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Fly Fishing in VA with Blane Chocklett: Re-Discover Your Region #8

Fly Fishing in VA with Blane Chocklett

I’ve never been the kind of guy that has heros or mentors. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m the first born but for some reason I always believed I had to blaze my own path and make my own mistakes. I am by no means advocating this way of life. In fact, it’s kind of ridiculous. As I got older during my time in the USMC, I realized that learning from others by employing best practices and avoiding bad habits is far more efficient. Still, that was a very mechanical way of growing. For whatever reason, as I started developing my plan to become a guide, it didn’t take long for me to develop a more personal approach. Enter Blane Chocklett.

Blane Chocklett – I have no Idea How he has Such Perfect Teeth
What’s a Role Model?

The manifestation of this personal approach likely came about because my desire to become a guide originated from a passion. It was something I really WANTED to do. About 5 years ago, when the goal of becoming a guide started to gain momentum, I connected with someone who would quickly become my mentor.  Since then, Blane Chocklett and I have maintained a teacher/student relationship though which I continue to benefit to this day.

Who is Blane Chocklett?

Blane has become a household name in the fly fishing community. As an innovative fly tier and ambassador to nearly every type of product used in the game, his reach has grown exponentially since I’ve met him. Yet, he remains humble. Hell, he barely acknowledges it. It’s this kind of mindset – being grounded and in touch with every aspect of our little community that caused me to frequently seek his guidance over the years.

Blane with the Behold Smalljaw Pose
The Blane Chocklett and Brookdog Fishing Co Relationship

Blane has helped me with a lot – both personally and professionally. That’s saying a lot because I’m likely his biggest pain in the ass friend/client. I complain incessantly when I fish with him. From doubting if there are any fish in the river to letting him know that he’s sucking the life out of me, he’s likely relieved to be rid of me every time we fish together. Still, he’s always been there for me.

Blane is a father, a husband, a professional, and an ambassador to our passion of pursuing fish on the fly. He embodies over a quarter century of experience in this game and somehow still keeps getting better looking – WTF! With him as a mentor – I’ll get there someday!

I’m sure some who read this (it won’t be millennials because you guys likely didn’t even read this far) will comment something like, “get off of Blane’s nuts!” I really don’t care if that sentiment emerges in a few people – he knows where all this is coming from. But enough about Blane, on to the video description.

About the Video

This WILL NOT be a steady stream of fish porn. It was nearly 100 degrees with bluebird skies both days during the shoot. As Schultzy would say, “not optimal!” It was a struggle to say the least but we caught some great imagery. There will be some beautiful smalljaw footage, some underwater footage of muskies, and a shock when we get, “’skied.” The video closes out at the new Ballast Point Brewery outside of Roanoke, VA.

All the “porn” aside, the focus of this video is to provide another perspective about one of my mentors. This video short WILL focus on who Blane is, what his fishery is all about, and give the viewer a glimpse into why he has become a leader in our industry. Enjoy!

Blane Chocklett and Brookdog Fishing Company Collaboration
Warmwater Gem – Smallmouth Bass
The Oldest River In the U.S. and one of the Oldest in the World

This is #8 in our Re-Discover Your Region Series.  We have 2 more on the docket for this year and 12 projected/scheduled for next year.  Please show us your support in our efforts to showcase some incredible fisheries and the personalities that explore them by subscribing to our YouTube page.  Click here to begin viewing all.

 

Getting Started as Guide: The First Year

Avoiding the Quagmire in Your First Year as a Guide

I am a fishing guide and charter captain.  That makes me a professional – I guess – whatever that means.  I’m new to the business so I am not an expert in the industry.  We just started our business last summer.  So the only label I can give myself at this point is that of a student. No matter how renowned they are, all the great guides I’ve met or read about over the past dozen plus years of fly fishing, still consider themselves students of our passion.  As a student, I wanted to capture part of my journey this past year and offer some lessons learned.

While trying to get our business up and running, I’ve had numerous conversations with people whom I consider my mentors. The most frequent guidance I received to date is the following: be responsible in promoting your business, know every aspect of your fishery, don’t let success get to your head, and realize that no matter how well you balance the first two, there will always be people who take issue with you. I’ve yet to see this guidance written somewhere, except in some books and articles that generally cater to entrepreneurs who are just starting out. I’d like to change that.

As I write this, I will do my best to come across as critical of our business – not critical in the way that most people understand the word but in the sense that I will reflect upon what we’ve done in the past 6 months since starting up from multiple points of view. Let’s call this process reflective skepticism. Although what will follow will come from a TOTALLY humble point of view, some will interpret it as arrogant and that I don’t “rate” writing about the topic because we are a new guide service. I’m cautiously optimistic these individuals will be a minority.

Hopefully this piece will help inform the decisions of other new guides just starting out – both at a shop or on their own. However, there will undoubtedly be some old hats and anglers who don’t guide with contrary ideals. Unfortunately, when some of these people read this, no matter how logical or compelling it is, they will still hold the same beliefs and will not be open to reflecting on how or why they think the way they do. Honestly, I hope that’s the case as it will only prove the points I will try to make. Here we go:

Be humble

Because of my background as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, I’m used to being humbled. Throughout my career in service, I’ve been humbled countless times by people much smarter than I and learned from all of them. From positions of strength and weakness, I tested my boundaries and grew every time – treating every experience as one from which I could learn.

The rank structure of our armed forces breeds this respect for authority (read more experience) into us from basic training – know your place, learn from your elders, play to your strengths, improve upon your weaknesses, and constantly seek opportunities to take initiative and grow. If you are a armed forces veteran just starting out in this business, apply these aspects of your former life into your business BUT don’t think that just because you’re a veteran other guides or local anglers will respect you.

Although no formal rank structure exists in the guiding and outfitting world, the principles of growth in a hierarchy remain the same. I use the term “hierarchy” because; let’s face it, there is one. Guides earn a positive reputation in this business through years of experience, a loud voice for advocacy, a strong client base, and a drive to innovate. If “fame” exists in this business, those guides that master these pillars elevate to the status of experts. The only people you probably should come off as an expert to in your first years of guiding are your clients – and even then, if you teach them or bond with them on the water, they quickly appreciate that mother nature can easily humble all of us.

When you’re starting out, you should always consider the opinions of senior guides in the area as their experience puts them in a position of strength. It would be great if these guides acted as mentors. Some will and others won’t. Those that do act as mentors will reach out to you to provide positive reinforcement for things you’re doing well and try to right your course if they see a problem with the way you conduct yourself. Those that don’t act as mentors will likely be ambivalent, or worse, talk trash behind your back. If this unfortunate set of circumstances is the case, approach them humbly, hear them out, and learn from the discussion. If nothing changes, at least you tried to understand their viewpoint and learned something in the process.

A little time spent spreading knowledge to the next generation
Do Not Exploit the Fishery

This should go without saying but if you want to be able to continue to work in this business, your fishery has to last. There is nothing wrong with trying to bring people into the area. There’s also nothing wrong with trying to expose non-anglers in the area to what’s going on in their backyard. Responsibly showing off your fishery, in more cases than not, will generate positive exposure that will aid in conserving the fishery. However, there has to be balance. A balance that doesn’t piss off too many of the old hats that consider the fishery “theirs” while allowing you to grow your business.

You might be thinking, “So what’s this guy’s definition of responsible?” If you are going to showcase the region, one suggestion is to show everyone the well-known spots where the weekend warriors go. If you fish with clients in areas that are less well known, be careful what you post on social media and on your blog. Crop or blur backgrounds in pictures to prevent others from blowing up these locations. You should also gauge your clients – are they the type of angler that is just hiring you to learn more about the area so he/she can fish it without a guide? If so, take precaution when deciding where to fish that day.

No matter how skillfully you approach achieving this balance, there will always be those that believe guiding is an exploitative trade. They won’t consider the fact that you are passionate about teaching others about the bounty of your region and how important it is to conserve it all. They will also fail to consider that you willingly chose this path, full knowing there is little money in this trade and in turn, invited struggle in your efforts to support your family or start one for that matter. If you address these notions with the people who hold adverse views of guiding, some will understand and some won’t. BUT, your family and friends will love you for it knowing you are pursuing your passion. Bottom line, you cannot please everyone in this business so get used to it.

Classic Warm Water Double – Taken at a Well Known Spot
Find a Mentor – or at a minimum, study

Keep in mind that I am 38 years old, I have a family, I am a decorated combat veteran and bronze star recipient, I’ve been a leader to many warriors over the years. I make these points not to brag but to give some perspective – even with all that life experience, I have mentors in the guiding business and everyone should.

One of whom is Ron Meek at Sweetwater Travel. Ron runs their guide school and has travelled the world establishing lodges at places all of us now dream of visiting. First and foremost, he cares about the industry and bettering those individuals that will help it grow into the future and has dedicated his life to teaching this upcoming generation.

Ron Meek – Director of Sweetwater Guide School

Another mentor of mine is Blane Chocklett. As a devoted father and husband, he taught me about the balance mentioned above and added the pillar of family into the dynamic. He developed a fishery and a guide service from the bottom up – monumental tasks – and was lucky enough to have amazing mentors of his own. He’s considered to be one of the most innovative fly tiers of this generation – all fueled by a desire to be a better angler.

Blane Chocklett at Work

Mike Schultz is another individual in the industry whom I admire. Aside from starting a highly successful fly shop from the bottom up, he also created a fishery in Southeast Michigan. He explored it, developed ways to fish it, got it dialed in, made it extremely attractive to potential clients, and built a shop around it. Oh yeah – he’s younger than me and has a family too!

Mike Schultz in his glory

Colby and Brian Trow are also guides/outfitters that I admire. Like Mike Schultz, they developed a fishery in central Virginia. In addition, they run a highly successful shop, are huge advocates for conservation, pillars in the industry, and show an immense amount of support to veterans. Both also do an amazing job of balancing all of this with family life – true examples of how great this industry can be to those who give it their all.

The Trow Brothers, Colby (l) and Brian (r)

Ron, Blane, Mike, and the Trow brothers aren’t from the area where I guide – I was just lucky enough to meet them in the years prior to us starting up our guide service and have remained in touch with them ever since. There are also local fly fishing professionals such as Vince Tobia, Rick Kustich, and Nick Pionessa from whom we sought advice out of respect for their knowledge and experience.

We also reached out to charter captains and industry professionals based in our area like Jim Hanley, Bill Hilts, and Larry Jones, whose primary business is in conventional tackle charter trips. These gentlemen have been active in this area since I was a kid and represent a wealth of knowledge beyond any fly angler in the area. We were pleasantly surprised when these gentlemen welcomed us with open arms and continue to offer their support and guidance to this day. They are all true patriots and who are staunch advocates for the region and want to see the progress they made passed off to the next generation so we can continue to carry their torch.

Larry Jones – USMC Vietnam Vet and Owner of Mostly Musky Charters
Jim Hanley – Local celebrity and one of the godfathers of the WNY charter business
Bill Hilts – a lifelong proponent of the WNY fishery and author of the Outdoor Beat

 

Rick Kustich – Author, Avid Fly Fisherman, Local Expert
Nick Pionessa – local guide, professional fly tyer and casting instructor, regional expert
Vince Tobia – Owner of Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters

I mention all of these mentors not to kiss their ass but to give my peers who are just starting out someone to research/study as examples of how to be successful in this business. There are countless more guides/industry professionals that set an outstanding example in this business and all beginning guides should reach out to at least one for advice. If they are as passionate about this business as you are, they’ll be honored you reached out and will give you much to consider.

Affiliate Yourself With Reputable Organizations

This idea goes hand in hand with seeking out mentors. Organizations like the International Federation of Fly Fishers, Trout Unlimited, and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association offer great benefits to their members. Their sole purpose is to advocate for the industry and our environment and are a wealth of knowledge for those just starting out. These organizations have chapters all over the country who will welcome your membership and participation in their events.

Aside from these national/international organizations every state has something similar and often times more relevant to what you plan to do. From rod and gun clubs to charter captain consortiums to angling associations chances are your area has an organization who’s members represent generations of local knowledge and industry experience. Seek them out and network hard.

Volunteering is important as well.  It will give you the opportunity to get in front of many people interested in fly fishing.  It is a great way to help others in need while networking and developing your teaching skills.  Project Healing Waters is a great organization to look into.

With the assistance of these types of groups, you’ll quickly develop a reputation and grow your client base. This will give you grounds to request pro-deal status with the various companies that sell the equipment you need. Rods, reels, lines, apparel, flies, etc. are all on the table for a steep discount if you qualify. Pick the companies you are familiar with and trust and remain loyal to them. In time, they will recognize your potential and will help your growth.

Be A Minimalist

Remaining humble, being responsible, and seeking guidance won’t cost you any money but will ensure you can earn it well into the future. Gear, the more tangible aspect of this business, can be extremely costly. If you work out of a shop, the temptation to buy everything on the shelf or all the latest and greatest gear is always there. That isn’t as much of a problem when you’re a lone wolf but us independent operators have the persistent challenge of making sure we have the right amount of everything – especially when there isn’t a shop nearby.

Although us fly anglers are notorious for tinkering and collecting, try your best to suppress these instincts for the first couple of years and just learn. If you are new to guiding but have been a lifelong angler, you might be thinking, “I already know my fishery extremely well, what else is there left to learn?” Here’s some perspective – you just made a career move that took you from fishing your drainage somewhat frequently (in the best of cases) to nearly daily. There is a ton more to learn. You went from taking friends out from time to time to complete strangers all the time. Again, there is a ton to learn. With all this in mind, acquire/buy gear as you go, not all at once.

Trust me; I know how difficult it is to fight the urge to buy a bunch of stuff you think you need. I was a logistics planner and supply chain manager in a former life when building iron mountains used to be cool. Internet sales, fly shops, big retail stores, etc. give you the ability to get what you need quickly. Be conservative when you first resource yourself and pick up what you need as the requirement emerges. Do your best to anticipate requirements but don’t rush into any big purchases. If you come up short from time to time, no problem! You learned from your shortcomings and still have money in your pocket. Now you can make a more informed decision about what to buy (or do) to avoid the problem in the future.

Fish Daily

Nothing replaces time on the water. Keep your eyes open, write things down/keep a log if you have to, and LEARN. Enough said.

Market Yourself and Push Quality Content – BUT – DON’T OBSESS

I am not a marketing professional. This is my first endeavor into this area of expertise. Here is what I learned – from both reading and experimentation.

1. Content is king – get a good camera and take quality photos and video.

2. Develop a social media presence – push the content you develop through all social media outlets. All your content should include a link back to your website or contact info. After all – your posting pics and articles to generate customers, not boost your ego. Pay attention to your analytics functions on the various apps and little more. If you think the majority of people are paying attention to what you’re putting out – THEY AREN’T.  See Below:

DO NOT LIKE! Yet, many still do. Who’s truly paying attention?

3. Develop a brand image – get business cards, have a logo built, make some tri-folds/pamphlets, etc. Use the same colors and scheme throughout every product you develop and tweak it over time to keep it fresh.

A mock show set up in the basement

4. Marketing takes time and/or money – plan for it. Treat it as a fixed cost and part of your daily rhythm. It’s free if you generate your own content and post it to social media.  However, it takes a lot of time and can be a pain if you start tweaking out. Your other option is to pay someone (like a marketing firm) or something (like Facebook, Instagram, or Google Ads). There are infinite ways to market yourself – your creativity is your only limit. Just remember to budget for all of it or you’ll be left wondering why you aren’t getting calls from clients.

5. Don’t obsess – social media can suck you in. Realize that most people use it as kind of a drug. You have to put yourself in a different mindset when you approach social media. Your time is money – do you really want to spend it tweaking out for hours on social media?

Bottom line

When you’re a newbie, you’re going to make mistakes. Remain humble and seek self-improvement. People that have been in this business for a while know the struggles of starting out.  They will expect you to mess up occasionally. Those same people should help you grow from your mistakes and if you connect with the right mentors, they will. Find a good mentor and stay in touch. Those mentors will also advise you on equipment purchases – what works and what doesn’t. Use their advice and your experience on the water to make informed decisions about how to equip your program.

Last but not least, have fun. You made a bold decision to go this route. It’ll be a roller coaster of emotions that will change with the weather and conditions on the water.  Just center yourself with your passion for what you do. Many people will envy or respect your decision.  If you’re going about it the right way, they have every reason to feel that way.

Cutthroat Trout: Hunting for Headwater Gems

Getting out of your Head While Hunting For Cutthroat Trout

I’m sure we’re not alone in our love for native fish.  It’s pretty easy to explain the attraction.  Chances are, if you’re hunting natives, especially trout, you’re in a breathtakingly beautiful location and few fellow anglers are anywhere to be seen.  If anglers hike far enough, up to the headwaters of creeks, it’s nearly a sure bet you’ll end up in a remote location.  You’ll also end up pursuing smaller, genetically pure fish on lighter tackle.  Hunting cutthroat trout on the headwaters of small Alberta creeks is no exception to this rule.

As a Buffalo, NY native and current resident and fishing guide/charter captain, I feel a little dirty promoting other fisheries.  The honest truth – the more you travel and explore new waters, you’ll begin to notice a couple trends.

Common Trends Observed in Our Travels

As you’ll see from our travel listing, we’ve been to a few places.  Call it a wanderlust.  Maybe it’s a need to get out of our heads.  Perhaps it’s a desire to learn new things.  OR it’s all of the above and then some.  Regardless of the reason, here’s a few observations:

  1. Every watershed is unique/”special.”  This is a slight knock at the overuse of the word “special” in our community’s literature.  I can’t blame passionate, regional advocates, for labeling their fishery as special.  In fact, it is special – so is everyone else’s fishery.
  2. Slight nuances in tactics are in play but tried and tested tactics will work too.  This is especially true when fishing headwaters.  Chances are, you’ll fish a light rod, tippet size will matter little, and dries, nymphs, and streamers will all work.  In any color.
  3. The harder you work to get to the spot, the more rewarding it will be once you arrive.  That spot will also absorb you by its beauty.  The fish you catch will likely be smaller and more opportunistic than their relatives downstream.  Although these fish lack size and wariness, they make up for it in a kind of innocence.
  4. Capturing the moment is harder/makes for poor fish porn fodder.  It will be extremely difficult to capture the moment in a picture without an extreme close up or distance shot.  Headwaters are more scenery porn and close up fish porn than the grip and grin “beast” type.

There are more trends but I’m probably barely holding on to millennial readership at this point so I’ll move on.  Take this away with you –  hunting  headwaters has a flair of its own.  Try it sometime if you haven’t done so.

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

As often happens  during the winter when the weather sucks, I took a trip down memory lane.  This particular trip took Nate and I to some of the most beautiful water we’ve ever fished.  It was a “special” place.  Images of this trip, taken 6 years ago, haunt me to this day, beckoning for my return.  As I’ve been considering the possible trips for 2017, returning to the Crowsnest region in Alberta, Canada, is at the top of my list.  Here’s why:

Fishing headwaters for cutthroat trout- head clearing stuff
Fishing headwaters for cutthroat trout- head clearing stuff
Stairway to Heaven
Stairway to Heaven
One rod - two fish. Headwaters classic
One rod – two fish. Headwaters classic
Tiny Native Gem
Tiny Native Gem
Even when you fall down and the camera takes a picture - it's gorgeous
Even when you fall down and the camera takes a picture – it’s gorgeous
The head is finally clear
The head is finally clear
Cutthroats - Pursuing natives is a blast
Cutthroats – Pursuing natives is a blast

We’ll likely make it out there this summer.  We can’t wait!

 

 

Buffalo Niagara Winters: Stave Off the Shack Nasties

Buffalo Niagara winters can be painful…if you let them

Although our region is known for an insane amount of snow and frigid temperatures, it’s really not all that bad.  At some point, years ago, we got a bad rap.  I’m not sure how, because Buffalo Niagara winters aren’t even in the top 20 coldest in the lower 48.  We don’t get that much snow either.  Sure, every once in awhile we get a strong blast of lake effect snow but it melts quickly and just creates a soggy mess.

This bad reputation for horrible winters in Buffalo Niagara is truly a shame.  Even some of our locals buy into it.  That kind of sucks because this should be a winter tourist destination (more on that in a minute.  The real issue – just one guy’s opinion – is the wind and clouds.

Days often go by where the sun won’t poke out from the clouds and the winds rage in the upper teens to lower 20s MPH.  That lack of sun and the sometimes screaming wind often keep people indoors.  Cocooning like this creates what’s called the shack nasties.  This disorder causes pale skin, depression, weight gain, and a general malaise toward life.  NO WAY!

We refuse to be bound up indoors!  After all, look  at what we’d be missing if we did.  Oh yeah, the fishing is pretty good too.  Click here for details about our winter fishery. 

The mighty Cattaraugus River
The mighty Cattaraugus River
The mighty Cattaraugus River
Winter Steelheading on Lake Erie Tributaries
Sword and sheath
Parking Lot Prep
Winter Steelheading on Lake Erie Tributaries
TFO Promo
Steelheading = lots of casting

Don’t get the shack nasties!!!  Give us a call to experience this region first hand instead of looking at it on a little screen.

Fishing for Bowfin – Blue Collar Stuff

Bowfin: Add These Dinosaur Fish to Your Bucket List

Earlier this year, a fishing buddy of mine, Chuck Yauch, introduced me to the idea of fishing for bowfin around the Buffalo Niagara region.  Up to that point, I hadn’t really taken the idea seriously.  Nate showed me some pictures of them in spawning colors years ago (they’re incredibly beautiful by the way).  He and I talked whimsically about going down to some marshes in PA to pursue them but it never came to pass.  However, my love for natives put this dinosaur fish on my bucket list – somewhere on the bottom where it loomed until Chuck brought it up this past summer.

Allegedly, there are some reliable spots where a venturing angler can catch a bowfin around my home waters here in the Buffalo Niagara region.  Late spring/early summer is the best time – so I’ve heard.  But, you need the type of boat that can get you shallow, back into the marshes, and over some obstacles.  I’m not going to lie – that’s one of the reasons I purchased my Flycraft.  Since it’s still winter here, I’ve just been  biding my time.  Then my trip to Florida happened.

Why South Florida?

The intent behind the Florida trip was to shed the shack nasties of the WNY winter by pursuing peacocks in warm weather.  But, anyone who’s fished in south Florida knows that some seriously random fish can come to hand during a day on the water.  That’s where bowfin entered the picture.

Our guide in South Florida, Scott Rose of Miami Peacock Adventures, took us out to the Everglades for a little adventure.  He put us on quite a few peacocks and largemouth  bass.  After getting our fill, we became more interested in the “exotics.”  Gar, myans, etc came to fruition pretty quickly.  Then, as we wandered up to a little pond, I noticed a rather large fish.  Scott quickly identified it as a bowfin.  I was stoked.

The other day, I posted a picture of my first bowfin.  The post had little flair so I decided to dedicate a blog post to my second.  Although smaller, it’s colors were more spectacular.

I’m now smitten by these native dinosaurs.  They fight hard, smash you’re presentation, and from what I hear, they love frogs.  I’m looking forward to taking the Flycraft into some of my home water marshes in a few months to pursue these guys on the fly.  Give us a call if you want to give it a shot as well!

Bowfin

 

 

 

Largemouth Bass on the Frog

Yep – we caught largemouth bass on the frog.  Topwater.  For hours. What better area than the Florida Everglades where you can consistently bomb huge casts down a long straight bank that’s consistently covered with weeds along a steep drop-off? Frogging is a blast! The retrieve on the surface, the visual take by the fish, the discipline required to wait a couple seconds before setting the hook, and the strong hook set. So much fun!

I guess this is kind of a quick coming out story – I USE CONVENTIONAL TACKLE SOMETIMES. There I said it. I feel so much better now. It took me awhile to come out because fly fishing anglers can be pretty brutal about that kind of stuff. I guess I just don’t care anymore. Over the past couple seasons of guiding and running charters, I’ve fished with some awesome conventional anglers who’ve taught me quite a bit. Let’s be honest, or maybe this is just my opinion, but there are some things you can’t do with a fly rod. Just as there are just some things you can’t do with conventional tackle.

I will always favor fly fishing and default to fly tackle, especially when I’m fishing new water – it’s a point of personal accomplishment that’s more intangible than anything else. BUT I also want to become talented at all methods of fishing.  Again, the following statement is just my opinion – I am in no way trying to stir up a controversy or debate – just one dude writing his thoughts for consideration:  Experimenting with all methods of angling opens up a lot of doors. New things to learn, new places to fish, new people to meet.

For Example:

Now here’s a little bit about the fish king of the Everglades according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

Largemouth Bass: Micropterus salmoides

Appearance:
The largemouth bass is the best known and most popular game fish in North America. It is distinguished from other black bass because the upper jaw extends beyond the rear edge of the eye, and the first and second dorsal (back) fins are separated by an obvious deep dip.

Habitat:
The Florida largemouth bass is the state freshwater fish. Found statewide in lakes and rivers, they are commonly found along vegetation, or underwater structure, but schooling bass are also found in the middle of lakes.

Behavior:
Black bass spawn in spring, when males fan out a bed and then protect the eggs and fry. The baby fish eat zooplankton (microscopic animals that drift in the water column), and when about an inch long begin eating other small fish. Adults eat a wide variety of fish, crustaceans and larger insects.

Additional Information
State Record:  17.27 lbs. (Note several larger fish have been documented but not certified.) Participate in TrophyCatch, FWC’s citizen-science program that rewards anglers for documenting and releasing trophy bass 8 lbs or larger!
Big Catch minimum:  24 inches or 8.0 lbs.

Fishing Tips and Facts: Florida is an outstanding destination to catch a trophy.   You can convert a photo and measurements of your fish into lifelike fiberglass mounts, so you can release the lunker to fight another day. The best live bait is a golden shiner, fished under a float or free-lined.  Plastic worms are the most dependable artificial bait for largemouth bass. A weedless Texas- or Carolina-rigged worm is especially effective with heavy plant cover. Checking “Florida Fishing Weekly” is a great way to learn about the full array of techniques available to bass anglers as well as specific details about different bass fisheries around the state.

Midas Cichlids are a Blast – if You Can Get One to Commit

Aren’t these guys incredibly photogenic?  This is a Midas Cichlid and he put up a fight well above his weight class. Thanks to Scott Rose for putting me on this beautiful little guy!  Drop Scott a line if you want to chalk-up this species along with many other SFL canal inhabitants (http://www.peacockadventures.com/).

I’m thinking this is going to be a yearly trip for me.  Maybe a destination for a Rediscover Your Region Episode.

Here’s a quick blurb from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about this fish. Notice what it says about the sporting quality:

Midas Cichlid: Cichlasoma citrinellum

Appearance:
Has multiple color phases (or morphs) ranging from dull gray and black to orange, red, and even white; all young start off gray, looking much like small bluegill or Mayan cichlid, but most change to brightly-colored morphs, starting when they are about three inches long; a mottled coloration indicates a fish in transition; in Florida, more than 95% of adults greater than 10 inches are brightly colored, but this ratio is nearly reversed in their native range; males and females equally likely to be brightly colored; pronounced forehead nuchal hump associated with breeding present in some fish; like most other cichlids this one has broken lateral lines.
Range:
First discovered in Florida in July 1980, now common in the Black Creek and Cutler Drain canal systems in Miami-Dade County. Native range includes Atlantic slope of Nicaragua and Costa Rica where more common in lakes than rivers.
Habitat:
Prefers clear-water, box-cut canals with lots of shoreline crevices that they use to hide from predators.
Spawning Habitats:
Similar to other substrate spawning cichlids that provide biparental care; parents also produce a mucous body covering fed on by young; females mature by 7 inches and males by 8 inches; March through May appears to be the peak spawning season.
Feeding Habits:
Feed primarily on snails and other benthic material including aquatic insects, small fishes, and some plant and animal matter attached to or associated with submerged logs, leaves, rocks, etc.
Age and Growth:
Reaches just over a foot in length, and can weigh over 2.5 pounds; males tend to be larger than females.
Sporting Quality:
Rarely caught on hook and line, but can sometimes be aggravated into biting; no bag or size limits.
Edibility:
Little known, but probably good.

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Winter Vacation: A Quick Trip Down South

Like many Northerners in the middle of winter, images of sunny days, flip-flops, lighter beers, and warmer climes have been haunting me lately. That’s not to say that I don’t love our Buffalo, NY winters and the excellent fishing and other outdoor activities that accompany the season around here – I do – very much so. But sometimes, the shorter days and lack of sunlight can wear me down leaving me contemplating a quick escape. So…I acted on my urges.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is a personal goal of mine to catch a fish on the fly in all 50 states before I turn 50. In order to meet that goal, I have to average two states per year for the next 12 years. That’s not too tough but spreading the trips out to make them affordable and accommodating to the schedule of a guy with a family and guide service is the challenge. I was sitting around one cold eve, IPA in hand, when I saw a video called 29 Degrees NOLA. It consisted of over ten minutes of high quality fish porn featuring big bull redfish slamming top water flies. I looked over at my wife and said something like, “I haven’t chalked Louisiana yet, my love. Wanna do a trip?”

29 Degrees NOLA from Catch 1 Films on Vimeo.

I purchased plane tickets, booked the guide featured in the video, made the hotel reservations, etc. Shortly after making these arrangements, I found myself trolling Instagram where I noticed that some of the guides in South Florida had been catching some really nice peacock bass lately. My buddy Tony Lohr, of 85th Day Angling, had never caught a peacock bass so I asked him if he was down for a trip. Since he’s been suffering from the shack nasties lately as well, it didn’t take much convincing.

I adjusted my itinerary to go to South Florida for a couple days following my NOLA trip. What’s crazy about that was that it was actually cheaper for me to fly home through Fort Lauderdale vice leaving directly from NOLA – kinda ridiculous. That’s how the Winter Vacation itinerary came about – two spontaneous decisions that would involve 2 states and a multitude of species. Fingers crossed, it was all going to work out.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans in mind – mainly to test my resolve. When we arrived in NOLA, we were greeted with a 20-degree drop in temperatures, cloudy skies, and 15 MPH winds – none of which were forecasted to let up while we were there. Definitely not ideal for the sight fishing game.

Wind, Clouds, Cold – Not Ideal for Sight Fishing

Needless to say, we skunked. That happens sometimes – and that’s cool with me. When you fish long enough, you know the occasional skunking is inevitable – it keeps you humble, makes you step up your game, and brings you one day closer to that epic outing. If you keep your mind right, you should be having a good time regardless of how many fish you catch. A quality guide will ensure that happens and Capt. Brandon Keck didn’t disappoint. We had fun talking about the business and getting started while we raged around the NOLA flats seeking cover from the wind, clear water, and a break in the clouds – we didn’t find it.

He had a good backup plan that at least allowed me to sight fish – NOLA canal carping. It was tough business compared to our carp fishery here in WNY but we were successful. Brandon’s knowledge of the area’s eateries also provided us with numerous options for regional food. He made a few suggestions and we took his advice – IT WAS INCREDIBLE! Alligator cheesecake, crawfish, shrimp poboys, beer – I gained 5 lbs.

NOLA Canal Carping – You Can Find These Guys Everywhere and They Can Save a Trip

It was a great little trip but that was only the first half. I bid farewell to my wife at the NOLA airport and had my fingers crossed that the SFL forecast that I kept checking every hour would turn out better that projected. It did not. The same front that pushed across NOLA met us in SFL – wind, cold, and rain. Good times.

The Sky is Clearing! YES! A view from the Parking Ramp at the Hollywood Hard Rock Hotel and Casino

Luckily, that nastiness passed and the skies cleared up for us the following day but the cold wx did some damage. It was a struggle to find fish at first but we eventually got into some nice peacocks. Our guide, Capt Scott Rose, had a strong knowledge of the area so once we found the pattern we were on them (quick side note – Scott, Tony, and I all graduated from Sweetwater Travel Guide School. Three guides, from three different states, randomly came together – cool stuff). We pulled off into a random little lake where we saw some tailing carp. I site casted to one that looked more like a dinosaur. Easily over 30 lbs. See the video here (go to the 7 minute mark for the carp action).

The following day we hit the Everglades. What an amazingly diverse place – the birds, the terrain, the gators, and the fish. An incredibly beautiful location to wet a line. We connected to peacocks, largemouth bass, bowfin, cichlids, and gar – it was insane! Scott kept us connected all day and we had a blast.

The Bro Shot to Close Out the Day

 

Sweet Sunset – Evening Frogging

 

Tony’s First Gar OTF!

 

Another Bowfin

 

My First Bowfin Ever!

 

Another LMB taken on a frog

 

Gator! and that was a small one. We saw some over 10 ft!

 

The Terrain in the ‘Glades is So Cool

 

Little LMB Action – How Many Species is That?

 

Peas on the Fly!

 

The Stud of the Trip
Couldn’t do These Trips Without the Support of TFO
Photobombing Tony’s Nice Peacock
Tone with a Nice Pea
Midas Cichlid – so Photogenic
Look at the Colors!

What a winter break! I met some great guides who I will stay in touch with and I hatched some ideas for a future episode of Rediscover Your Region. Now – back to steelies! See you on the water.

Back to the Cold! Nice dusting as a Homecoming Gift!

Check out Capt Brandon Keck here:
http://www.southernflyexpeditions.com/
https://www.facebook.com/southernflyexpeditionslouisiana

Check out Capt Scott Rose here:
http://www.peacockadventures.com/meet-the-guide
https://www.facebook.com/scottrosefishing
https://www.instagram.com/scottrosefishing/

     

Re-Discover Your Region: Brookdog’s Breakout in Buffalo, NY

This video, Re-Discover Your Region, is the first of what will be a series of short videos that feature Western NY in its resurgent glory.  From local eateries, to spectacular scenery, to the diverse fisheries of the region, we will explore WNY from the air, land, and water and showcase the area in a new and exciting way.  Please enjoy and share!
Special thanks for video production goes out to Colton Wright.  He is a true artist and an extremely talented producer.  You can contact him at [email protected]  Additional thanks goes out to the Santa Lucia brothers at Santa Lucia Global, LLC for their outstanding drone work – they were critical to making all this come together.  You can reach them at www.santaluciaglobal.com.
Additional thanks goes out to:
Blane Chocklett – for mentorship and guidance
Big Ditch Brewery – for running a top notch establishment and proudly representing our hometown
Mossy Creek Fishing – for some of the flies featured in the film
Temple Fork Outfitters – for all the rods and some of the reels used
Flymen Fishing Company – for some of the flies featured in the film
Lamson Waterworks – for some of the reels used
Alumacraft Boats – for developing the ideal boat for our big water fisheries
Minn Kota Motors – we couldn’t do what we do without the Terrova iPilot
Mercury Outboards – for getting us where we need to go with a quickness
Simms Fishing Products – for keeping us comfortable and protected when we are on the water
Scientific Anglers – for producing the best lines for our year round fishery and multiple species
Cabelas – for outfitting us with various equipment from tackle to  our watercraft
For more details about our fishery and the options available to anglers and those interested in a fun day outside, please explore our seasons and species pages on our website.

Old Crow – Consistency Amidst a Nomadic Lifestyle

I’ve told this story to quite a few people over the years.  The other guy involved in this piece of non-fiction has been reading our blog posts and recommended I tell it – if for no other reason than entertainment value.  What will follow is a tale of exploration, getting off the grid, taking in breathtaking scenery…well, mostly this is a story about a nearly decade’s long relationship with what is now a mainstay on every camping and fishing trip.  From how this wonderful accompaniment in our adventures entered our lives to what it has come to symbolize and will continue to do so in the future, our companion represents continuity over an angling history that spans well over a dozen states and 3 times as many rivers.  “FINISH THE STORY, MAN!  WHAT ABOUT THE ___,” (share this post and message us with the word that fills in the blank and the movie from which this quote came and we’ll mail you some Brookdog swag.  Hint: I mention the guy who said this later in this article).  O.K., here is the story of our friend, Old Crow.

Before you start judging me, my routines, and the story that follows, allow me to drop a few disclaimers.  I am not a cheap bastard (although my family and close friends may tell you otherwise – I’m fiscally conservative).  I’m not an alcoholic but I AM blessed with the gift of high tolerance for anything that is brown in color and 80 proof.  I DO NOT endorse the irresponsible consumption of booze.  With that out of the way, please allow me to proceed. 

It was around 8 years ago, almost to the day, that a close friend of mine and I decided to go on a 10-day bender exploring Maine.  A couple months prior, both of us checked into a new unit (this was during my active duty days).  We met in our Executive Officer’s (second in command) office where we were regaling our new boss with our summertime adventures prior to our arrival in coastal NC.  I just returned from spending the better part of 2 weeks honing my angling skills and sleeping in the dirt on Yellowstone National Park’s fabled waters.   He just returned from a 30-day, 10,000-mile road trip around the U.S. hiking every National Park within reach.  I knew right away that this guy could hang so after we left the office I asked him, “How would you like to have a real reason for hiking?”

There was a brief debate about the purpose for hiking.  He was all about taking in the sites and gazing from picturesque peaks.  I related to this having done much of the same along various stretches of the Appalachian Trail.  I explained to him that although clearing my mind and connecting with nature on long, mindless walks was sometimes rewarding, I was often left wanting for something that challenged all my senses.  “Would you be interested in an activity that gives you everything you currently get from hiking and also rewards you with the opportunity to hold some nature’s living crowned jewels in your hand?”  I proceeded to lay it on thick by explaining this activity would turn into a passion and skill that would engage him on a never-ending path for learning and discovery.  A new fly fisherman was born.                   

He promptly purchased a 5wt and all the accessories required for a beginning angler.  I taught him how to cast around North Carolina, both in salt and freshwater.  With a little bit of confidence behind his belt, we started looking for an opportunity to take in the wonders of nature AND bring some of its slippery beauties to hand.  Maine in the fall was a natural choice.  By the way; make sure to read the state angling regulations before making a visit.  If we had, we would have realized that the Maine fishing season closes 1-Oct – we planned our trip over Columbus Day weekend.   Hmmm – how will we occupy our spare time?  With only hiking and taking in Maine’s wonderful fall foliage to fill our daily itinerary (I know, tough breaks), we decided to make the trip a little more hardcore by staying at backcountry campgrounds as often as possible and partaking in copious amounts of alcohol to facilitate the deepest of fireside conversations.

When we arrived in Maine, we went to the grocery store to stock up on provisions.  Much to our surprise, they sell hard alcohol in Maine grocery stores (I wish NY would move this route).  Both of shared a penchant for brown so we picked up a handle of the natural choice – Jack Daniels.  With what we thought was about a 7-day supply in the trunk, we pushed north from Portland, ME.  We stopped at the Freeport L.L. Bean store along the way just to see what it was all about and to pay respects to an industry flagship store before finally reaching our first stop – Khatadin.  We hiked and took hundreds of pictures over the next 3 days.  From what we heard from the locals, it was the best fall foliage in years.  Our fireside chats were deeply philosophical, as they often are when making a dent in a handle of brown.

 

Descending A Peak Near Khatadin
Descending A Peak Near Khatadin
Taking it All in Near Khatadin
Taking it All in Near Khatadin
Should've Read the Damn Regulations Prior to Showing Up! Looks greasy.
Should’ve Read the Damn Regulations Prior to Showing Up! Looks greasy.
Fall Foliage in ME - What a Sight to Behold
Fall Foliage in ME – What a Sight to Behold

On the fourth day, we pushed NW to the town of Jackman, ME, where we took a quick inventory of our supplies before pushing off on a 30+ mile canoe trip on the Moosehead River.  It was here that we realized we were out of booze.  “What?!” After only 3 days?  If you’ve never been to Jackman, it’s an old logging town with little in the way of grocery stores.  The only one in town was connected to a gas station and had things on the shelf we were sure had been there for years.  BUT – they had a liquor selection and perched on the middle shelf, a prime piece of grocery store real-estate, was a bottle featuring a black bird.  “Old Crow?,” I questioned.  Let me read the label and see what it’s all about.

“When Dr. James Crow invented the sour mash process in 1835, he revolutionized Kentucky bourbon making.  Old Crow soon became the world’s best selling bourbon.  Through the years, Old Crow has often been imitated but never duplicated.  Enjoy the true original.”  Quick aside – I just typed that from memory having read that label countless times since my original reading.  I, WAS, SOLD!  I quickly called my friend over to review the label with me.  With some disdain, he said something like, “Dude, that stuff’s dirt cheap.”  I immediately retorted, “That’s because they’ve been making this stuff for nearly 2 centuries so they have the process mastered to where they can afford to charge so little while remaining profitable.”  He looked at me as if I was insane but with few other options available, that bottle of Old Crow made it into our cart.

The canoe trip that followed was supposed to take 3 days but we finished it in 1.5.  On the first day, we battled some ridiculous conditions.  From sustained 15mph headwinds to long portages to pulling the canoe along railroad tracks, by the time set up camp we were in desperate need of nourishment and hard drink.  A quote from Hunter S. Thompson captured the moment well with, “Can I get to the bottle of Old Crow and mix it up with the remains of these ice fragments…a cool drink for the freak?”  With our stomachs full of bratamus maximus (another campfire staple that is a species of the bratwurst we’ll discuss in a follow on article) and a strong, soft-woods fire crackling, we cracked the bottle and before long, it was empty.  We haven’t been the same since.

WTF!!! After a long Paddle Across a Large Lake Against the Wind
WTF!!! After a long Paddle Across a Large Lake Against the Wind
What the Hell are You Guys Doing Here? An Owl Stares Down at us Along the Moosehead River
“What the Hell are You Guys Doing Here?” An Owl Stares Down at us Along the Moosehead River
Mama Bears - an Oasis in Jackman, ME. Best Breakfast Ever
Mama Bears – an Oasis in Jackman, ME. Best Breakfast Ever
A Little Foggy From a Bottle of Old Crow the Night Before, Mother Nature Rewards us with Serene Conditions - Moosehead River ME
A Little Foggy From a Bottle of Old Crow the Night Before, Mother Nature Rewards us with Serene Conditions – Moosehead River ME

The rest of the trip included a visit to Mount Washington, the White Mountains in NH, a float trip on the Androscoggin (NH didn’t have a closed season), and a couple nights in Acadia where we boiled fresh caught lobster and mussels over the fire.  We consumed Old Crow throughout.  We were never hung over and we bonded over philosophical conversations I don’t think would have emerged without the stuff.  Apparently, we are not alone in experiencing tendency for fireside philosophy facilitated by “the original.”  I read somewhere that Ulysses S. Grant drank crown throughout his Civil War campaigns and he arouse victorious.  I’m not implying that Old Crow was responsible but surely it had to help.  Right?

White Mountain Waterfalls
White Mountain Waterfalls
White Mountains
White Mountains
One of the Many Mom-and-Pop Diners we Visited
One of the Many Mom-and-Pop Diners we Visited
Acadia National Park - The End of a Bender to Remember
Acadia National Park – The End of a Bender to Remember
First NH Fish - Androscoggin Brown
First NH Fish – Androscoggin Brown

Old Creezy, as we now call it, has made an appearance at our campsites all over the country, capping off days of fishing for trout, bass, musky, carp, and more.  It has come to symbolize consistency in a nomadic lifestyle that is anything but normal.  I am willing to bet that many our fellow vagabonds have something similar that’s ever-present on their trips and we’d love to hear about them.  If you can’t relate to all of this, I’m sorry, but there’s probably a twinge of envy swimming around your head.  Don’t worry, if you go on enough benders and you make it a priority to get out there, something will surface.

 

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