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Arizona Wanderings

Arizona Wanderings

AZWANDERINGS.COM

New and Improved

On the brink of the New Year, my mind wanders over the past 80 or so posts and I ask the inevitable question of what am I doing and where is this blog going. I have had numerous encouragements and proposals on what to do with my little world that I have created for myself and my valued readers. As my thoughts began to build into dreams of grandeur, I want to be careful and stay away from the pretentious mindset that my words are gold and everyone is hanging on my every post. At the same time, my number of readers is graciously growing and I wish to provide them with needed content and services.

With that stated, I have updated my site and domain name. All new content can be found on AZWanderings.com. Several plans are in the works and over the next weeks and months, regular readers will begin seeing some more changes to the site and additions to the content. The new site’s layout was constructed by my brother (JSumnerdesigns.com) who worked tirelessly to get things ship shape.  A new review page has been added that will slowly and honestly chronicle some of my favorite pieces of equipment that see regular use. I have also had several requests from readers to purchase a few of the flies that I tie which I take as a huge honor. Always content to tie for myself and friends, I relish the opportunity to offer one or two patterns for sale in the near future in order to gauge interest.

In conclusion, the support and kindness of my readers is invaluable to me. The whole idea of Arizona Wanderings was nothing more than a simple family communication device that has grown and become an exciting project for me that never strays far from my thoughts. I do not consider myself an expert or an authority, but instead a simple man who wishes to enjoy the outdoors and participate in the outdoor community.

Thank you as always and see you on the new site,

Ben

Gambel's Hen

The crack of the 20 gauge split the morning silence and as I gathered the plump Gambel’s hen, I could not help but smile. Normally when tromping through the desert I like to have the heavier 12 gauge which I know has a little more “umff” and, when the birds are spooking farther, can really prove advantageous. Since my decision was last minute, I was out of shells for the 12 and decided to take the smaller 20 gauge for which I had a few more boxes laying around. The 20 gauge is a Mossberg 500CT and will never win any beauty contests. Whenever I show up to hunt with some buddies, it always raises a few eyebrows and looks of disdain. Sure it has more than a few nicks and scratches and sure after every use I have to tighten up the stock so it stops wiggling, but this shotgun has sentimental value, as most older “well loved” guns often do. This particular scattergun used to be my grandfather’s who I am guessing put most of the signs of use into the gun. It was passed to my father who ultimately passed it on to me. Every once in a while, like yesterday, it is nice to break out a classic and go hunt some birds.

Mossberg

The weather held cool and sunny and made for perfect walking weather. Early in the morning, I hunted several large coveys and pulled a couple birds from these groups. These large coveys were scattering far ahead of me and took some stealth to get into a respectable distance. Birds were very vocal and there were several times that I had to stop and try and isolate the closest group of birds which was actually difficult with all of the birds calling at once.

Quail Country

I hunted several ridges out into the desert and then swung around to hunt several adjoining ridges back. The style of hunting changed dramatically and I think it was due to both the hunting pressure that the two different ridges receive and the hour of the day. Regardless, instead of large coveys flushing many yards out, birds were sitting in singles and doubles and would flush literally at my feet. I imagine that this style of hunting is more in tune with the rest of the country’s bird hunting or how it would be to hunt with pointing dogs. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed jumping several different sets of birds and bagging a couple in the process.

Male and Female

This will probably be the last quail hunt for me in the 2010 calendar year. I did not do as much quail hunting as I normally would and I think it is safe to blame fly fishing for that. I have been getting geared up for another archery javelina season and I hope to avoid another pig-less debacle like last year. Several new elements are coming to the Arizona Wanderings site and should be going into effect in these next few days. Please check back often and bear with me as I get everything up and running.

While I wait for the waters up north to calm down and return to a fishable state, I thought I would brag a little on how kind Christmas was to me. So in order to hold myself over until the next time I hit the water or the cactus strewn hillsides, here is a brief look at the quality items Santa brought me. I have had my eye on a new BBS reel from Orvis to upgrade my old reel that was broken and line that had large chunks taken out of it. The sweetest wife in the world found it easy to shop for me this Christmas.

Much needed upgrade for the 3 weight

As an avid reader, my Amazon wish list grows almost every time I am on the computer. This selection shows a heavy influence of John Gierach but also a Walt Prothero wild card showed up (arguably one of my favorite authors).

Updating the Library

My sister-in-law went above and beyond to make the perfect gift for a helpless fly fisherman and reader. This bookmark will definitely be utilized in my marathon of reading ahead.

Homemade "Adams" bookmark

With all of the traveling that my wife and I do back to New York, fly tying get-to-gethers, or a couple day trip up north, having my fly tying gear with me can be really convenient. I had eyeballed this Fishpond bag for quite a while but had never made mention of it to anyone. My in-laws really went above and beyond with this gift.

Fishpond fly tying travel kit

I have had an old foam target that when my wife said “I do” made the trip to our new backyard. It has raised some eyebrows, and the new puppy has really taken a liking to it. In the end it is still usable but life expectancy is not much longer. This new target will hopefully keep me in shape for the javelina season coming up.

My new lawn ornament

Another quality gift from the in-laws to keep my hands warm during our bone-chilling Arizona winters (but seriously it does get cold here.).

Winter Gloves

I do not know what my brother was trying to say, but it might be that my hunting game could use a little work. If you have not had the opportunity to play the Wii and especially the Wii hunting game, it will change your life.

Staying in shape during the off season...

My mom handed down one of my father’s old tie clips. I wear a tie maybe a half dozen times a year, but this clip will be worn at each of those occasions. This truly is a special gift that I will cherish and hopefully someday pass on to one of my boys.

Sentimental value

After this post, I think I will go do some damage at Cabelas. My wife thinks it is a real shame that the blasted store is so close…

One can never go wrong with...

Drying Station - Front

My break has been filled with shotguns and fly rods and even though our usually clear skies are gone and replaced with rainclouds, I have been busy with some smaller projects. After my furled leader performed flawlessly on a blustery day at Oak Creek, I decided that I had to have some more. So I headed to my friend Bo’s house to rig up a few more and I happily walked away with several gorgeous leaders, spun by my own hand. Bo himself is an extremely talented carpenter and graciously gifted me one of his beautiful fly drying stations. This small piece is just a taste of the work that he has done as his fly tying corner is centered around a beautiful tying station.

Fly Drying Station

More Furled Leaders

Bo also is stating to make his own fly fishing lanyards and as we were talking I mentioned my minimalistic approach to fly fishing, Bo quickly whipped up a perfect “belt hook” for some summer fishing. I think this lanyard would work well for those warm days wet wading in the small streams of Arizona. A big thanks to Bo for his hospitality and gifts.

Belt Hook

Winter Fishing...

The weather has been a little bit funky here in Arizona and my Christmas break is being threatened by rain and snow in the high country. In spite of the predicted elements, my good friend Pete and I loaded up the truck hastily made our way to Red Rock Country and the fabled Oak Creek. While driving creekside, we caught glimpses of a high, turbulent, and off color torrent that did not look very fishable. Regardless, we had made the drive and were not easily deterred. I had brought my 5 weight knowing that with high winds predicted, I would need a little backbone to cut through the wind and throw some heavier streamers.

Oak Creek Soup

With no insect activity, I opted to strip a simi-seal bugger through the first pool and on my third cast through the pool, saw a large head engulf my fly. Luck was on the fishes side and he spit my fly quickly. After several more pools, hook-ups, and fly changes, I rigged up a mini hopper and a copper john variant and drifted it several times through a likely lie. I was extatic with a firm hit on the dropper and was soon cradling a gorgeous Oak Creek Brown trout. I always feel extremely blessed when catching brown trout out of this section of Oak Creek, because I know that these fish see so many fishermen and their offerings.

Oak Creek Brown

As I continued fishing I saw a few sporadic rises, but the high, milky water made it difficult to fish small dries that wold match the small winter bugs that were hatching. Occasionally a bigger specimen would fly by and tempt me to tie on something smaller but I refrained.

BWO

Making my way upstream, I found myself again stripping a leach through a larger pool and had several larger hits on the streamer. On one last try, a strong fish nailed the fly and head shook his way to my net. At this point I was feeling very lucky as I held this football of a brown for a quick photo.

Brown Trout

With half a dozen pools left before our access point to leave, the day began to get colder. Thankfully, the inclement weather had held off and no precipitation ruined our day. As I followed the course of the stream I came upon an extremely long pool with several obstructions in the center of the pool. I worked the lower section of the pool with my bugger and had several fish follow it in but ultimately refuse it. While contemplating my next move, a fish rose and sent large ripples radiating to the banks of the stream. I quickly tied on a #16 parachute Adams, said a little prayer, and dropped a perfect cast just to the side of his previous rise. Within moments, the trout nonchalantly sipped the dry and I was latched into a large fish. Luckily, I had my 5 weight and was able to muscle the fish away from several large rocks and half submerged logs and stabbed my net a fish that could barely fit inside of it. I had heard of large fish in Oak Creek and have spooked and occasionally tied into some, but have never been successful at getting one to hand. After this fish, I did not need to fish the rest of the day. This is one of those times I wished I had a measuring tape, so without going into guessing on numbers, all I will say is that it was a big fish.

The Oak Creek Brown

Streamers, nymphs, and dries all seemed to be the ticket for the day. The high water conditions made it some of the toughest and most frustrating fishing but the outcome of the day was extremely rewarding. Quality day spent on the water with good company is a great way to spend time off from work.

 

 

Gambel's Quail

The weather report prophesied cloudy skies and a chance of rain, not really the perfect start to my first day of winter break. I decided instead of risking the treacherous drive into my favorite spot, I would check out a new area that was more accessible and see what it held. Rain dotted my windshield, and I fought the urge to just turn around and go back to bed. In the end, I am pleased that I persevered, because as I put the truck in park the sprinkling stopped. I donned my vest, marked the coordinates of my truck, checked my water supply, and set out. The morning started eerily quiet and I walked about a mile before I heard the Gambel’s waking up.

Sunrise

The walking is never easy nor quiet on the crunchy desert floor, but the recent rain kept my footfalls relatively quiet. Even though this area is more traveled than a couple of my other spots, there was no shortage of birds. They were a little spooky and it took great care in getting close enough for shooting range. I ended up with three birds in the game vest, but I rolled two more that I searched high and low for but could not locate. Credit must be given to the Gambel’s quail. They are some of the most rugged birds that even when downed never quit. Usually after I have a bird on the ground, I waste no time in moving right in for many times even though mortally wounded, they still have enough kick to flop or run into a crevice or into a bush, never to be seen again.

Cactus Jungle

While after the quail, other wildlife was in abundance. I jumped 3 different herds of javelina and upset a wild burro with my bird hunting. The javelina scattered as they usually do, but it was nice to see several piglets in the mix. Unfortunately, my January javelina tag is in another unit or I would take advantage of hunting pigs this close to town.

Last pig of the herd was all I could capture on film...

At this point, I have a nice batch of birds in the freezer that will make a perfect feast, once a few more are added to their ranks. Hunting Gambel’s quail is extremely rewarding even when the amount of birds taken home is small. I cannot help but admire their beauty and tenacity for survival in such a harsh climate. With this nice break from teaching, I am hoping to get into some fish on the Rim, but I will be back chasing some birds shortly.

Arizona Landscape

Met up with some local fly fishers/tiers and grilled some burgers and swapped some flies. A fly swap is a great way to become exposed to new patterns that may not find their way into your box on a regular basis. These guys have some real talent and I am looking forward to wetting these flies and getting into some fish. My photos do not do the flies justice…

Jason's Clouser Minnow

Bo's Leech

Gary's Dry

The evening did not contain any fly tying but focused on the building furled leaders. Jason has learned the art of building these leaders and brought over his jig and showed us the technique of spinning and wrapping thin fishing line into beautiful leaders. After several failed attempts on my part and great amounts of patience from the others, I was able to walk away with one and am hoping that over break I will be able to head over and rig up a few more. I am always looking for an alternative to the store bought mono leaders which carry so much memory and inevitably waste valuable time on the water as I grow frustrated over wind knots. Hopefully with this upcoming time off I will be able to put some time in testing these leaders on the cold frozen streams of northern Arizona.

My first furled leader...

The footprint of my quarry...

With a busy weekend ahead and one more week of school before Christmas break, I opted to stay in town and see how the desert looked. I had not been after quail since opening weekend and as I entered the dry wash and rumbled my way to the spot, I pondered how broken up many of the coveys would be. The season has been open for going on three months and often at this point many of the birds are so skittish it can be difficult to get into range. As I parked the truck and and gulped down the last of my coffee, I could not hear a single bird calling. With this less than advantageous start, I began slowly picking my way through cat-claw and palo verde trees, and as the sun began to peak over the hills, the birds slowly started to wake up. Even though I located many different coveys, the birds were definitely on edge and I had to take great care in moving slowly and quietly in order to begin closing the gap.

A workingman's gun...

The morning ended with several birds in the game bag and more than a few miles put on the boots. It was pleasant wandering through a familiar area and checking on the usual spots. There was a considerable amount of water in the several springs that I checked and there were plenty of birds in the desert.

Water...

Even though fly fishing has quickly taken over my life and thoughts, chasing quail around the desert is very rewarding. Without a bird dog, my mornings usually consist of locating a vocal covey, stalking in to an acceptable distance, and then letting it rip. After breaking up a covey, I visually follow their flight path and make haste to catch up. After one or two times of this, the birds tend to get real quiet and during these brief intermissions, I enjoy the moment and usually have a seat in the shade while the quail catch their breath. The desert can be extremely beautiful during these restful moments.

A brief pause...

This serenity is generally forgotten as I mistakenly blunder my way through a patch of jumping cactus, hence the reason I carry tweezers in my bird vest.

Standard on any quail chase...

I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who once said, “A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.” Now, in no way do I consider myself exceptionally strong and I do like a good football game, but I think Jefferson was definitely on to something.

The path...

Many, many thanks to Eric over at Hooked Up Films. I cannot say enough how grateful I am to him and for all the work he put into this video. Feel free to check the written documentation of our day in my earlier post. I look forward to more time on the water with Hooked Up Films.

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