any of the spring-fed trout streams around the state -- Taneycomo is its own thing, so keep that in mind as well.

Before I jump into the update, a quick bit of business. Many of you know that I host a trip to Alaska each summer. This year I decided to try something different by charging a $2600 flat rate to make the trip almost all-inclusive -- all you have to do is get yourself to Ketchikan (around $500, if you do it right), and I'll cover the Ketchikan hotel, dinner, lodge, tackle, food, guiding, lessons, truck rental, float plane to Prince of Wales Island, etc. I've had several cancellations for various reasons, and it's now suddenly looking like I might have to cancel the trip altogether (first deposits are due to Alaska people in about 3 weeks). So, to try to fill up some of the empty beds, I'm taking a new look at my pricing plan to see if I can make it cheaper by allowing the freedom for folks to book their own hotel, buy their own dinner, skip the lessons, etc., trimming about $600 off the total bill. If you're interested even a little bit, take a look at this PDF document, and let me know AS SOON AS POSSIBLE: http://1drv.ms/1lPPhI2

We've had a WEIRD couple of years in trout river world. Little rainfall in the spring, and flooding in the summer, fall and winter. Obviously, that has screwed with the fish in a myriad of strange ways. Our browns try to migrate in October and early November in response to, among other things, fluctuating river levels. Our wild rainbows will start migrating in November, also triggered by flow. Half of our hatchery-born rainbows will migrate with spring rains, and the other half will fall rains. What all of this means is that you'll usually find good concentrations of fish in the upper sections of all Missouri trout streams between late October all the way until the end of April. Oddly, that hasn't happened on a lot of streams this year, and that has to do with flooding.

I can't remember the last time we had just a "normal" rainy time. It seems like we generally get very little rain, and then we get 3-6 inches pretty much all at once. As the river current speeds up, the trout start migrating, but when the river's really cooking, they hunker down in sheltered spots or "migrate" downstream with the current. The warmer the water gets, the lower the oxygen level. So, if they find themselves too far from the spring, they're in bad shape. Some will survive and move back upstream. Many will suffocate and become food for turtles and crawdads. Incidentally, I'd be surprised if we didn't see some big freaking smallmouth downstream from trout sections next year. More dead fish means bigger crayfish which means bigger smallmouth! Food for thought.

At any rate, things seem to be on the mend right now on the Meramec. The MDC have stocked smaller numbers of browns several times this fall, and many of the flood survivers have returned to traditionally good fishing spots. Overall, the average size is down a bit, which makes sense. Lunker-sized fish do not have the swimming endurance of smaller fish, so they're the most likely victims of a fatal flood event. That said, I've caught several fish in the 14-16 inch size range recently, and I'm starting to feel good about the Meramec yet again. The Current and other decent-sized rivers in the region all seem to be producing as well.

The little wild streams in my area are all still in rough shape, with the exception of the Little Piney. The others are struggling with a cycle of insanely low flows briefly interrupted with insanely fast flows. The fish counts are down, and the fish are edgey and frustrating. Since they're never stocked, we really need two or three years of NORMAL weather patterns for the little creeks to really recover. Cross your fingers, but don't hold your breath.

Hope to see you on the river!


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Freaking High Water!

Courtesy CTV (link below)
Don't be shocked. I know. Two blog posts in the same week. I must have a fever.

With all the rain we're getting and are supposed to continue getting, it occurred to me that you kind folks might be wondering about how all this high brown water would affect the trout and the fishing. Before I clue you in, though, let me make something perfectly clear:  A FLOODED RIVER WILL TRY TO KILL YOU, EVEN IF YOU'RE CAREFUL. IF IT'S STILL RAINING, DON'T GO. FLASH FLOODS ARE REAL THINGS. IF YOU'VE NEVER SEEN ONE, CONSIDER YOURSELF LUCKY, AND DON'T GO LOOKING FOR ONE. DON'T BE STUPID.  DON'T DIE. Ok, that said, here y'ar.

Imagine you're the mighty trout -- rainbow or brown makes no real difference.  Life is good. You have a great place to live just downstream of some riffly water where the oxygen is good and there are plenty of bugs to munch. There's a big boulder you like to sit in front of, and a nice deep pool with a rootwad where you can run for cover when you get nervous.  All is right with the world.  

It starts raining, and the speed of river begins to increase.  You don't really care how high the river gets, but when the speed of the flow changes, it affects your mood. Much like a human will turn and lean into a stiff wind, faster water makes you "lean" upstream. So, you migrate against the current.  Is it as simple as that?  Probably so, actually. From an evolutionary standpoint, you may need more water in the river to help you migrate past barriers to reach your desired spawning grounds, so there's a good chance that an increasing flow will trigger that behavior.  And while you migrate, you'll feed very little or not at all. After all, you're busy with the whole migration thing. You have no choice. Suck it up.

If you're hormonal (aka preparing to spawn), you'll migrate HARD.  Nothing will stop you. You'll migrate until you reach your spawning areas, or (if you're a female) until you're so uncomfortable with a belly full of eggs that you have to stop, or (if you're a male) until you catch up with an egg-laden female. Cool stuff, but that's a different article. Since we're just talking about flooding here, suffice it to say that you'll eventually get tired of this whole migration thing. Maybe the speed of the river continues to increase, so the migration becomes more difficult over time.  Or, maybe you're just a wuss or easily bored. At any rate, as the river transitions past "high" to "swollen" and then eventually to "flooding," you're going to decide migration is for the birds (see what I did there?) and find a sheltered spot to weather the storm.  And once you stop migrating, you'll realize just how freaking hungry you are.

This is one of the few times you'll find current-loving fish like trout holding AND FEEDING in eddies and backwaters. Successful fishermen will look for back-currents where the water is moving the "wrong" direction. The river will roar past an obstruction of some sort, and a potion of it will turn the corner and head back upstream in a slow swirl or whirlpool.  Trout hold in these kinds of water in all conditions, but they are usually resting places, and you won't typically find them feeding there.  In flood conditions, however, they'll often feed aggressively.  The challenge here is that trout tend to feed by sight, but now we've got chocolate milk instead of water. So, what to do?

The simple solution is to trust the trout's ability to use his lateral line for what it was intended:  sonar. Put a big meaty fly out there that moves water around, keep the line as tight as you can, and "feel" around for a little tension.  The bites won't usually be hard, because they're feeding by touch.  As you throb that fly up and down and around the eddy, a slightly heavier feel is often your fish. If your first instinct is that you've snagged a flimsy tree branch, give it some tension and see what happens.  And although the visibility is probably only about an inch, stick with dark colors, which give a better outline of visibility in low-light conditions. A good visual cue just as the trout finds its prey will cement the deal.

So, if you end up with some summertime cabin fever as we we wait for the rivers to recede, you might remember a little back-current eddy from your last trip that you can reach without wading. It might be worth a look.  But remember my mantra:  DON'T BE STUPID.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Missouri Outdoor Enthusiasts

(This article is from guest blogger Kenneth L. Kieser.)

Pic courtesy Mo Dept of Conservation

I have never been politically motivated—until now. My main focus has always been the outdoor world with sound conservation work and rewards like great hunting, fishing, or viewing various types of wildlife in their habitat.

The definition of Conservation is “wise use,” a term that reflects common sense. I often wonder how some politicians were ever elected to office. The very definition of Conservation seems to have eluded them! Make no mistake; this group would sacrifice your Missouri outdoors for their own political agendas- even if they don’t understand or care about the final outcome.

How you enjoy the outdoors is your business. How to make the Missouri outdoors enjoyable is the Missouri’s Department of Conservation (MDC) and other groups' responsibility. They do it right. I have traveled the country and learned that the MDC is considered by most other state conservation groups as the best.

The one eighth of one percent Conservation sales tax has generated millions over the past several years and gave the MDC capital to work with. Governor Jay Nixon has added to this by vetoing ridiculous bills proposed by the certain politicians. But once again, the vultures are attacking.

“Certain politicians are determined to destroy our unique system of citizen led conservation governance,” said Brandon Butler, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. “We must pay close attention to politicians trying to control Conservation, a big mistake.”

The Conservation Federation of Missouri is a watchdog for our state’s Conservation efforts. They keep a close eye on all that is going on including bogus laws trying to be passed. We have never needed them more than right now!

“Conservation’s constitutional authority to manage our wildlife resources and the revenue source needed to carry it out are both at risk right now by legislation passed in the final hours of the legislative session,” Governor Nixon said in a recent speech presented to the Conservation Federation of Missouri. “Conservation would be reduced by $12.3 million each and every year. Based on projected revenue growth, that comes to more than $137 million over the next ten years being stripped from the Department’s budget.”

You don’t have to be a financial genius to realize the fiscal cuts our MDC would have to make and how it would affect wildlife and the outdoors. But you will eventually realize the significance of these budget cuts in the quality of the outdoor experiences we have all taken for granted. Sadly, this attack on our conservation system doesn’t stop there.

Other bills trying to be passed, Senate Bill 506 and House Bill 1326 is redefining the term “livestock” in Missouri statutes to include high-fence or captive deer and put them into the same classification as cattle and other domesticated animals to strip the MDC of its management over Missouri’s deer herd, shifting that responsibility to the Department of Agriculture. I strongly question exactly what the Department of Agriculture knows about managing a deer herd?

Even worse, this would stop current efforts made by MDC deer biologists to protect Missouri’s deer herd from Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), which has now spread to a dozen states and Canada, killing thousands of deer.

“In 2002, the Department began testing Missouri deer for CWD,” Governor Nixon said. “And between that time and 2010, zero Missouri native deer tested positive. But in 2010 and 2011, CWD was detected at private big-game ranches in Linn and Macon counties and in free-ranging deer killed close by, with the discovery of eleven positives inside the fence and ten positives in deer just outside the fence.”

This is exactly the reason biologists go to college and then work exclusively to study deer and protect herds from this type of devastating outbreak. How do you think the Department of Agriculture would handle this outbreak? They wouldn’t and Missouri deer season would soon become a fond memory of the old days when Missouri had deer to hunt or watch.

Thankfully the MDC is still in charge of deer herds. Governor Nixon said that the MDC recently responded quickly and effectively to stop the disease from spreading, creating a six-county containment zone and working with land owners, hunters and game ranches.

“The Department has spent more than $1 million in the last four years trying to detect and manage this disease, and to this point, these efforts have been successful,” Governor Nixon said. “But rather than build on this success, these two bills would dismantle it.”

Redefining deer, captive or wild, as livestock and attempting to strip Conservation of its authority on any level is suicide for our beloved Missouri outdoor resources.

Do you love the Missouri outdoors and wildlife? Then visit the Conservation Federation of Missouri web site and read up on what is happening in Jefferson City. While there, I encourage you to join this worthwhile organization that is becoming more important to sportsmen or nature lovers by the minute.

Please take time from your busy lives and act on this huge problem. Learn more about this disaster and discover which politicians are willing to sell out our outdoor resources for their own political agendas, and then vote them out of office.

Find out who your Senators and Representatives are and ask that both bills (Senate Bill 506 and House Bill 1326) are vetoed.

That is the only way our grandchildren will someday enjoy the outdoors we have been blessed to know instead of hearing about the good old days when deer roamed the Missouri woods and wild game to hunt was easy to find!

Kenneth doesn't come right out and identify which political party he's talking about, so I will.  These efforts have been pushed by the Republicans.  I know most of you guys who follow along with Missouri Trout Hunter stuff tend to be conservative, so it's not realistic to expect you to switch parties and vote for Democrats based solely on conservation issues. That said, you do need to take SOME action.  At least call, email and/or write your rep & senator. Tell them you'll donate (or refuse to donate) to their campaigns based on their actions on this issue.  Go to campaign events and ask them tough questions on this issue in public. Write a letter to the local newspaper challenging them to rspond and encouraging readers to take action as well. Force them to commit. Force them to answer. If that doesn't work, we can talk about who you'll vote for in November.


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Thank you Governor Nixon

Photo courtesy Missouri University Extension
This is not a political statement. I just wanted to make that clear right up front. This is a statement regarding the Missouri Conservation Commission and the Department of Conservation and my desire to see them empowered to manage and regulate all things wildlife and wilderness related in the state of Missouri. Let me back up a bit.

Recently, there has been a push from the right to reclassify captive deer herds as livestock. Why should we care about that? Well, for one thing, that would take management and regulation of Missouri's whitetail deer and hand it over to the Department of Agriculture. In other words, a significant part of our state's wildlife resources would suddenly be managed and regulated by a political organization.

Instead of telling you what to think about that, I'll trust you to mull it over yourselves and form your own long list of potential nightmare scenarios, including how the precedent might impact future laws and court rulings. For example, what about trout, or any fish, raised in hatcheries? Hmmm... 

That said, Governor Nixon said "nuh uh.

"Here's the press release.

Gov. Nixon vetoes two bills defining captive deer as livestock 

July 8, 2014 

Governor points out Missouri Constitution gives Conservation Commission sole regulatory authority over wildlife; says bill provisions are clearly unconstitutional 

Columbia, MO 
Gov. Jay Nixon today vetoed two bills that would have redefined the term “livestock” to include captive deer in order to eliminate the role of the Missouri Department of Conservation in regulating white-tailed deer. The Governor said those provisions of Senate Bill 506 and House Bill 1326 would go against longstanding successful conservation practices and also would clearly violate the Missouri Constitution, which gives exclusive authority over game and wildlife resources to the Missouri Conservation Commission.

“For more than 75 years, our Department of Conservation has been held up as a model for wildlife management agencies across the country because of its incredible success,” Gov. Nixon said. “Redefining deer as livestock to remove the regulatory role of Department defies both its clear record of achievement as well as common sense. White-tailed deer are wildlife and also game animals – no matter if they’re roaming free, or enclosed in a fenced area.” 

In his veto message, the Governor cites the exclusive authority of the Missouri Conservation Commission provided by the Missouri Constitution under Article IV, Section 40(a). He also said that under the stewardship of the Missouri Department of Conservation, the state’s population of white-tailed deer has grown from fewer than 2,000 in the early 1930s to an estimated 1.3 million today, and that the 500,000 deer hunters contribute $1 billion to Missouri’s economy. 

“Growing and managing our deer herd and fostering the hunting opportunities that we enjoy takes hard work and sound science, and the Department of Conservation should be commended for employing both to preserve this important part of our heritage, not stripped of its authority to do so in order to protect narrow interests,” the veto message reads. 

Gov. Nixon noted that “it is unfortunate that the legislature insisted on amending this unconstitutional provision to two pieces of legislation that otherwise contain worthy provisions advancing Missouri agriculture.” 

The Governor discussed his actions on the two bills at a special meeting today of the Missouri Conservation Commission in Columbia. The veto message on Senate Bill 506 can be found here, and the veto message on House Bill 1326 can be found here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Did I Spook Him?

As a fishing guide, I'm asked a million questions by my clients.  "Why this fly?" "Why approach from that angle?"  "What's wrong with my cast?" and so on.  Some questions are easier to answer than others, of course, and many of the the best questions come from clients who don't necessarily agree with my contrarion trout theology:  trout are stupid, lazy, and their eyesight ain't all it's cracked up to be, among other sacrilegious teachings.  They challenge me to PROVE to them that I'm right, and the debates are usually a lot of fun -- generally because I win.

The question above is one I've been asked many many times.  Actually, all the questions are asked repeatedly, but this is one question with an answer I have not been able to prove until now. Here's the origin story:

The Meramec River is the primary destination where I guide clients, and Meramec trout are NOTORIOUS for super-quick bites.  And since they're generally hesitant to look to the surface for food, that often means nymphing deep water and setting the hook on nearly invisible hits.  Over the years, I've discovered that one fairly common challenge for the typical trout fisherman is (1) seeing the hit, and (2) responding quickly enough.  In practice, it turns into a lot of missed hook-sets.  And when a client sees what looks like a hit and sets the hook to feel nothing pulling back on the end, a common question is: "Did I just spook that fish, or should I keep casting to him?" 

My answer has always been the same:  if the fish didn't feel any pain from the hook, then he'll keep biting until the experience begins to make him nervous.  In other words, even after you start thinking "that must just be a clump of weeds grabbing my fly," keep casting to the same drift until the river proves that it's not a fish. Need proof?  Here y'ar. And you're welcome.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Non-Indicator Indicator:  
Making Your Own Euro-nymph Cheater

If you've ever wanted to toy around with "tight-line" downstream European-style nymphing, here's a nifty trick to help you out. At one point in the ancient past, I began to realize that I was recognizing hits by how my leader throbbed during my presentation. As I would work my fly down into the depths, swim it up, and lay it back, my leader would develop a little tension, and then a little slack, and then a little tension, and so on. Once I recognized this give-and-take between my rod tip and the river, it became kind of mesmerizing. There's an actual visual rhythm to it. Additionally, the sound of the line on the water added an audible beat to that rhythm. And when that rhythm was interrupted, I'd set the hook. Sometimes I'd feel the take -- a somewhat aggressive thump -- but other times I'd feel nothing. Observers would ask me what I saw, but I couldn't really tell them. It just seemed like something was different. I started referring to that feeling as my spider sense, i.e. "if you're spider sense tingles, set the hook!"

During one of my readings into European fishing styles, I found a reference to a technique that some of the national competitive fly fishing teams were employing to help them with their spider sense -- using a corkscrew twist of colored leader material, so they could better see that change in tension during the give-and-take throb of the fly. Today, you might be able too find these nifty little gizmos for sale at nicer fly shops -- Umpqua makes one. If you live in the sticks like I do, they're kind of hard to come by, other than ordering online. And who wants to pay $10 in shipping for 10 feet of curly fishing line? So, needless to say, I usually end up making my own. Here's how:

(1) Pick up some colored fishing line that's easy to see and a thin round mold of some sort -- a wooden skewer works well.  This pic is of a nymphing leader butt section, but any visible monofilament will do -- Stren, Trilene, etc. -- 20-pound test is a good idea.  If you're using plain uncolored line, you might try running a sharpie down the length of it.  Any color will help, but black is plenty visible. BTW, I haven't tried making this type of indicator with flourocarbon, but I'm guessing it won't work as well.  

(2) Tape one end of the line to the end of the skewer.

(3) Wrap it up nice and tight...

(4) ...and tape it off.

(5)  Now bring a pot of water to a hard rolling boil -- maximum heat -- and dip the coil into the water for 30 seconds.  Take it out, and immediately run it under some cold running tap water to cool it quickly.  This is what you'll end up with.

This will work best attached directly to your fly line with a LONG leader & tippet attached below. Accompanying that with a longer rod will help keep the coil in the air where you can see it.  Now get out there and practice that throb!  Or, of course, you can book a guide trip, and I'll show you how to do it firsthand.

See you on the river!

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