Tag Archives: Fish America

The Seven Most Beautiful Places that I’ve Ever Fished

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Lake Powell on a calm day can seem like a mirror.

I have been enormously fortunate, thanks to anglers all over the United States, and the editors at Outdoor Life, Game & Fish, and B.A.S.S., to fish a host of different waters from Maine down to the Florida Keys out to San Diego and up to Seattle. These days I am working on finishing my Master’s Degree, and I’ve been lucky to help out a tremendously talented artist in Salem named Joe Higgins who runs Fished Impressions, but thanks to a number of people who’ve had faith in me over the years, I’ve had the chance to travel and fish more than most. Any time that we can get on the water, it’s a beautiful day, but there are some places on the American landscape that have stood out in my memory as particularly gorgeous. I haven’t fished everywhere, but I’ve tried, and these are places that belong on your bucket list if you’re an angler.

The Florida Keys: The sunrises are surreal. You’ll swear that the ocean is temporarily alight with fire when you see one from a flats skiff. But the variety of species that are available for an angler to target here is almost enough to overwhelm you the minute you get on the Overseas Highway that will lead you out of Miami. Tarpon are the big draw out of Islamorada and Key West, and rightfully so, but yellowtail snapper, barracuda, spotted sea trout, permit and bonefish are all available depending upon the season you choose. Waking up in the Keys is something like waking up on Christmas morning, on repeat, for any fisherman. There are a host of beautiful places in the lower 48 to fish, but you’d be hard-pressed to make an argument that any are, in any sense, ‘better’ than the Florida Keys. The guys at Bud N’ Mary’s are the ones to talk to if you find yourself Keys-bound.

New Orleans: Start an argument in the Southeast about who has the biggest redfish, and you’ll never hear the end of it. Having that said, the environment in New Orleans, the potential forage base, and the climate all give it as good a claim as any Southern city to “Redfish Capital of the World.” Fishing out of New Orleans is such a memorable and incredible cultural experience, that even if, let’s say… Texas had bigger redfish, it’d still be tough to argue that New Orleans is the single best place to go if you want to fish for them. Both Gregg Arnold and Rocky Thickstun are excellent New Orleans guides, and you can’t go wrong with either.  The city is overflowing with art of all varieties, from music to artwork to photography, and where the city stops, the natural beauty starts.

Seattle: Seattle gets a reputation as a rainy city, and it is, but all that water creates an environment rich with life. Whether you want to chase king, silver or chum salmon, it’s hard to imagine a place more beautiful to do it in than Western Washington. If you do get there, try fishing for sea-run rainbows on the fly, too. It’s an incredible experience, especially from shore. The lush greenery, the mountains and the crystal-clear water all make for absolutely stunning scenery. The Seattle expert to talk to, hands down, is Chris Senyohl. 

Montauk: I’ll first say that during the prime striper months, like May, June, October and November, Montauk gets crowded. This is the place to travel to and set wader boot on for striper fishermen in the spring and fall. It is true that more striped bass pull closer to the end of Long Island, here, concentrating in a way that they do in few other places, but the culture is really what makes Montauk memorable. It is seemingly, for a few months anyway, a city built on striped bass, or at least the pursuit of them. Whether you love the crowds, the competition and the frenzy, or you can’t stand it, Montauk is a place to experience as a striper fisherman at least once in your life. The sun rising and casting the day’s first light on all the wader-clad, or wetsuit-wearing fishermen who have been fishing all through the night is simply a sight to behold.

Grand Lake Stream, Maine: This isn’t the southern part of Maine that most of Boston flees to in the summer months for their bumper stickers (although that part of Maine is beautiful, too). Grand Lake Stream is about four hours north of Maine’s southern border, and has some truly rugged and wild country. The landlocked Atlantic salmon that you’ll chase, and perhaps catch, in Grand Lake Stream are every bit as beautiful as the scenery. The crew at Weatherby’s are the guys to talk to if you’re headed to GLS.

Apalachicola: It might seem unfair that I’ve put Florida on this list twice, but the state just has that many unique and amazing opportunities for fishermen. Traveling through the state, many visitors never make it to the Panhandle, which, in the Panhandle, is just how they like it. The Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce has actually trademarked the name, ‘The Forgotten Coast.’ The Panhandle of Florida feels very different from the remainder of the state: The attitude of the locals is more relaxed, the sand on the beaches is even a lighter shade, and they take oysters much more seriously. Offshore fishing out of nearby Destin is popular, but I’d fish with the Robinson Brothers again for redfish if I ever made it back down: Those guys are the best.

Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah: This one might surprise a few people, but this lake itself, thanks to the surrounding geography, is absolutely stunning. Oh, and the smallmouth bass that inhabit it are a blast to catch on topwater. Seeing the rock formations that have been carved and weathered by time, wind and water reflected in the lake’s mirror-like surface on a calm summer afternoon is a sight that you’ll never forget. Danny Woods at This Side of That Guide Service is the guy to talk to about fishing here, no doubt about it.

Many of us, as fishermen, are hesitant to admit that the beauty is a big part of the reason that we love the sport. But I don’t think any of us could deny that it’s integral to the entire experience, either. If you get a chance to fish in any of these places, take it.

How Living in a Jeep Changed me as a Person

DSC_0049 13I was reading this article by the tremendous people at Outside Magazine, about “How to live out of your car,”  (there are some great tips in there) and it got me thinking about the trip I took with Outdoor Life’s help in 2010, fishing my way across the country.

I did not, at the time… “plan” to live out of my vehicle when I left. I was working a great job that I was lucky to have, but couldn’t shake the feeling that… there’s an entire country out there of drop-dead gorgeous stuff that… I might never see. I was dealing with some problems that I’ll not get into, but suffice it to say… I felt an urge to move, go, escape, travel… anywhere.

With a bare-bones budget and nothing but a road map full of places that I’d been dreaming about for the better part of 20 years, I put everything that I owned in storage and headed for Maine in late May.

Now… I’d set up trip itinerary of places to fish, things to see and friends I’d had that I wanted to visit, but planning an itinerary for a cross-country road trip is like making a plan for what you’d do if your house caught on fire: It might ease some anxiety prior to the actual event… but rarely is it something you can execute in practice when the time comes.

I did see the things I’d hoped I would (Hemingway’s grave in Idaho, the Grand Canyon, The Pacific, the Florida Keys), I got the chance to fish with a rock star, and I even lived with a marine artist named Pasta for the better part of a month (it got to the point where he started saying: “I’ll see you ‘home’). I lost about 40 pounds and grew my hair out for the first time in my life.

Prior to that trip, I was a quiet, soft-spoken guy with a lot of anxieties about the little things in life (‘Did I wear this shirt already this week?’ ‘Am I coming down with a cold?’) and to some degree I still am.

But on that trip, more people helped me than I ever could have imagined would prior to undertaking it. Anglers from Maine down to Florida and out to California and up to Oregon had me stay at their houses, introduced me to their families, and took me fishing.

I’ve always been a religious person, although I’ve come up short of that definition more times than I can count… but I’ve always believed in God.

What that trip did, the way it changed me… was that it gave me a faith in other people that I’d not had before then. It also reassured me that you don’t need to know how something is going to work, you just need to keep trying everything and believe that it will. My idea of Divinity changed from some all-powerful master on high watching our every action… to a collection of souls down here on earth that, more often than not, want what is best for not only them… but for all of us as a group, together.

That’s what I brought back from the road, and I carry it with me wherever I go today. It has been a saving grace in the days that were to follow.

Happy Wonderful Weirdos Day

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I’ve been told that I look weird in most photos, but in this one especially. 

Yep, it’s a thing. You can be guaranteed with the growth of social media that every single day will hold some significance or have some reason to celebrate, and today, it turns out, is “Wonderful Weirdos Day.”

I’ll not attempt to describe the day or its purpose, I’ll leave that to Daysoftheyear.com, where you can find a purpose or reason or significance for every single day. Here’s their definition:

“Nothing’s quite as dull as being normal, boring and average. Celebrate being weird, and celebrate the weirdos in your life on Wonderful Weirdos Day. Make an effort to be weird by dressing weirdly, doing weird things and encouraging weirdness with your friends and in the workplace!” 

For those of you who would have used this reason to behave oddly, and are disappointed that there are only four hours left to take action, I apologize. Feel free, after reading this, to behave weirdly throughout the weekend, and even on Monday should you feel so inclined. Just have this blog ready to pull up on your phone for justification.

I’ll confess that for most of my life, I’ve been fairly normal. I followed the rules and got pretty good grades in high school, went to my fathers alma mater, Syracuse University, because they offered the most in scholarship money and had a great journalism program, took an internship and then a job as a copy editor out of college, was paid to create content for a website full-time for a few years, and am now working on my Master’s Degree at Emerson College.

There are, however, seven months of my life that I think would fit the description “weird,” by most any standard.

In 2010 I did a project for Outdoor Life called Fish America, where I attempted to fish the entire country, sleeping in a Jeep.

That, I can testify, is a weird experience. You’ll never see as many double takes in your life as you will when you wake up in a Walmart parking lot, open the door, and strangers stop and stare for a second, trying to figure out just how long you’ve been in there.

You will never find an answer to the question: “Where are you staying?” that’s addressed to you by guides you’re hoping to fish with, or people that you meet along the way, that doesn’t have people scratching their heads. Eventually you’ll just point to your Jeep and wait for it to sink in.

Sleeping in a Jeep takes some practice and getting used to, like anything new and foreign. At first you will find all the sharp objects that you packed for the trip by sleeping on them. Eventually you will move said objects to the opposite side of the Jeep, and sleep only on one side.

You will learn what areas are, and are definitely not safe to sleep in. I’d suggest, to anyone crazy… er… weird enough to try this to… just be careful around the Texas/Mexico border and tell your story to restaurant owners where you might grab a snack. Many are more accommodating than you’d imagine, although some are not.

In theory, and I say this only from reading and from a few nights of experience, your body should shiver itself awake before you freeze to death in your sleep… if you’re say… in Idaho in December and the temperature drops to -17. And, while again I’d not recommend this, in my experience you will awake to the sound of your teeth chattering, you’ll crank the heat until the convulsive shaking stops, and you should be able to get a few more hours sleep. Again, I’d not suggest testing this theory, but it worked for me.

Lying on top of that Jeep, in places like the Carolinas, Texas, and California, can be a spectacular way to take in some breathtaking stars. If, however, you misplace your phone… look on top of the Jeep FIRST… before driving to places you’d been the day prior. You might be incredibly lucky and your phone might stay on top of the Jeep while you drive around beneath it looking for it… but “prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.”

The weirdest thing of all that you will encounter if you attempt such a thing is fairly simple, and maybe something many of you have already discovered.

We’re raised to keep our doors locked, not to trust strangers and be sure of where we are at all times. We’re taught from an early age to fear the unknown.

So the weirdest part about the entire experience… is just seeing firsthand how incredibly kind, outgoing, genuine, honest and helpful almost everyone that you meet is.

Weird, right?

 

The Ten Most Incredible Fisheries I’ve Ever Experienced

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This Amberjack convinced me Virginia’s fishery belonged in the top ten.

We all have that bucket-list of places we’d love to fish, and it makes for some great winter conversation with fellow fishermen… because dreaming’s free. But what about the places we have been blessed enough to experience? It’s equally important to think about the water we’ve been fortunate enough to fish… and these are my the top ten that I’ve fished in my 29 years.

 

10. Montana Trout: Some will be shocked that this isn’t higher, but keep in mind I’m only talking about my personal experience, and I’ve only fished Montana in December. Still, fishing the Madison River with Fly Rod & Reel Editor Greg Thomas was a memory I’ll cherish forever. The most amazing part about Montana, for a kid from the East Coast, is the stunning beauty of the scenery you’re surrounded by.

9. Texas Border Bass: There’s no doubt that an element of danger adds some excitement to any fishery, and when you’re on the border lakes between Texas and Mexico, you’re in an area that’s been notoriously problematic for U.S. law enforcement, but that makes you all the more appreciative that you’re able to, with relative safety, pursue some of the U.S.’s largest bass right where the lower 48 ends.

8. Virginia AJsI have never fought any fish that left me as completely tired, worn and whipped as an amberjack off the coast of Virginia. That alone puts this fishery in the top ten.

7. South Carolina Sharks: There’s a guy named Tommy Scarborough who is a South Carolina legend. He’ll laugh hysterically while a South Carolina shark “Whoops your butt…”on light tackle, and that’s part of the fun

 6. Montauk Striped Bass: I cannot, nor will I try, to describe Montauk in all its funky awesomeness in a couple sentences. But it is the striped bass capital of everywhere.

5. New Orleans Redfish: Start a conversation with a Texan and a Louisiana fishermen about who has bigger redfish… and you’d better wear something bulletproof. But the fishing culture around the Big Easy where you’re chasing redfish in water that came sometimes barely cover their backs is one of America’s truly unique ones.

4. Seattle Salmon: Seattle gets a bad reputation for wet weather… but here’s the catch: That’s from people who’ve never fished there. Sure, it rains. And if you’re on the water when the silver salmon bite is on with a guy like Chris Senyohl,it can be pouring silvers and chum salmon. You’re a fisherman… how dry do you want to be?

3. Maine Salmon: Grand Lake Stream, Maine, is not the southern coastal part of the state that most New Englanders envision when they think “Maine,” and I promise you it’s not where most of those “Maine” stickers you see on the back of S.U.V.s come from. On GLS, you can wade crystal clear water and cast flies to landlocked atlantic salmon that will sit right in front of you, taunting you, while passing up your fly.

2. The Keys: The beauty of the Florida Keys defies description. Every day when you wake up and look at the water, it’s as though some part of hardened cynicism you’d developed along the way in life just melts. And the number of species you can potentially target on one given day is greater than almost anywhere else in the lower 48.

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My cousin and I wading the Brewster flats in 2001.

1. The Brewster Flats, Cape Cod: Right on the elbow of the Cape, you can wade out almost a mile and cast light-tackle gear to striped bass that feed on one of the world’s largest tidal flats. The mile walk out is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been lucky enough to transverse. Again, there’s some danger here… when the water floods the flat as the tide comes in, you’d better be high and dry. But the chance at connecting with a striped bass, on light tackle gear, hip-deep in the Atlantic, almost a mile from shore, is one that’s hard to come by anywhere else on the coast. (Disclaimer: Our entire enormous Irish Catholic family packed mini-vans and crammed into a rental house on the Cape for a few weeks each summer when I was growing up, so this one has some sentimental value, boosting it to number 1).