Some people say “When one door closes another one opens” everytime something negative happens. Personally if one door opens as another is closing you’re probably in jail. As a year round outdoorsman I have found my seasons are like the proverbial doors. One ends as another is beginning. I finished processing the last deer of the 2020 season this afternoon, put some pheasants on the smoker, and tied a couple dozen flies for an upcoming trout fishing trip. See we have refused to let the election,covid, or a bit of civil unrest interrupt life. Our life revolves around a calendar of seasons, not the kind that make the leaves change either. This is a year in review of sorts and after reading this maybe 2020 was not so bad afterall.
January 1st found me knee deep in a trout stream, as it has for more years than i care to admit. This is all thanks to my dear friend Jim Mauries and his fly shop Fly South. Many moons ago we all would catch the first fish of the year on New Year’s Day. Coldest year was over a decade ago on the Caney Fork RIver with a couple other fly shop bums. It was about 19 that day and was a brutal day to be outside, let alone standing in a river. We had to wait for the sun to get on the water to get it warm enough for the fish to even feed. We caught our fish and that was that. It’s not a contest its a way of saluting the previous season and welcoming the new ones. 2020 found me in the Duck River tailwater alone, I seem to the the only one left who does not have the family issues that plague some of my friends. I caught my fish, had coffee on the river alone, and left the river gloriously happy.
February was a transition month. We spent time cleaning gear, removing treestands, and blinds. To some this probably sounds a lot like work but to us its as a part of hunting season as the hunting itself. At least once a week we chased some trout on the local rivers and maybe a bass or two if the sun stayed out long enough. A rabbit hunt or two this month as well. Deer hunting is done and small game hunters now own the woods. Besides the 20 gauge needed a good workout before the season closed.
March brought me to the shallows of my local lakes with a fly rod. The warmer shallows and mudflats bring the largemouth bass out to feed. My mind says we were in shorts but normally it’s still cool enough that we were wearing jackets. March is consumed with small ponds, lakes, and certain rivers. March also brought numerous dinners of fresh crappie because, anyone can catch a crappie in March, according to the old timers. Then one day it happened and we heard a turkey gobble…
April found me chasing bass in the duck river and redfishing in South Carolina. There were long nights tying flies for the much anticipated smallmouth bite on our local rivers. April is pretty much dedicated to catching bass with a 7wt Sage Fly Rod for me. My boy likes to chase those thunder chickens and float the river a lot. I guess I can’t complain he could be setting on his ass waiting for a stimulus check!
May has always found me hunting squirrels as I am fortunate enough to live where we have a spring season. It’s hard to beat fried young squirrels and gravy! That old 16 gauge has put a bunch of them on the plate for sure.
June is always a prep month for deer season. Mineral licks, Protein feeders, and trimming all potential treestand shooting lanes. We throw out cameras this month as well. As bad as I want to dislike technology I must say that I do enjoy watching our deer as they grow antlers and shed velvet. This year we used Trophy Rock 465 and we very pleased with the results. After years of being careful what we shoot these are a great examples, of what some elbow grease and trigger control can do for small properties. That’s right I said shoot not harvest as we dont harvest deer around here. We hunt them, shoot them, process them, and eat them.
July is all about Fly fishing the rivers around the southeast. That could be because it hot as blue blazes here in Tennessee in that month. We are also shooting sporting clays at the Nashville Gun Club & Limestone Hunting Preserve during this month as well because… aw hell who needs a reason to drag out the shotguns and have fun anyway.
August is the start of small game season here in the great state of Tennessee. In my house we all learned to hunt small game before hunting deer. I think this a missed crucial step for kids nowadays. Early August is food plot maintenance and the setting up of treestands for Archery season. In addition to the Normal sporting Clays every other weekend we now shoot 3D archery a couple time a week. We really put our Bear Bows to the test shooting through the heat of the summer. I might try to squeeze in an early morning or three on the river catching bass or trout. Wait who am I kidding there is no might I will be standing in a river a dozen times this month.
September is the most glorious month of year, except for the other 11. Small game season is in full swing and we are allowing a lot of squirrels to meet their maker. Dove season, the first wingshooting opportunity of the year, opens on September 1st. The last couple seasons I have opened the season up with a Dove/Wild Hog hunting in texas at MANX Outfitters. Plus the last weekend in the month is when deer season begins! If you don’t have a thermacell Tennessee archery season might not be for you!
October is all about Bowhunting and Fly fishing. The deer are moving and this fish are biting at about any moment. Dove season is open as is squirrel season add in hungry smallmouth bass and you have a blueprint for a great month. I don’t leave home without a survival kit including a bow, Shotgun, .22 rifle, two fly rods and enough flies to stock a small fly shop. Wing shooting may, or may not be good depending on the heat.
November brings conflict to our house in that deer,waterfowl,small game, and wingshooting seasons are all in full swing. So we do the best we can and just do all three plus fish a time or two as well. This year was no different. A little deer hunting, a little fly fishing, a lot of small game hunting.
December is all deer hunting and bird hunting for me. Now my son is one of those weird kids who wants to be cold and wet while shooting 3.5 inch shells at some ducks that may or may not show up. This season I took a week break from Tennessee and went to Prairie Wildlife in Mississippi for for some upland hunting, The trip was so amazing that I will be headed back on February of 2021 just to scratch the proverbial upland itch.
I typed all that to say this to you all. There is no doubt 2020 brought us challenges like we never could have imagined. It pushed us all to the brink of disaster and not everyone came out of the other side of this. There has never been a year I could point to and say it was horrible until 2020. Yet after reading this I realize that I was, and always will be living the dream, because I CHOOSE TO BE BLESSED. I hope we can all count our blessings and let the door close, or as I prefer let the seasons change.
I think, no matter how great our careers are, we all get to the point we want a break. Well 2020 put me in the NEED a break category for sure. It was on the day I realized that I had to get away that my friend called. He asked me to meet him at Prairie Wildlife, in West Point Mississippi, for some upland bird hunting. I about fell down trying to throw boots, shotguns, ammo, and clothes into the truck. My GPS said I would be there in a scant 4 hours and 9 minutes. I left my house at 0700 and rolled thought this gate at 1105. I had no idea this place was the wingshooting lodge of the year until I arrived.
Once I arrived the check in process was very fast and efficient. I signed a waiver and was pointed to my room. It was room number one in the main lodge and directly across from the never ending coffee pot, talk about a win. Still not able to decompress, I unpacked and sat down to check my email and see what was happening at work. My itinerary said cocktails at 6 and dinner at 7 that night so I snuck in the very rare nap. Mind you I had not been past my room since I arrived. After my much needed nap I ventured down the hall to the dinner room and that’s when it hit me, my phone had not rang in hours. Upon further inspection I discovered my second win of the week, little to no cell service! Now I could eat my dinner in peace but, not until after a good strong drink or two. When I walked into the main room of the lodge it was as if the stress of 2020 melted away like the ice on a spring creek in March. There was a fire in the fireplace, taxidermy on all the walls, and fine shotguns on display everywhere. I had the place to myself for about 30 minutes and I am positive I never moved from the couch in front of that glorious fire.
The taxidermy in itself was a display of artistry. Everything from predators to upland game to deer. They had a room full of relaxation.
Moving on the the food… I am the guy who can eat a can of beanie weenies, heated on an exhaust manifold, and be happy. I was not expecting 5 star meals three times a day to say the least. That first night was Redfish, that I am sure was swimming less that a day before. After dinner and a few drinks I felt the stress of working in transportation begin to lift from my shoulders.
On day one we were treated to a euro style tower shoot. I had never participated in one of these so my expectations were a little cloudy. After we finished I finally felt totally decompressed and to say my Browning 725 got a workout is an understatement.
After the tower shoot we were treated to a world class lunch and an hour long nap! I felt like I had passed and was in heaven. That evening we did walk up hunts for birds that had gotten away from the tower earlier. It was a real treat to hunt Pheasants and Partridge behind good working dogs.
That evening they served a pork ribeye for dinner. I am not sure how I did not know about this dish but you can bet I went straight to a butcher shop when I got home. It was delicious and paired with fresh vegetables and a baked sweet potato.
That evening we were taken to the Black Prairie Helice range. I had never shot helice so I really did not know what to expect. All I can say is as soon as Helice is available at the Nashville Gun Club I will be giving them a lot of my hard earned money. Pictures would not do Helice justice so do yourself a favor a look it up and watch the videos. It’s very different than sporting clays, Skeet, or trap. Honestly it’s a game where the wingshooter is better prepared than the target shooter.
Day two began similar to day one with a marvelous breakfast promptly at 8 am. (Now I had been soaking up that fireplace since 5 am). We then headed out for a mixed bag upland hunt. I hunted with a guide by the name of Todd Robertson. He and his dog izzy were a pleasure to hunt with. His pace matched mine perfectly, even with my bad hip. I am sure this was by design as he was a consummate professional, and an easy guy to hunt with. If i typed a thousand words about his dog Izzy it would not be enough as she was an amazing pointer!
That afternoon we were treated to the very first waterfowl hunt the lodge had ever had. Once again the folks at Prairie Wildlife went above and beyond. I am not a waterfowl hunter as I prefer to be moving behind a good upland dog. However this was just way to much fun! The picture below is a result of a group of 18 hunters.
Day three, our last day, was a sad day for me. I was watching the sun come up, over one of the many managed lakes on the property, and my phone beeped to make me aware of a litany of voicemails I had missed. I had to do what any professional would have done in that scenario. I turned the damn thing off and got another cup of coffee.
We ended the adventure with a final upland hunt, again I choose to hunt with Todd and Izzy. No one knew but Izzy looked just like my first bird dog from way back in the late 70″s. This morning i didn’t not see Izzy pointing I saw my old Partner Sam and her Last Point. It was a glorious morning of wingshooting, laughing, and fellowship. I know my dad in heaven was walking beside me with his trusty Ithaca Model 37 featherlight 16 gauge.
I left Prairie Wildlife both recharged and relaxed. The entire staff made an impression on me that I will remember forever. My only regret was I did not hunt with Benny, the lodge manager, or Mr. Jimmy and his dog Gabe. That’s why I will be back down there in february to chase birds and maybe catch a bass.
Poppers, both large and small, have been a staple of fly fisherman around the world since the first angler saw a fish break the surface. The obsession with poppers among non trout anglers is equal to the dry fly purists in the trout world.
Many years ago I used to spend a lot of money on the old school Betts bream buster style poppers. Hell I would be lying if I didn’t mention I still have a handful of those old school bream busters in my vest right now. They were cheap and very effective. Even though they are panfish fly I have caught hundreds of bass on them as well. In fact my first bass on the fly was caught on one. I have always found it odd that most fly shops would rather close their doors than sell such a “cheap” fly.
Poppers now come in different shapes and sizes. Each shape and style has a very specific purpose. I tie flies professionally for Catch Fly Fishing and have learned, through many hours of testing, that popper head style has a definite impact on fish catches. I have also learned that popper paint has an impact on fisherman as well!
Poppers come in a myriad of sizes and shapes however, in freshwater is can be broken down into just a few key styles. First and most common is the cup faced popper head.
Cup faced Popper head
These are cupped like the front of a hula popper. This style is primarily designed to make the loud signature POP and attract fish. The Double-Barrel popper heads from Flymen Fishing Company are the best your money can buy. These heads are designed to really make some noise in the water. They excel at getting the attention of fish that are feeding heavily. When casting to fish that are in a feeding frenzy the Double Barrel popper head will not get lost in the chaos for sure.
Blockhead poppers are my go-to style for wary smallmouth bass. They are designed to push water but not have the highly audible POP of the cup faced style. These are not “aerodynamic” at all as they are designed to move a lot of water, and for the most part get the attention of a wary or resting fish. They may be a little harder to cast in the wind but the rewards outweigh anything else.
Pencil Style Poppers
Pencil style poppers are the real deal for times when you need to be stealthy, or when you are trying to imitate bait with a longer more symmetrical profile. They land softly, move less water, and with the right tail materials are perfect for those extra spooky fish. I use them exclusively when I need to dead drift a popper in warm or clear water situations.
Stay tuned as next up will be the different material choices for poppers and how the impact the fly.
From now until late fall the bass will absolutely destroy flies, especially poppers, sliders, and divers!
Lefty’s popper heads are large enough to get attention, but subtle enough to not spook cruising fish.
I recently finished the new book, Dumb Luck and the Kindness of Strangers, by John Gierach. If your a Gierach Fan you will love the book as it reads like your hearing the stories while standing in your favorite fly shop. If you have never read his work and you like fishing stories, that may or may not be about fishing, then this is a must read.
He has written some books that were sure enough page burners in the past but, this one has got to be some of this best work all together. He introduces readers to some new friends, and a dog or two, that truly bring the story alive.
The book has 22 chapters in total. Of those 21 chapters read like the Geirach of the past, captivating, easy to feel as if your standing there seeing the story pan out in real time, and his signature no bullshit style of writing. Then there is chapter 18 ,”Up in Michigan”. This chapter comes off as probably his best story ever written. When I finished the chapter I am positive I had went through every possible emotion that a person can have. Once again “Up in Michigan” was a fishing story that had very little to do about the fishing.