George’s explanation as to what the name means was fairly simple, “Yahtam means ‘nothing’.”

The name literally means East Nothing.

I can only imagine part of the reason how he came up with the name being he didn’t want anyone knowing anything about where he was fishing. This isn’t particularly uncommon amongst anglers. If you know of a good place to catch fish then the quickest way to remedy it is to tell someone else about it.

I can remember sitting outside on an unusually clear night at the camp in East Yahtam and seeing blinking lights way up high in the sky.

“Oh, look it’s an airplane,” someone observed. Keep in mind this was clearly a commercial flight cruising at an altitude so high that it was barely perceivable by the observers.

George immediately responded, “Looks like we’ve gotta pack up and find a new place.” We sort of laughed it off, but you could tell in his tone that he was slightly perturbed.

He had his location where he knew the fish were and where they were plentiful. Pink salmon, Chum salmon, and King salmon could be found in abundance. Yahtam had pools with congregations of fish nearing the hundreds. They were all stuck in the traffic jam of the late summer migrations in a shallow river making their way to the spawning grounds.

Of course, the term “Yahtam” was used by George in more ways than giving a relative direction to nowhere. Many times he’d say things like:

“If you don’t listen to what I’m telling you then you won’t catch yahtam.”

“They can’t do yahtam about it.”

“A lot of people think they know how to catch big fish, but they don’t know yahtam.”

Of course, the key to catching big fish is finding big fish, and if there was anyone on the planet that knew how to find big fish then it was George.

Without him, we wouldn’t have Yahtam.

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Tales from East Yahtam: An Exercise in Remembering

I previously mentioned that I wanted to rethink what I was doing with this space. After thinking about it I’ve decided I want to use this space to help myself remember some things.

I’ve recently felt very nostalgic about my past trips to Alaska. I really do hope to go back and fish there again someday, but I also understand greater now that I won’t be able to do what we did 10 years ago ever again.

George Mann was a friend of my father and an accomplished outdoorsman. That actually might be selling him a bit short. Around here, and even in Alaska, he’s a legend. He held at least 21 IGFA fly fishing records, but surprisingly that’s not where he made a name for himself. He accomplished his notoriety in hunting exclusively with bow and arrow and holds many more records and accomplishments in that realm than he did in fishing. Consequently, these accomplishments landed him in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, and many of his accomplishments are on display at the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum at the Montgomery Zoo.

Bow hunting for grizzly, brown, black, and even polar bears is what brought George to Alaska, but it’s not what kept him there. For decades he went to a special place in Southeast Alaska that only he knew about to fish the late salmon run. He invited my father and me along several times, and the experiences were truly life-changing for me.

George passed away two years, and for what we know the locations we fished and how to get there went with him. We’ll never be able to go back even if we could find it on a map. Losing George meant losing that opportunity forever.

That gives me all of the motivation to move forward by going back — in my mind, pictures, and videos. I’m hoping that telling the story — if only to myself — will help keep him and the adventures we had alive in some way, and if nothing else spur me into growing as a fly fisherman through narrative and reflection.

George taught me how to fly fish. I’d certainly consider him a mentor even though no one would confuse me with being his protege. While these stories will certainly be an ode to him in many ways please don’t mistake this as an attempt to tell his story in any way. There are others who knew him better than I did that are more qualified to do that.

This space and the writing that falls into it is for me. I don’t plan on promoting it because I really want to have the luxury of posting something that sucks or is grammatically incorrect or is plain flat-out poorly written.

So, here we go.

Welcome to Tales from East Yahtam.

I’ve decided to change the name of this blog. For years it has — mostly sat dormant — gone by the title On The Fly. I still like that name. It makes as much sense as it did 6 years ago, although I’m not entirely convinced there aren’t tens of others out there going by that name or some variant of it.

What will I change it to? I have no idea.

Actually, that’s not true. I have a handful of ideas with one I’m particularly leaning towards, but I do think it’s necessary to make sure I don’t limit the focus with what I’m trying to do here [insert laughing/crying emojis here].

I absolutely despise writing about things I’m going to do. That’s a really productive way of never doing any of them. I already feel like there’s enough of that in my life as it is so the idea of committing to or starting something I’m even slightly hesitant on seems unnecessary.

One thing I do know is that I’m going to change the name of this blog, and hopefully rethink or recommit to whatever it is I want or might be able to do with this space.

The Trash Hatch Is ON

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Longnose Gar coming out of the water

 

Many aren’t familiar with summer in the deep south. 90-degree temps are pretty normal anywhere during the summer. Heck, folks in NYC get those kinds of temperatures. There’s one thing that accompanies our heat that many don’t get to experience.

That experience is the humidity.

For the uninitiated, humidity can make 72 degrees feel like you’re breathing in the air a dog is exhaling out, and 90 degrees can feel like that same dog just climbed out of the pool and laid down on top of you.

Anyway, summer is here, and it has come with a vengeance.

IMG00326-20100522-0022This really changes up how we approach fishing. Early morning and late afternoon are good times to go looking for bass.

Another often overlooked time for bass fishing this time of year is the middle of the night. The biggest bass I’ve ever caught in my life was in the middle of July around 2:30 in the morning. Planning around weather patterns and lunar cycles can aid in fishing during the dead of summer too.

So what do you do when the sun is high and the skies are clear?

Well, I propose finding other fish. I’m specifically talking about fish that are often overlooked as sportfish. You know, the ones affectionately referred to as “trash fish.”

Enter: the trash hatch.

If you follow me on any social platform, especially Twitter, then you know I have a special like for carp on a fly rod. These fish are meant to be caught using fly tackle. They can be sight-fished but are incredibly spooky. Carp will take a fly but only the ones that are eating. Not every carp you can see is going to bolt for your fly.

They are very finicky.

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Did I mention that they’re usually really big fish for a 4 wt fly rod?

Carp will stretch any fly fisherman’s abilities to its limit. They plain flat out aren’t easy to catch and have often been compared to redfish with the personality of a bonefish, hence the nickname “Golden Bone.” Also, did I mention they’re big? Yeah, size-wise and fight-wise. They’ll pull you into your fly backing before you realize what you’ve done.

Another species I’ve recently become acquainted with is the gar.

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My recent encounters have left me wondering if pound-for-pound the gar isn’t one of the hardest fighting fish I’ve dealt with. These dudes are flat out ferocious:

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This gar continually refused to give up

The teeth.

The muscle.

The sheer unrelenting-not-giving-up-go-to-hell-ness of trying to land one is just absolutely incredible. They’re maniacal and yet an absolute blast to fight on a fly rod! Gar can dance like a tarpon all the while leaving you with a nagging uneasiness about whether or not it’s going to shred your net and steal your wallet.

I think you get the picture. There are fish that are often overlooked due to their lack of perceived “sportiness.” This is true whether fishing conventional tackle, but often much more in the fly fishing circles.*

Before we finish this discussion we do need to address the elephant in the room. If you’ve read any of these posts** then I know what you’re thinking.

“But what about Catfish?! Are they considered part of the fly fishing ‘trash hatch’ too?!”

I dunno. I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself.

*I began to fly fish with a love for bass, an arguably already marginalized fish by many fly fisherman’s standards. Ever since then I’ve spiraled out of control into the neverending void that is catching unregarded species of fly fishing quarry. Help me.

**You haven’t 

How Do You Cook Your Catch?

 

I’m trying to avoid any kind of “how-to” here. There are many ways to do this and while I believe some are better than others many are surprisingly the same. Still, we all have a preference.

Among the many options of cooking fish you can:

  1. Fry (whole or fillets)*
  2. Grill (over charcoal or over ignited unholy canned gas)
  3. Hot Smoked
  4. Cold Smoked
  5. Bake (?)
  6. Broil

You get the picture.

I’ve done 4 out of the 6 mentioned and I have to say that hot smoking is by far my favorite. I haven’t the time nor the talent to cold smoke anything.**

Of all the species I’ve caught and cooked I’d have to rank them as such:

  1. Bluegill/Crappie***
  2. Salmon
  3. Trout
  4. Catfish
  5. Bass

There are several species of fish which I have not tried to clean and cook yet. The one that sticks out most in my mind is Perch. I’ve often heard that Gar is delicious if you have the tools and willpower to prepare them.

Tweet at me or comment below and let me know what your favorite fish is and favorite method is to prepare it!****

    *Fried fish is always first

  **I can’t imagine anything that isn’t Salmon would be worth cold smoking anyway

***They can’t be separated. They’re both delicious and belong in the top spot. Deal with it 

****Even if your favorite method is to catch and release and then go to McDonald’s

The Great Thing About Catfish

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Okay. I feel as though I was a bit too harsh on our whiskery fishy friends last week.

There are many great qualities about catfish. Mainly they’re absolutely delicious. Fried or grilled I’ll take fresh catfish any day of the week!*

Catfish preacher
“Catfish Preacher”

This brings us to a topic I’d like to discuss/think about more at a later time. That is cleaning and cooking your catch. Catfish make that aspect of fishing extremely rewarding! It’s one of the greatest perks of being an angler.

Not to mention there are many legends who’ve come before us (relatives, friends, preachers?) to perfect their catfish recipes.

We all can only aspire to one day earn the title of “Catfish Preacher”

 

Pictured Top left: Brother Windsor who catches and cooks catfish from the Tallapoosa River to hold an annual fish fry at a rural church in Chambers County, AL

*But mainly on Friday

The Problem With Catfish

The probability that a warm water fly fisherman reading the title to this post is going cross-eyed in bewilderment is very high.

“You’re complaining about catching catfish on a fly rod?!”

“You’ll catch overgrown goldfish all day, but turn your nose up at a catfish?”

Well, yeah.

Let’s talk for a moment.* Catfish are great. They’re delicious. On bamboo pole (single cane not Tonkin) with a bobber and a tin of earthworms, they make for an enjoyable afternoon.**

On a fly rod, catfish are surprisingly disappointing. There’s a slew of factors to consider, but what makes them ultimately disappointing ties back to the fish’s attitude.

Catfish have zero fight in them.***

Once you both realize what’s going on (you’re aware it’s not a stump and it’s aware something’s yanking on it) there are about 5 minutes of the fish rolling around and that’s pretty much it.

All of a sudden you’ve got it pulled up next to the bank staring at you.  At this point, you begin to realize you’re going to fight more with the fish to get him off of the hook to save your fly than when you were pulling it in.

It’s almost like every catfish ever has already been caught and they know the drill. You’ll pull them in and fight with taking the hook out of their mouth, which won’t be easy because they’re covered in skin, not scales, and you’ll let them go because you probably didn’t try to catch them anyway and even if you were and decided to keep them they’ve accepted their fate and probably had a good run anyway at least they ground down the threads on the fly you were fishing with and probably wrapped your leader around an underwater stump and scratched it all up yadda yadda yadda yadda…

I’m not saying catfish aren’t worth catching. Depending on how motivated and hungry I am I might say the exact opposite.

But on a fly rod? I’d rather have an 8″ bluegill or 1/2 lb bass.

* By “talk” I mean read this opinion

** No way I’m waking up early to go catfishing. 

*** I’m talking about channel cats that are generally less than 5 lbs. I’ve never caught anything bigger on a fly rod. I’m sure the +20 lb flatheads and so on are a different story