This quick clip I shot with my Okuma Water Wolf Camera shows how incredibly fast a striped bass can go on the attack. It’s also interesting to note that he comes to the bait head on, but decides to eat to from behind…
So often we talk and write about the destination…but frequently the journey to the fishing grounds is the true story. Don’t believe me? Well, then just think for a moment on all the stuff you’ve done in your life to get to the fish: Some of it was probably not exactly what you’d call safe. Some was physically grueling and some of it was straight up fun.
This is a tribute to the journey: To all the rapids run and river crossings that were just at the top of your waders. To the miles hiked and rough water poundings. To the brilliant sunsets, calm waters and the epic adventures that make this sport so awesome. This is a tribute to Getting There.
Is there anything better than blazing across glassy water at dawn? The anticipation of what the day holds is almost too much to stand, so you slam the throttle all the way open so you can get there just a bit faster. Unfortunately, these beautiful quiet moments are usually forgotten as soon as you get to where you are going and the lines are in…well, until the next morning anyway.
Perhaps more than any other method of transportation, small inflatables enhance “the journey is the adventure” concept. Man, some of the things we’ve done in these things would give the manufactures’ legal teams nightmares if they only knew. But what fun! And in some spots, personal rafts and pontoons are the only way to get there.
Alaskan backcountry jet boating in a little jonboat that could run on a wet lawn is one of my favorite things to do on this planet. Arm yourself with couple rods, a shotgun, a shovel and a chainsaw and go find the source of some creek. The “getting there” part is guaranteed to be more fun than the actual fishing!
Sometimes getting back is all you can think about. Maybe the dreaded north wind blew 35 freezing knots all day, the fish didn’t bite and now you have to beat your way right into the teeth of it to get home. It’s funny how it always seems that, after one of those long, cold, wet rides home you pull into the harbor and the wind lies
down and you think “well, that wasn’t so bad.” And that’s exactly how you end up back out on the water the very next day.
It’s something most sane people wouldn’t understand…but the allure of catching chrome far outweighs the risk of encountering something that’s higher up the food chain. Never mind that steaming pile of droppings in the middle of the path and the still flopping salmon missing its belly on the bank…there probably aren’t any grizzlies around here…right? Here, the journey involves some edgy nerves and, often, a heavily pounding heart.
We all have those “I’m lucky I made it through that” moments and several of mine had to do with crossing raging rivers in chest waders and praying my next step out in the middle of the channel actually hits tierra firma before I fill up and get sucked down the deadly rapids below. And then there were those brutal hikes through the snow with felt soles…if you’ve done it you know what I’m talking about! Hiking and waders isn’t a great combination…but it usually means I’m headed somewhere cool.
I’ve been on some float trips in which the portages outnumbered the fish. It’s funny how those trips seem so brutal when you’re there…but often become the most fondly remembered adventures after some time passes and the memory of the pain fades… “There we were, dragging the boat around anything Mother Nature threw at us…we couldn’t be stopped.”
The journey is truly a thrill when you find a secret honey hole that takes a little creative driving to get to.
It is rare that I get super fired up about a new rod company these days. After all, there are a bunch of manufacturers producing a mind-boggling number of quality sticks.
Aside from cosmetics and subtle tweaks, it’s hard to keep track. Blindfolded, I’d be hard pressed to tell one manufacturer’s offering from another. Anymore, it kinda comes down to the classic ol’ Ford vs. Chevy argument — pick one of the top end brands and you are going to be fine.
That all changed for me, however, when I was introduced to the amazing lineup from relative newcomer Douglas Outdoors. Based along the shores of the Salmon River in New York, they’ve been in the fly market for awhile but the new conventional offerings blew my mind.
Designed by veteran salmon and steelhead guide, bass pro and globetrotting angler, Fred V. Contaoi, the X-Matrix series are the lightest, most sensitive rods I have ever fished with. Period.
Those properties come from the fact that the rods are constructed from super high modulus graphite. Typically, the problem with high end graphite is that it is very brittle. It’s awesome to fish with but rods tend to break easily.
The real magic to these beautiful instruments that Contaoi has crafted for Douglas is that they are built with a proprietary, space age resin that allows them to remain light and vibrant while being also very durable. While there are no rods that are “unbreakable,” these babies are amazingly tough.
This sweet combination of strength and sensitivity sets these sticks apart from all others on the market. The first time I tied one, it was almost disconcertingly light. Used to having much more weight in my hand, it took a little while to get accustomed to the feel. Once I got used to how feather light the X-Matrix was I knew there’d be no going back. I was, pun intended, “hooked!”
That first day, I caught a steelhead that I feel I wouldn’t have hooked up with any other rod. It’s hard to describe but I swear I felt the fish breathe on my bait before he ever picked it up. That, of course, got me thinking about all the other uses for such a light and sensitive tool!
Contaoi has personally designed each rod from the ground up and has overseen the production in the factory, constantly making sure each action is perfect and that the guide placement and handle balance are exact. That’s what also attracted me to Douglas: I can see the heart and soul that went into these rods. The blood, sweat and tears have been considerable on Contaoi’s part, but the end product is amazing.
He’s got rods for everything, too: a very thorough bass section and an impressive array of technique specific salmon and steelhead sticks. But that’s just the beginning…there are X-Matrix rods that will cover species from trout to sturgeon and beyond.
Douglas’ X-Matrix rods are not inexpensive, ranging in the $300 range (but oh so worth it!). But if you are like me, buying a quiver full of rods in that price range isn’t happening anytime soon. Luckily, Contaoi has also designed a lineup of rods for the company that are aimed at the more budget minded angler.
The LRS (Lake, River, Sea) series has a bunch of really cool multi species rods that have great feel and lack of weight. I’m very impressed with these as well. Somehow Contaoi and Douglas figured out how to make a really high end rod without the accompanying price tag.
What’s cool too is there are many models in the lineup that could serve as multi-species sticks. My current favorite, which I used for most of my salmon season on the Trinity River is the LRS C835M (which I know for sure they sell at Redwood Marine in Eureka).
Its’s an 8-foot, 3-inch casting rod rated for 14- to 25-pound line. It made an awesome plug stick for salmon and would be a hot one for trolling for stripers as well. The slow tip and solid backbone also make it perfect for sturgeon fishing as well as drifting bait for halibut. Pretty sweet, especially when you consider they run about $168 if I remember correctly.
Well, anyway, you get the point. I’m impressed as heck with Douglas. Check em out for yourself on the web at: www.douglasoutdoors.com.
The massive bass (don’t you guys call ’em rockfish back there?) weighed about as much as 8 limits worth of California stripers…or exactly 62.5 pounds!
I didn’t catch what he caught the fish on, one that big may have eaten a German Shepherd, a full-sized goat, two kindergarteners or maybe a Prius.
In any case, that’s one heck of a striper!
They haunt your dreams and gnaw at your soul. They keep you awake in the wee hours and make your chest hurt when you think too much about them. You’ll remember them – like it was yesterday – as long as you live.
I am, of course, talking about the ones that got away.
It sounds kinda crazy, but it’s those encounters with massive fish that spat the hook or busted off that you think about even more than the ones you landed. I guess you could say that it is “better to have loved and lost than never loved at all,” but I’m not totally sure. Some of ‘em still hurt really, really badly…
The say misery loves company, so here are a few stories to make you feel not so alone in your grieving of the ones that got away…
A monster lurks
The one that still sticks in my craw took place a couple years ago on my home stream, the American River near Sacramento. It was a couple days before Christmas and buddy Tim Reilly and I got a kitchen pass from holiday chores, so we decided to wet a line for steelies.
With only a couple hours to spare, we left the boat at home and opted instead for wading a couple productive riffles where my clients had been catching good numbers of small fall-run steelhead in the 3- to 5-pound class on recent guide trips. Armed with light spinning gear, slinkies and small egg clusters, we worked the upper spot without incident and then decided to move downstream.
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