Wednesday, June 22, 2016


It’s good to get back to basics sometimes. Slowing down and stepping back once in a while can remind one of experiences forgotten, places overlooked and things taken for granted.

Jill started casting the fly rod at the end of last season. This season we’ve spent a lot of time on the water working on her casting and learning the basics of reading the water. Because my casting technique is, um…well, it sucks, I’m not sure I’m a lot of help to her. But it has been a good refresher for me. It’s caused me to focus on and think more about the fishing rather than the catching. Turns out the more you think about the fishing part, the more catching you do. Ain’t that something?

And it’s been helpful at the vise. Because we’ve needed a fly that can be cast easily and will cover a wide range of situations, I took a fly I worked on last year for albies and tinkered on it a bit. The end result is a little all purpose baitfish pattern that I have fished exclusively for the last month. It’s caught a lot of fish and we’ve started calling it the Jilly Bean. There’s still some more water to cover with it and species to put on it, but I think it will go on the menu.

The whole point of getting back to basics was reinforced last weekend. My niece Jenn and her boyfriend Max made the trek down from Maine for a quick visit and as much time on the water as possible. Max is a solid trout guy but has limited experience with stripers in the surf or skinny water. I had heard through the grapevine he was really pumped up to fish the salt and catch a striper on the flats. I wanted to make that happen.

I gave them some caffeine and a few minutes to stretch their legs after they got out of the car and then we hit the water. I rigged all four rods with fresh Jilly Bean’s and looked for a place to set Jenn and Max up. The tide had just turned and we had some time to wait for the water to ebb enough to get to a couple of spots I was confident we would find fish in. I put them in a rock garden that sets up a narrow rip with a back eddy as the tide drops. I’ve caught some pretty nice fish out of the backside of this rip in the past but it’s intermittent and requires devoting some time to that one area. I gave them a pep talk, tried to explain what a single or a pair of striped bass would look like swimming across the flat and told them to have patience and keep casting.

I went off with Jill to work on her casting a little and then took a walk to check a few cuts and channels for signs of life. Halfway back to where our gear was situated I looked up and saw Max’s rod with a bend in it and a smile on his face. By the time I got to him he had the fish in and was holding it in the water. For his first linesider in skinny water he had done well. The look on his face said it all. It was kind of like that moment in “Castaway” when Tom Hanks finally got a fire going.

We watched the fish swim away and I asked him, “Tug a little when he hit?”

He just looked at me and nodded. Enough said.
Max and I kept pounding the surf while the ladies took a break in the sun. We both saw a few fish but they were spooky and moving fast. We moved along the flat with the retreating water until we got to the edge of a bank where I hoped I could get everyone hooked up on some rat stripes. Max picked one up with about fifteen minutes to go before we had to head back to distract my daughter while her surprise birthday party was being set up. It was the perfect way to end the day.

I grabbed Abby under the guise of going to dinner with Jenn and Max which was an easy sell because she and Jenn share the same birthday. We sat on the deck at Roht Marine and talked fishing and family while we celebrated birthdays and striped bass.

After a long day and pulling off a successful surprise party everyone crashed so we could get out early for a few more hours on the water before Jenn and Max had to leave. We fished the reverse of the previous day, working our way with the incoming back to the spot Max had scored the big fish at.  I had pulled in a couple of rats but the others were striking out. I was staring at the water thinking about stopping at one more place on the way home that I was pretty sure would be holding fish when I looked up and saw Max with a stripe nearly identical to his first.

After we released the fish Jill and I sat on the rocks watching Jenn and Max cast, hoping for one more fish before we had to go. I thought about the dozen times over the last month and a half I’ve rushed past that spot to get to pieces of water I know I’m going to hook up in without having to think about it. As I looked up along the rocks and the beach I realized there are several spots I’ve hurried by that I used to spend hours patiently working the water for one nice sized fish. I wondered how many fish I’ve just plain walked past because I was focused on catching and not fishing.

I learned something.

My next time out, I’ll be fishing.

North River, MA
22 June 2016

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Low Country: Chapter One

To be cliché, there are some people you meet in life that you just instantly connect with. In today’s world social media has become the mechanism by which a lot of people meet, friendships are created and relationships (of all forms) are developed. I shied away from it for years until I realized that business-wise you cannot afford to not be on it. I signed on to it for business exposure, what I didn’t expect was connecting with so many people in the fly fishing community or the friendships that social media has yielded. I have friends on Facebook and Instagram that I have more contact with than people in my own area code. For a child of the seventies, the 3-party phone (rotary) line and the Pony Express mail system…well, it’s still a little overwhelming.

About two years ago I started seeing a guy in South Carolina fishing with his dog on Facebook.  The dog’s name was Tucker. The images, expressions and settings brought back memories of my dogs and the times we had on and off the water. I could tell from the pictures that Tucker was well trained and a true fishing dog. This doesn’t happen by accident. Having trained my three black labs, well two out of three anyway, to be fishing dogs, I know the time and work that goes into it. Following Tuck told me a lot about his owner. Eventually I contacted him and invited Tucker to join the group of fishing dogs on my Mud Dog Facebook page. Rich Walker and I have been friends since.

Over the course of the last two years, Rich and I have messaged and talked fishing, flies, dogs and life. After one twenty minute conversation and a pot of coffee I posted “Dog Tales” about them. In short, he’s become one of my best friends. He and Tuck, and the weather in Charleston have become regular topics of conversation in my house. In one of our first conversations Rich had extended an invite to visit and begin my redfish education. Last fall my daughter told me she was interested in the University of South Carolina so I decided it was time to pull the trigger and I made the plans.

A couple of months ago, for April vacation, Jill and I and my daughter and her best friend made the drive south to Folly Beach. The house that I had rented was on a narrow tidal creek that backed up to an expansive marsh. As we pulled into the driveway and looked out over the marsh, the girls said in unison, “This is just like home.”
Photo by Jill Mason
 It was like home except the tides run a lot shorter and quicker than they do in Humarock. We were reminded of this during a morning outing in the kayaks. But that’s a story for another time......

After our first full day on Folly Beach we met up with Rich, his wife Jeannette and Tucker at Rita’s for a drink. We were a little surprised when we walked up to the table in the outside seating area and were met by Tuck sitting beside Rich. After a beverage, and a complimentary strip of bacon for Tuck, we went for ahi tuna tacos up the street at The Surf Bar. It became apparent that Folly Beach is one of the most dog friendly towns in America because Tuck trotted right into the open air seating area and sat between Rich and me at the table.

Although this trip was about family time and meeting new friends, there was time for some fishing as well. Rich and Tuck took me one evening to walk the grass on a flood tide in hopes the reds would be up in it. 

The fish never showed up but it gave me the opportunity to watch Tuck work with Rich and it was impressive. The dog really knows what the deal is wading the grass and the silent communication between he and Rich is remarkable. As we walked and watched for fish Rich gave me a primer on fishing reds in the grass and I told him about fishing similarly for stripers in the marsh back home. It also gave us a chance to learn about each others back-story and views on the world.

The conversation continued a couple of days later when Rich took the afternoon off from work, picked me up with a skiff he had borrowed and took me to one of his favorite spots. We spent the afternoon on backwater creeks that were some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever fished. The wind had been blowing all week and the water was stained. Rich could pick out a fish here and there as he poled us along but I couldn’t see them until we were right on top of them, usually just before they would spook. I could sense that Rich was putting it on himself and told him that my expectation was not to catch fish but to learn how to see them, what to look for and how to set up for them. Under the watchful eye of Tuck we worked on that and in between drifts continued telling stories and finding we share the same fishing philosophy. We stopped for a cold Sam Adams and as we sat there, Tuck at my feet, all three of us looking out over the creek in silence, the roots of a friendship that I have no doubt will continue to grow over time took hold.

Rich and Jeannette had been determined to show us what Low Country hospitality is all about. Our week in Folly Beach had been amazing and was due in great part to them. For our last night Rich had said he wanted to put on a Low Country boil for us. Friday afternoon he and Jeannette pulled into the driveway, his truck loaded with burners, pots, oysters and shrimp. We set up a table in the driveway and Rich, with Tucker supervising, got the boil going. As the sun set on our last night there we all stood around the table shucking oysters and peeling shrimp and talking and laughing like families used to do over the dinner table. It was an experience that will not be forgotten by any of us and one that I am grateful for.
Photo by Jeanette Walker
On the “What” page of this blog I wrote:

“In these backwaters life happens, solitude is found, stories are created, friendships are forged and memories are made.”

Photo by Jill Mason
We all need a little more backwater.

North River, MA
14 June 2016