Monday, February 16, 2015

NWTF Show 2015

Ever since I learned last spring that the NWTF show was held in Nashville, I had made plans to go this year.  Additionally, I wanted to make it a three generation trip by taking my dad and my 6-yr old son.  So, as the time drew near the anticipation began to build, but surprisingly the most excited was probably my son.  We arrived in Nashville on Thursday afternoon and got checked into the timeshare and the convention.  Unfortunately the exhibit hall had not yet opened, so all we could do was look at the taxidermy competition entries on display.  Since this was my first time at the convention I didn't really know what to expect regarding the crowd and how busy it would be. The wife and I have been to Opryland hotel numerous times before, and because of this I know that while the restaurant choices are plentiful the prices are pretty excessive.  So, we opted to head down the street to a steakhouse (at my son's choice) and found ourselves in a waiting area surrounded by hunters.  Once we were seated I scanned the dining room and found that everybody in the room was either wearing camo or clothing with a hunting manufacturer logo on it.  I do admit that was pretty neat to be in an environment where everybody around you shared a similar passion and were not ashamed to show it.

The next morning we decided to head on over to the hotel about 30 minutes before the exhibit hall opened and grab some breakfast.  Once again thanks to a previous trip there, I knew of a little out of the way pastry shop in the hotel where we grabbed a tasty and fast breakfast.

After breakfast we slowly made our way into the exhibit hall, and the first thing we saw was all the tables featuring the custom made turkey call competition.  I didn't expect to see that, and the craftsmanship in some of these is outstanding.
One of the decorative call entries

Dad carefully studying them
I would estimate that we spent probably the first hour looking at these entries, and had no idea how much more there was in store for us.  The exhibit hall was filled with the constant sound of yelps, cuts, gobbles, etc. that set the mood for the area.  Booths were lined one after the other with small mom-n-pop call manufacturers, accessory suppliers, food condiment producers, and exotic species guide services.  Then we began to transition from the small startup company booths to the major players in the industry such as Flextone, Primos, Zink Calls, HS Strut, etc.  What I found surprising was that many of the small companies that manufactured custom calls were not charging much more than many of the major manufacturers.  Another surprise was how many suppliers were selling their products, and many of them were selling them at a pretty good reduction off of MSRP.
Trey checking out the Avian-X decoys
One thing my son had been excited about during the week leading up to the trip was meeting Jana Waller from Skull Bound TV.  Before Knology dropped the Sportsman Channel, this was probably his favorite outdoor show.  While wandering around the Avian-X booth he saw her walk by, and we were off to track her down.  When he caught up with her she was so extremely friendly and took time talking to him and even asked for a photo.
Trey and Jana Waller of Skull Bound TV
After meeting Jana we continued to walk around and came across a really interesting booth that featured barnwood mounting plaques for deer and turkey.  The company was called Custom Barnwood Plaques.  They are a small company located in TN and I highly recommend looking at their products if you are looking for an interesting way to display that turkey fan or skull mount.  They also make some very interesting furniture pieces, and their prices are incredibly reasonable.  I especially like their three skull euro mount plaque, very unique and attractive.
One of their triple fan and multi-beard plaques
We poked around for a few more hours checking out some of the guide services and admiring the taxidermy on display. 

By about 2:30 Trey starting getting tired, so we decided to call it a day and go back to the room to get ready for an early dinner treat.  On the way out, he posed for a photo by some interesting mounts featuring eastern and oscellated turkey displays.

I had planned a little dinner treat for my dad and Trey.  For years my dad and I would drive out to Dickson, TN every weekend during gun season and hunt from Friday through Sunday.  We did this basically every weekend during gun season between my ages of 10 and 17.  It was a great time, and it has been 17 years since I last took a trip out there.  Every trip we would stop to eat at this little catfish joint appropriately named Twin Lakes Catfish Kitchen for all you can eat spicy catfish, coleslaw, white beans, hush puppies, and fries.  So, we made the one hour drive from the Opryland Hotel to the restaurant and enjoyed one of the tastiest catfish comfort food meals I have had in a long time.  It was just like I remembered, and I will not wait another 17 years before I return.

After than large meal we went back to the hotel and crashed for the night.  The next morning we weren't in a hurry so we took our time loading the car before heading back to Opryland.  That was a mistake, because the crowd between Friday and Saturday had probably tripled.  It was difficult to walk amongst the mass of people, and on future trips I plan to just make a whole day of it on Friday and avoid Saturday.  That being said, there were still deals to be had as some suppliers had marked down their prices from what they were on Friday.  We spent most of the morning on Saturday at the Flextone/Tenzing/Plano booth where I picked up a few items at a discount and walked around the small custom call booths where many of the people took time trying to show Trey how to use various friction calls.
Trey picked out his Christmas present for 2015
Shortly afterward Trey asked to go see Jana Waller again, for the third time now.  Amazingly she called him by name as soon as she saw him and gave him another big hug.  I am very appreciative of the fact that while she signed numerous autographs those two days she remembered his name and took time to talk with him multiple times.

She is a class act, as was Steve Tittsworth from Greenback Tactical Hunters. Ironically I met Steve a week prior to the convention when I purchased a hunting jacket from him on Facebook.  When I walked up to the Orca booth to say hi Jana was standing beside him and she immediately intercepted me and proceeded to introduce Steve to Trey and I.  Steve and I let her in on the fact the we had previously met, and I got a little chuckle out of it.  Another TV personality I had some interaction with and I found very interesting was Eddie Salter (The Turkey Man on Sportsman Channel). 

This was a great convention and we are already making plans for a return trip next year.  Now that we know how things work, I will be more prepared.  I will definitely bring a backpack (something I didn't do until Saturday this year) and spend all day Friday 9AM to 7PM at the exhibit hall and avoid Saturday's crowds.  I also think Amy would enjoy attending as there were lots of arts and craft type exhibits, not to mention the detailed craftsmanship involved in making the calls.

I would also like to take this opportunity to point out some additional booths that I thought featured some of the most innovative products at this years show:
  • Fanatic Outdoors - Hammock Seat is very innovative
  • Tenzing Packs - Packs that are innovative both from functionality and materials
  • Orion Coolers - Based in Sparta, TN and I think offer a better feature set than Yeti or Orca.  If you are looking for a high end cooler give these guys a look, I think you will be pleased.
  • Avian-X - These guys aren't new comers to the turkey hunting game, but their decoys set the standard for lifelike and portable decoys.
  • Dad's Custom Calls - It was hard to pick one manufacturer, but I think I liked these guys the best.  They are a small business and they have some interesting products including the tiny peg & slate call. 
Trey checking out a DSD jake decoy while I eyeballed the new Sitka gear hanging above it

Sunday, November 30, 2014

2014 Season Short Film: The Rut Is On

Below is a short video compilation of three days of hunting the week of Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Clinch River Update 9.20.2014

For the past few months I have heard many reports about how much of a negative impact the stripers are having on the trout population on the Clinch.  I thought it seemed logical because the last three or four trips I have made to the Clinch resulted in low trout/hr catch rates.  However, deer season opens next weekend, so if I didn't make it out this week it could be a while before I return.

I got a late start to the morning after sleeping in, but was surprised to find the river virtually empty when I arrived at 9:30.  I took my time getting ready, and worked my way downstream to one of my favorite runs.  I saw some little brown caddis hatching, and it wasn't long before I was into fish.  In fact, the fish were so active I landed 6 rainbows in my first 20 minutes (almost 20 casts as well).  The first one was a little 7" dink, but the next 5 were in the 11 - 12" range.

First little guy
12" bow

Then, things suddenly stopped.  All I could attribute it to was the fact that the fog had completely burned off, and now the sunlight was bright on the water.  Thankfully, after about 30 minutes the trout adjusted and were back at again.  Unfortunately, apparently everybody decided to float the Clinch today, and for the next 30 minutes I was dodging canoes and kayaks.  I would hook a fish, then a kayak would float through and shut everything down for a few minutes.

I had 4 boats, FOUR OF THEM, float right through the run I was fishing in.  Please note that this run was only about 10 yards wide by 15 yards wide, whereas the river is probably 75+ yards wide at this location...  Only one of the four boats apologized for drifting through on me, and he actually told me to just get ready as there were about 20 other boats behind him coming around the bend.  I managed to hook another couple of fish before I was interrupted again, and chose to call it a day.  As I was getting out of the water, I saw the first of a couple of drift boats coming around the corner.  However, the sulfurs were just starting to hatch, and the fish were very active.  You read that right, sulfurs on the Clinch in September!  Craziness!!!

My take-away from today's trip is that apparently the stripers have not damaged the trout population as severely as I had been lead to believe, as my hourly average was 5 fish/hr (10 trout in 2 hours)...  I will take those numbers any time of the year, and actually those are the highest Clinch catch rates I have had since 2010 when I had some 30+ fish days.  No big trout landed today, but I did see some large buttery brown heads poking out every now and again.  Thankfully, I only missed two strikes (that I saw) all morning, and only had one long distance release.  I feel extremely blessed to have the opportunity to get out today and have so much success, especially considering I had not wet a line since June.

Flies of the Day: #18 BHPT and #20 olive zebra midge.
Catch Rate: 5 fish/hr
Gear used:  Orvis Zero Gravity 8'-6" 5-wt, Orvis Mid-Arbor reel, Rio Grand fly line, SeaGuar FX 7X tippet

Monday, August 25, 2014

Outdoor companies, whose side are they on?

Back in December of 2013 I did a little write-up about an experience I had here in Knoxville at a local outdoor store where somebody got offended that I mentioned using a name brand outdoor line as a supplement to my hunting gear.  Below is the link:

http://tnfishingfanatic.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-outdoorsmans-conumdrum.html

While perusing a hunting forum that I check out from time-to-time I came across a little study that somebody did on an issue very similar to this.  I found it interesting, although not entirely shocking for some of the responses.  Below is the link to another blog post where the author wrote an email to various outdoor companies and requested they provide their stance on hunting.  Give it a look, I think you will find it interesting...

http://thewesternbounty.com/we-support-them-do-they-stand-behind-us/

I am proud to say that I have lots of Big Agnes gear, and this just helps enforce my opinion of them going forward.  Also, I must say that I was a little bothered by Under Armour's response considering they have such an extensive line of hunting clothing and gear.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

South Holston Fish Camp

Back in my younger days, before kids were in the picture, we would do at least one fish camp trip per year if not more.  During that time we discovered a little jewel of a location up on the South Holston River, that allowed us to camp right on the river with access to some phenomenal midge and sulfur hatch water.  Unfortunately, two years ago I discovered that the property owner had passed away, and the property was in the middle of some legal and insurance disputes.  So, I figured that my opportunity to go back to this place was long gone.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the original owner's daughter was trying to commercialize the farm and allow camping.  I looked up her website, and saw that she had implemented a whole new pricing structure and that she had lost a large parcel of river frontage in the aftermath of the death.  Regardless, I was seriously needing to get away for a couple of days for some serious fishing before turkey season starts up.

Buzz and I made the drive up on Thursday after taking the afternoon off work.  It was a beautiful sunny day with temps in the 60's.  When we arrived at the river we had it all to ourselves and there was a nice little midge hatch coming off with the sporadic Baetis emerging.  About 30 minutes after I arrived Buzz pulled in, and the temptation to fish was too great.  So, we abandoned some of the camp setup procedure and got geared up to hit the water.  

I made my way upstream to a section of river that I enjoy fishing, and started swinging a Baetis soft hackle with a BHPT dropper.  Within a couple of minutes I had a tug on the end of my line and pulled in my first colorful brown trout.  Little did I know this would be the largest trout of my trip at right around 12".  

I immediately began to question my decision to leave my DSLR back in the car instead of bring it with me, as the sunlight glare was not allowing me to capture the bright coloration of the fish.  

I fished for probably another hour before going back to camp to get my dry fly box, which I also left in the car.  While at camp the property owner came by and I spent a lot of time there talking to her about how much things had changed and her plans for the property going forward.  All this time Buzz continued to fish and bring in some trout for himself.  

Eventually, the beautiful day lead way to the evening and the fishing began to slow.  Although the sunset was very nice.

The weather forecast had showed a high of 65 on Thursday, and an overnight low of 43 degrees.  However, as we sat around the fire roasting our sausage dogs we began to question the accuracy of that forecast as it began to get cold quickly.  We both got a little chilled during the night, and I discovered that my Big Agnes Insulated Air Core pad had gone down to about 1/3 full which allowed cold air to come up from beneath me through my MH Ultralamina 15 bag.  This was not because of a leak, but the reduction of air volume as a result of the cold temps.  When we rolled out of our bags Friday morning around 7:30 we discovered that everything was blanketed with a hard frost, and learned that the temps had dropped down into the 20's!  Also there was a large smoke cloud coming from just across the mountain, and appeared to be up near the lake.


Buzz quickly got a fire going to help with the chill and get some hot water for breakfast.

Breakfast of Champions
The river was still high from the pulse, so we just fished from the bank near camp.  Surprisingly Buzz found a nice little pod of young brownies willing to take his offering.

Once the water came down I took Buzz downstrean to another previously productive area, and we found the motherlode of trout sitting in a small depression about 10' in diameter.  We probably landed between 15 and 20 trout out of that one hole.  


After wearing out this pod of fish we went back to camp for a quick lunch, and the fish in front of camp continued to take midges while we ate.  While we ate we watched a couple of other people get on the water and begin to fish in front of camp, so we chose to go upstream and fish some other water.  Not only did the water look fantastic, the overall scenery was not too shabby either.

You can barely see Buzz in the photo on the far right of the picture.  He got into a pod of fish up there and probably caught 12 to 15 out of that one little run, with rarely a fishless cast in between.  It was quite a display.  So, he invited me to come on up and give it a go, and I managed to pick up a few like this guy as well.

Eventually our backs and eyes began to hurt after so many hours of fishing, and I imagine Buzz's arm was starting to get sore after catching probably 40 fish by this time.  So, we went back to camp for a snack and to just relax.  During that time we continued to question the smoke just over the mountain top, so we decided to drive up to the dam and see if we could see what it was.

It turns out that the forestry service was doing a controlled burn over an area greater than 3,800 acres.  By far the largest controlled burn I have seen in my lifetime, and quite impressive considering the gusty winds we had experienced all day long.  We then returned to camp and found the river all to ourselves again, and fish taking midges in front of us was too tempting.  So we geared up and went back after them.  Once again, Buzz had the magic fly that the fish were just crazy over.  I picked up a couple here and there, but his midge was easily collecing 5 fish to my 1, if not more in some spots.  Upon later examination, while I thought we were fishing the same fly as we both referred to it by the same name, it turns out that his fly was significantly different than mine.  Needless to say, I will be tying up some just like this for future trips, as it obviously was what they preferred.  I have had days like that on the South Holston before where the trout were so selective that they would only take a #22 stripper midge with a brown bead.  If I tried using a #22 stripper with a black bead, my strike rate would easily be reduced to 1/3 or less...  This trip Buzz had the fly and the technique that allowed him to have a phenomenal day on the water.  I would guess his fish count at somewhere around 50 for Friday alone.

By the time dinner came around we were both exhausted, but I had planned something different for dinner that night.  Original plans was for there to be 3 or 4 of us on this trip, but David Knapp was unable to make it and my other buddy Dave had to cancel at the last minute for personal reasons.  However, I had planned to make deer steak fajitas for everybody, and I was going to make them for Buzz and I.

The final product turned out pretty good if I do say so myself.  Although, next time I will tenderize and marinate the meat at home so it may be a little better for fajitas.

That night we both slept extremely peacefully, and the temps only got down to probably the mid 30's so we were much more comfortable.  Buzz actually got a little warm in his sleeping arrangement, and for the record that was the largest sleeping pad I have ever seen...  :)  Saturday morning we woke up to smoke choked valley and increasing cloud cover.  Also, apparently TVA had changed the generation schedule from what we thought it was supposed to be and our fishing chances were dramatically limited.  So we chose to just break down camp and start our drive back to Knoxville.  All-in-all it was a very nice trip, with lots of fish brought to hand.  I really wish David and Dave could have made the trip as well, and Buzz and I found ourselves joking the first evening about WWDKD (what would David Knapp do) while trying to figure out what they were taking.  Unfortunately, this camping area has dramatically declined from what it used to be.  The area available for camping is easily 1/3 of what it originally was, and there is no longer a bathroom.  While this would not normally be a concern, it is when you consider that you are camping basically in the middle of a field with houses on both sides of you.  So, you can't just go do your business anywhere.  Additionally, there is no longer running water available at the campsite, unless you want to do your dishes in river water...  Although, these inconveniences may be too much for some people, I think the proximity to the river with quality water nearby outweighs these negatives.

I hope you have enjoyed this report, and stay tuned for more reports.  Turkey season opens this coming weekend, and I hope to have some early reports from those trips with my two kids to share with you.  Until next time, tight lines and God bless.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March Father-Son Camping Trip

I thought I would share a few pictures from my recent father-son camping trip in the Smokies a couple of weeks ago.  I try to do a couple of these trips with Trey each year, and as he gets older I am going to try and do even more of them.  He really enjoys our little trips, as he always has lots of questions about the animals, plants, and rocks...  I try to answer as many of those as I can, but sometimes he asks questions that requires me to do a little research and respond later.  So, in a way we both have an educational experience as well..  I hope you enjoy!

The weather was beautiful
We did a little fishing
Trey caught his first trout on a fly
Spent a little time sitting by the fire
Trey's favorite camping meal - sausage dogs
You can't take a kid camping without smores
We woke up to a chilly 35 degree morning, but Trey didn't complain
Even Trey's animals wanted to be near the fire...
A warm bowl of oatmeal was comforting
Trey enjoying the scenery

Felt like we had the place to ourselves, so nice to not have to deal with the hoards of tourists
Signs of Spring....
The number one sign of Spring I have been waiting for!
I typically avoid Cades Cove like the plague, however this weekend just prior to the start of Spring Break was quite nice.  Crowds were extremely low, and the campgound was not busy at all.  Unfortunately, we did manage to have a couple of large RV's pull in beside us and fire up their generators for hours.  Trey kept walking around saying "I wish they would turn that noise off!  What are they doing over there?".  I had to explain to him that camping means different things to different people, and although we don't camp that way other people do.  Those of you who know me know that I personally don't care for large RV's and despise generators when camping.  In the words of Jase Robertson "Once you bring something with wheels and that's enclosed, you are no longer camping.  You're parking!"  I completely agree!  However, in an attempt to not bias his opinion one way or the other, I tried to keep my opinion out of the discussion.

I hope you enjoyed the photo post, and my next post will be about a South Holston River trout fish camp trip.  Stay tuned!

19" Clinch River Brown