March 31, 2014

A Plea For Help - Save Our Wild Puffer Balls!

The wild puffer ball.  A unassuming creature, one that has joyfully entertained children for years with its googly eyes, squishy body, and unique ability to transform shape when handled.

Puffer balls entertaining children - life as it should be

Unfortunately, the wild puffer ball has not fared so well in recent years.  Fly fishermen have taken to retail store shelves and purchased untold quantities of wild puffers, with the sole intention of harvesting their tentacles for fly tying materials.  As recently as yesterday, a post by angler and guide Kent Klewein on the popular fly fishing blog Gink & Gasoline preached the virtues of puffer ball tentacles in fly tying, adding yet another example of the harmful use of wild puffer balls that had previously been running rampant on underground social media outlets such as forums, Facebook, and Instagram.

A wild puffer ball tentacle used for fly tying


Collapsing Populations

As a result of this fly fishing subculture, wild puffer ball populations have collapsed to all time record lows.  The chart below shows steady population levels among wild puffer balls through the first decade of the 2000s.  The sudden drop in wild puffers, especially those pink in color, is a recent phenomenon corresponding directly to the rise in popularity of "Squirmy Wormie" flies (also known as the "San Ron Worm") being first utilized by fly fishermen.


Extensive scientific research at the University of Mississippi State Tech in 2012 proved that wild puffer balls did not react well to the harvest of their tentacles.  The study found that the tentacles do not regenerate leaving the ball bald, stressed, and undesirable as a mate to puffer balls of the opposite gender.  Additionally, in 17 of 20 cases, the open sores left behind from harvest led to fatal infection.


Unsuccessful Breeding Programs / Show Me The Money

What do do?  With the surge in demand, many traditional fly tying material companies such Whiting Farms have been racing to breed genetically modified puffer balls that yield more tentacles - a solution that if kept separate, would take strain off the wild population.

While this research has been somewhat successful, Whiting has yet to yield the results they were seeking, as the genetically-altered, farm raised puffer balls on average have only had a life expectancy of 4.2 months, far too young for tentacle length to reach a mature, harvestable length.

Immature farm raised puffer balls

In many circles, there are also some concerns about what might happen if the lab-created puffer balls ever did interact with the genetically pure, wild populations.  As anglers, we need look no further than the wild vs. farmed salmon debate to illustrate these concerns.

In researching this story, I reached out to several retailers currently offering wild puffer balls in their stores.  As of today's running of the article, requests to Walmart, Target, Amazon.com, and Dollar Tree have gone unanswered.  Only Dollar General, the retailer featured in the Gink & Gasoline blog post offered the following statement:

"We at Dollar General do not rest in our mission to provide our customers with quality merchandise at low prices.  While we are concerned by the recent reports that the puffer balls on our shelves are being misused by a small segment of our customer base, both wild and farm raised puffer balls will remain available for sale as we conduct our own internal investigation."

A Dollar General display of wild puffer balls


The Fly Fishing Demographic

Why?  Why are we as fly anglers putting such pressure on wild puffer ball populations?  Are we that destitute that we need to roam the aisles of Dollar General to acquire fly tying supplies?

Ronald Cheapswill, Marketing Manager for Pabst Brewing Company offered this insight on the fallacy of "value conscious" fly fishermen.

"We've been trying to figure out the fly fishing demographic for several years without much success.  Most claim to love obscurely named I.P.A.s [India Pale Ales], yet they also claim to love our product for its friendly price-point.  Strangely most also insist that the only acceptable way to cool their "value" Pabst Blue Ribbons to drinking temperature is to keep them on ice inside $500 unbreakable coolers.  I guess it only makes sense that they would find it appropriate to raid dollar stores for inexpensive fly tying supplies to use in conjunction with their $700 rods and $300 reels."

Image Lifted from Mystic Waters Fly Fishing - Angler identity concealed for his safety

Furthermore, noted fly tyer Sir Charles vonBarkley opined, "Any knucklehead knows you can't call yourself a real fly fisherman if you tie a rubber worm on your hook.  That's turrible.  You might as well use Powerbait."

Many conservation minded groups have also begun to rally behind the plight of the puffer ball.  Spokesmen Dr. Woody the Cowboy and Buzz Lightyear Esq. from Toys for the Ethical Treatment of Toys (T.E.T.T.) have found that the cases of puffer ball abuse are now at an all time high.

"We thought we had put a stop to toy mutilations in 1995 via our awareness campaign during the original Toy Story film - when we gave the creepy neighbor kid the "scared straight" treatment - but a recent surge in gruesome puffer ball dismemberment has gotten our attention and needs to be immediately halted.  If our friend Ken was anatomically correct, I shudder to think of his fate in the hands of anglers such as Mr. Ashlin or Mr. Klewein."



Our Children (& Our Sport) Are At Stake

Outside of trying to keep the wild puffer ball population from reaching endangered species status (or worse), one overlooked group in this equation are our children.

Kris Trap, National Director of Communications for Trout Unlimited noted the concern that much like a feeding trout, lies just beneath the surface of this situation.

"Trout Unlimited has partnered with the fly fishing industry for years via many different grassroots initiatives in order to recruit the next generation of conservation-minded fly fisherman.  What lesson does our conduct toward wild puffer balls teach these children?  I have to be honest, I'm personally concerned about creating a backlash in our younger generation toward fly fishing.  I'd hate to turn off  fly fishers of the future when they learn that anglers are the primary reason why there are no puffer balls for them to play with." 


Anita Sassoon, heiress to the Vidal Sassoon fortune, reached out to Troutrageous! when she learned about the research taking place for this article.  As a fly fisherman I'm reluctant to print her words as they are very pointed and painful to read, but many sacrifices are necessary in the interest of wild puffer ball preservation.  Per Ms. Sassoon:

"The recent conduct of fly fishermen is saddening and highly hypocritical.  A few short years ago they attacked the salon and hair care industries for accelerating its use of feathers as a hair accessory, a product which they also use to tie flies for fishing.  However today, they do not hesitate pillaging the toy boxes of children to appease their own selfish fly tying needs.  In simple terms, they are taking toys directly from the hands of our youth; it's appalling and borderline abusive to both puffer balls and children."


The Wild Puffer Ball's Future Is In Your Hands

Without your support in raising awareness to its plight, the future of the wild puffer ball does not look good.  As a conservation-minded angler, my only ask is that we all consider our actions when entering stores such as Dollar General in the future.  Not everything needs to be applied to fly fishing.  Yes, inanimate objects such as foam sheets or tinsel can be purchased from the craft aisle in good conscience, but your decision to leave the puffer ball in the bin for a deserving child to purchase may not only save that species from certain extinction, but it may just preserve the future of our sport as well.

Save The Wild Puffer Ball

March 29, 2014

The Opening Day of Trout Season Retrospective Post - aka The 2014 Opener That Wasn't

Today is opening day of trout season in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania actually has two opening days, one for the Southeast, and one for the rest of the state...further proof that Southeastern PA and South Jersey should secede from their respective states, absorb Delaware and become the new state of Rendellphia, but I digress...


This is the first year in quite a few that I won't be making the opening day of Pennsylvania trout season.  Makes me a little sad...not because the fishing is epic or anything (I prefer an 8" wild trout to a 18" stocked trout any day), I just miss the theatrics...the shoulder to shoulder fishing, the anticipation of an imaginary 8AM alarm to toss in the first line, and the eavesdropping while your neighbors debate the merits of wax worms vs. Powerbait vs. corn niblets...  It's akin to being at a very public place - airport, restaurant, etc... and just "people watching."  Yeah, I sound a bit snobby, but even I leave the fly rod at home on opening day...it's one of those days to scratch a spinning rod / inline spinner itch.

So with no opener down here in Florida, I thought I'd link to some of the previous years' posts.  Note, with this blog starting in June of 2007, there are no records of openers 2006 and older...which sort of sucks...but whatever...

2007
(My second blog post ever in June 2007, no pictures)

2008
(A written account, no pictures)

2009
(Evidently, also the year the camera was invented)

2010
(My friend Mutt with a pig)

2011
(Ponch & John made an appearance)

2012
(Trout Island)

2013
(Somewhat uneventful)

March 28, 2014

Fishing For Groups on Facebook

Having "blogger's block" sucks.  I really don't have much to write, haven't all week, I'm just tired of seeing that last Bassmaster post sit stagnant on my blog.

Since I don't have much to say, perhaps I can send you to the Bass on the Fly group page on Facebook.  It's an "open" group, so anyone can check it out.  It's worth stopping by, there's some pretty rad stuff being posted there, although not so much by me (yet).


Or... I guess you could always come visit my lame Florida Tenkara Anglers group page.  We're 23 members strong!  I'll have to approve your membership though...gotta keep out the riffraff.  Although honestly, you might want to visit Appalachian Tenkara Anglers instead...it's far superior...and not all banjos and canoes like you'd think...


Anyway, enjoy your weekend, I hope you all get out and get into some fish!  Looks like rain on Saturday with a nicer Sunday here in NE Florida...so that'll probably be my best bet this weekend.

March 23, 2014

A Fly Guy Lost In a BASS World

Really...what sort of redneck goes to a B.A.S.S. tournament?  I guess I do...


Found out last week that the Bassmaster Elite Series was making a stop about 40 minutes from my house down in Palatka, Florida.  With the Saturday weigh-in scheduled for 4 PM, I took the opportunity after lunch yesterday to run down and see what one of these are all about.  Anybody who knows me knows I'm willing to try just about anything once...life's too short to "poo-poo" things due to preconceived notions.

Riverfront Park in Palatka is pretty nice.  There is not really a whole lot going on in that part of Florida, actually what looks like a lot of farmland in the surrounding areas, but the marina was gorgeous, they really did it up nice.

Not tenkara

Plus, pretty much every angler's truck and trailer was parked in the field on the grounds.  That was a sight to see.  Reminded me of walking around the garage area of a NASCAR race.  BASS...NASCAR...uh, what am I turning into?

Skeet Reese's awesome monstrosity of a ride

There was a little expo going on.  Basically a bunch of canopies set up, about 2/3 were vendors/sponsors and the other 1/3 was food.  Names you'd expect to see where there...Berkley, Shimano, Toyota Trucks, Yamaha, Power Pole, and Costa (which in addition to hocking sunglasses was repping fly fishing via GEOBASS), just to name a few.

Shaw Grigsby in the Sno-Cone line

Then the weigh in.  Oh, the weigh in.  I was not expecting the large stage, big screen TV, and what amounted to a commentators tent (complete with Mark Zona) there for the 50 angler procession.


I was a little bummed by the fact that I suppose the "names" I recognize weren't in the final 50.  I guess they didn't make the cut from Friday to Saturday...so no KVD, Ike, or Skeet.  Either way, the guys that were there were hauling some big bass (the emcee referred to a few as "Bassquatch") out of their livewells.  (Let's be honest, I'm not going to pretend I remember who all of these anglers pictured below are).


In the end, the field was narrowed down to 12 for Sunday's final day of fishing.  Chris Lane (pictured above & below) had a pretty unbeatable lead of almost 13 pounds of fish.  He had caught over 75 pounds of bass between Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  You can only weigh 5 fish each day, so you do the math on how impressive that is...crazy.  The one pictured above was 9 and a half pounds.

What's $50...?
The Dirty Dozen

Of all the things I guess I witnessed/learned I suppose there were three takeaways...

First, B.A.S.S. throws a pretty fun event.  As snarky as some of my comments may have been above, it was top notch and I had a great time.  If they show up near you, it's worth taking a look (plus, it's free).  If they show up in Palatka again next year, I probably will too.

Second, the anglers seem to just be pretty normal folks.  When not in the boats they just hung out among the rest of us; there didn't seem to be any egos.

Finally, the St. Johns River / Lake George in March equals killer sight fishing in 3 feet of water for bass.  REALLY big bass.

March 21, 2014

My Last Rod, Until The Next One...

I like tenkara, but it's damn hard not to like rods with reels too...


Silver Ghost 6-weight outfit from L.L. Bean.
It was too hard to pass up the recent 20% off sale, especially when you have an obsession.
I'm not ashamed to admit it, she's a pretty girl.  Can't wait to fool around.

March 20, 2014

Hundreds Of Dollars For A Cane Pole?

For better or worse, I write a lot about tenkara here.  With over 170 posts, this may be one of the handful of blogs (tenkara-specific or not) that has written that much about the subject to date.  So as a follower of this blog, you likely know what tenkara is by now.  Actually, thanks to a lot of grassroots marketing and growing industry acceptance, the larger angling community is learning what tenkara is as well...although whether or not they approve of it is an entirely different issue.

Well, where I live in Florida, tenkara isn't really that well known.  Heck, there's not really even a strong fly fishing culture.  A few people chase redfish on the fly, but largely if you're not offshore in a boat, you're probably fishing bait off of a bridge...which is perfectly fine.  I'm no fly fishing snob.

So imagine my surprise when in this month's issue of a popular print fishing magazine tenkara was actually mentioned.  Unfortunately, it was dumbed down to readers as "cane pole" fishing...(which I'll admit there are some similarities)...without really touting any of the positives or differences, and making it sound like a waste of an angler's money...those silly fly fishermen.  Well...let's just say tenkara's got an uphill climb in the Sunshine State. 

Ugh.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to have some spare time on my hands.  It was the "buffer day" of my little mini-vacation, the day between when you travel home and go back to work.  I thought I'd take the rods out and try to catch something.

The other week I had some pretty good luck fishing black woolly buggers...but it just wasn't happening.  I really wasn't even getting any visible follows.  I was noticing some fish rising, so I switched from the fly rod to the tenkara rod and thought I'd try to "match the hatch," at least by size.

That turned out to be the ticket...as the typical smallish pond-dwellers eagerly inhaled the offerings...


Then I saw the shadow.

A couple casts, a few twitches, and handful of pauses got this bass to take my size 12 kebari.


At 19 inches long (approximately 4 pounds, although it's a little skinny), I believe this is my largest catch on tenkara tackle to date.  I'm fairly certain I've hooked into fish this size before, but they've either broken my tippet on the run, or popped off the fly with a couple head shakes.  The Tenkara USA Sato, combined with 3.5 level line and 5x tippet handled this job well.

Here's a quick video of some of the fight I slapped together with rudimentary video skills...the highlight being looking at the rod bend during the first 10 seconds.  It doesn't show actually landing the fish because I had to put the camera down to two handed guide the fish out of some crap in the water weeds.  It's amazing what a great job tenkara rods do protecting light tippet considering there is no reel to let out additional line.


I caught a few more after that, but nothing of size.
It made for a fun day with the "cane pole" (if you must)...just don't say I was dapping.