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Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies

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The Great Toad Assault And More in Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies

Those of us who love to fish know that it’s about more than the fish. And because it is, fishing leads most of us to a greater love and appreciation for all of nature and the outdoors.

That’s certainly the way it was for me. Some of my earliest memories are of marveling at the beauty of the little sunfish that I caught with the rod and reel combo that I ordered from the back of a comic book.
Then I learned about the sharp spines --- Ouch! --- and slimy skin of bullhead catfish.

But it wasn’t long before I started noticing what was going on around me as I fished: a water snake sunning itself on a laydown, a softshell turtle laying eggs on a sandbar, a great blue heron spearing one of those little sunfish. Getting up early showed me how beautiful early morning light can be, and staying late introduced me to hoot owls and fireflies--- and mosquitoes.

Decades later, and I still haven’t stopped enjoying and learning from the miracles of nature all around me as I fish.

But it was those early years fishing, camping, hiking, and exploring the great outdoors that led me where I am today --- and taught me so many lessons about life.

Those lessons and the experiences that taught them to me are what I write about in my new book, Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies: Growing Up With Nature.

For example, I learned about the importance of being prepared for the unexpected by hooking myself. I learned about the birds and bees from turtles and rats. And I learned that often nature has a sense of humor, as two dozen baby toads that I had put in a cigar box morphed into millions and mounted a massive counter-attack that sent my horrified grandmother scrambling onto the kitchen table. 

If you fished and learned to love nature as a child, I think that you’ll enjoy this collection of essays and short stories, both humorous and serious. Also, you might learn something about nature’s mysteries, ranging from snake spit and mermaids to African lions and Ozarks dinosaurs. And, oh yeah, there’s plenty about fish, frogs, and fireflies too.

This article appeared originally in Dibble, the min-mag distributed monthly to those subscribing to Mystery Tackle Box. Many thanks to Ross Gordon.


Potomac River Public Access Threatened

In October, 2014 an official with the National Park Service declared the walkway to the Fletcher’s Cove boat dock unsafe for public use, effectively cutting off access to the Potomac River from publicly available row boats, canoes and kayaks. The walkway, which once floated at the lowest tide, is now grounded and compromised by siltation. Unless immediate action is taken, there is a strong possibility the dock will stay closed next spring.

The continued operations of the Fletcher’s Cove concession as we now know it may be at stake. To ensure continued access to the dock in the spring of 2015, ACTION MUST BE TAKEN NOW. PLEASE mail and/or email the NPS expressing your concern and asking that it expedite a plan to save access to the river at this location.

Mailing address: Kevin Brandt Superintendent,  C&O Canal National Historical Park Headquarters Office, 1850 Dual Highway, Suite 100, Hagerstown, MD 21740-6620

Send your email request to  C&O Canal NHP Headquarters.

What follows provides more historical information and explains how we have reached this critical point in time. Please share this document or its link to anyone who will support this effort and also sign our petition to preserve river access at the boathouse.

The Potomac near its fall line has long been a cherished natural resource for the entire region. Providing access to the river since before colonials arrived, the area known as Fletcher’s Cove is a natural wonder within the boundaries of what would become the nation’s capital. Archeological digs have shown that Native Americans used this location to harvest and store fish and grain. The reliably deep water of the tidal cove also served as the first river access point for George Washington’s “Patowmack Canal.”

Early in our nation’s history, Andrew Jackson was rowed in a boat from this spot to fish for striped bass under Chain Bridge. After the Civil War the Fletcher family established a boathouse  which allowed every man to enjoy this unique location for recreation and to partake in the bounty of the “Nation’s River.”

Over a century later and now part of the C&O Canal Historical Park, Fletcher’s Cove continues to draw visitors of from all over the world. The park and boathouse there today are precious Washington, DC landmarks for residents and tourists alike.

Siltation has been a growing problem at Fletcher’s for many decades, and it is largely a manmade condition. Traditional agricultural practices and overdevelopment upstream have played an obvious role by increasing the sediment runoff. The cove’s problems worsened after the construction of Metro and the Dulles Interceptor Sewer in the 1960’s.  Excavated soil was dumped at the river’s edge just north of Fletcher’s Cove, with the intention of creating a more sheltered area for Fletcher’s Cove.

It was soon discovered that seasonal flooding deposited increased amounts of silt where it previously did not settle. The cove began to fill in at an alarming rate. In the early 1980’s a narrow channel was dug to improve flow, but it hit bedrock, often clogged with debris, and was deemed ineffective. Dredging projects that have been attempted only temporarily addressed the problem. The cove continues to fill in.

Not only is Fletcher's Cove an historic gem and a unique and vital resource for the outdoors person, but it is the ONLY access point for D.C. Fire and Rescue, Montgomery County Rescue and the D.C. Harbor Police from Georgetown to the dangerous Little Falls area. If access is closed off at this location, then response abilities to the frequent emergency incidents in the area will be severely compromised.

 To increase awareness, a coalition of river enthusiasts has drafted this statement to inform the public. It’s well worth repeating we need your help to encourage officials with The National Park Service and the C&O Canal National Historical Park to implement a solution that will maintain the boathouse and provide access to the river from Fletcher's Cove by next spring. Please help get the word out by sharing this statement with others and asking them to reach out. The following individuals and organizations currently endorse this effort. If you would like to join us and be added to this list, please fill out this petition to save river access at Fletcher’s Cove

Thanks to your support we have increased awareness. The NPS issued this C&O Canal National Historical Park News Release  announcing a public hearing on Dec. 17. Please continue to sign and spread the word.


Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies

"I grew to love seeing the moon and stars at a young age, as I slept outside whenever my parents would allow it. Maybe I got the idea from movie and television cowboys like Roy Rogers, who strummed their guitars around the campfire before going to sleep under a “blanket of stars.” However it came about, my earliest memory of noticing the night sky came as I lay on my back and looked up to see Goofy in a big yellow moon.

"Then I began to study the stars, possibly as I graduated from cowboys to spacemen. I put away my hat and boots and made a rocket ship out of large cardboard box, with toilet paper tubes as my propulsion units. I wrote to NASA and asked for photos of the astronauts. And I learned about constellations."

Excerpt from the essay "Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies," from the book by the same name.


Lizard Lips

Even if you haven't kissed a lizard as I often do, you'll enjoy Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies: Growing Up With Nature, my newest collection of essays. It's a great Christmas present for family and friends who love nature.

And for the anglers, please consider Why We Fish and/or Better Bass Fishing. All three are available on Amazon.


Lake Okeechobee Adventure

Heading into the marsh

I just spent a couple of days fishing Lake Okeechobee with Sam Griffin, my good friend and a legendary guide and luremaker. Cold weather arrived with me, sorry to say, which made the fishing tough. On the first day, we fished out of Okeechobee and managed to catch 16 bass, nothing larger than 2 1/2 pounds. We never did establish a pattern, catching them on soft swimbaits, topwaters, and Texas-rig Senkos.


My biggest

On the second day, we fished out of Harney Pond Canal and finally managed a pattern  when weather turned sunny and warmer in the afternoon. We caught most of our fish on Texas-rig Senkos in June bug around flooded willows and bulrush clumps.  Right after lunch, I quickly boated two nice fish (2 to 3 pounds) and set the hook on another, which made a huge swirl, before digging deep into surrounding hydrilla. Using braid, I thought that I'd have no problem pulling out the bass. I was wrong. It pulled off. When I checked the bait, I noticed that when the bass struck, it pushed the tail of the Senko up onto the hook and so, when I set it, the barb didn't penetrate as it should have.

Sam's crankbait

Sam Griffin is most noted for his wooden topwater baits (You can find them at a few retailers locally in south Florida, as well as on Ebay.), but he also made the crankbait used to catch this bass.

Snail kites

I saw more snail kites (also known as Everglades kites) on this trip than ever before. These predatory birds that feed on apple snails were listed as endangered in 1967, and their range in the United States is limited to a few watersheds in central and south Florida. On the upper end of Lake Okeechobee, platforms have been put up to provide solid footing for the birds to eat the snails. I also saw snail eggs on stalks of many plants. Although he's lived on the lake all of his life, Sam said the he hadn't seen these eggs until the past few years. My guess is that they're from a species of apple snail from South America that already is established at Lake Toho, as well as in Louisiana.


Although I've seen hundreds of alligators at Lake Okeechobee over the years, I had never seen one quite so "friendly" as this one. When I cast near a flooded willow, I saw a huge swirl and, at first, thought that  it was made by a big bass. But then this four-foot gator followed my bait all the way back to the boat and didn't want to leave. It just hung around, as if waiting for us to share our lunch. We didn't.