Gumbo's Fishing Page

This information is provided by R. J. Brown, aka "gumbo".

I am not a professional fisherman;
I am a computer consultant who just likes to fly fish.

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So Just Who Is This "Gumbo" Guy, Anyway?

In The Beginning

I used to fish a lot when I was a kid. When I was about 4 years old, my father taught me how to fish. We would rent a row boat on Cazenovia Lake in upstate New York, and he would row, and I would watch. We would go out to where some fish were likely lurking and drop anchor. He showed me how to put a worm on my hook so that a fish would get hooked if he ate the worm. I caught sunfish, which we also called, incorrectly, bluegills. That was a lot of fun for a little kid.

Upstate New York

As I got older, around 6, we got our own boat, an 18 foot Lymann Islander, with a 35 HP Johnson outboard. The "Ginny B" was my father's fishing boat for 12 years. From its deck, I learned how to catch large and small mouth bass, norhtern pike, lake trout, and of course, sunfish. I also learned how to pump its bilge, paint its bottom, and refinish its brite work. These activities occupied the cold winter months in our garage, while the cars sat out in the knee high snow. It was all building up to the fishing later that spring.

When spring came, we would launch the boat and usually catch a few northern pike. Later in the season, largemouth bass would dominate. After a hard day of fishing, we would frequently have dinner at the Brae Lock Inn, and then go home and clean the fish.

Lake Ontario

Towards the end of summer, we would pack the boat up on its trailer and head for Henderson Harbor, New York, which is in the Thousand Islands area, at the beginning of the St. Lawrence River. There we would get up early in the morning and head for Guloo Island and fish all morning in sight of the old lighthouse there, listening to the drone of the fog horn every few minutes if it was even the least bit hazy. That sound would drive you nuts after a while, but the fish must have liked it, because they were always there at the drop off by the shoal that the lighthouse warned of.

We would catch a bunch of fish, then moor at the lagoon on the island and have a shore dinner. After dinner, we would go fish until it was time to go back to the marina for the evening. Once, when we caught our limit of smallmouth bass early in the afternoon, we went to Stoney Island, where there is a little bay that is full of sunfish and crappies. We got into a school of yellow perch that were in a total feeding frenzy! You did not even have to bait the hook. Just drop a bare hook in the water and they would hit it! We filled up a bucket with them, and then went back to the marina and had a serious fish fry. We spent the last week of summer before school started this way almost every year while I lived in upstate New York.

First Flies

When I was around 10 years old, I bought a beginner's fly tying kit intended for teaching a Boy Scout how to tie flies for a merit badge. I was not a scout, but the idea of making my own fishing lures fascinated me. The kit had a couple of pages of directions, a few cellophane envelopes of feathers, a spool of thread, and some hooks. The vise was junk, and there was no bobbin or hackle pliers. By sheer determination, I managed to figure out how to tie a few flies anyway.

In all honesty thought, I wish I had some of those feathers now. Mixed in that bag were some feathers modern tyers would kill for -- jungle cock, India crow, and I don't even remember what all else. There were not very many of one kind, but there were lots of kinds. It was basically floor sweepings from an era when rare feathers were much more common than they are now. When I got older, and went hunting with my father, I used to save the skins of pheasant, quail, wood duck, etc. for tying flies.

Modern fly tiers loose a lot of the real color of the old flies by using dyed feathers. Natural feathers get their color the same way fish scales get their color: by interference and irridescence. Modern dyes, especially the fluorescent dyes, are good, but dyes get their color by absorption, and can never equal the brilliance of the real thing. They do not have the natural flash and shine of natrually brilliant undyed feathers.

Just look at a peacock eye, and try to do that with dye! India crow, jungle cock, kingfisher, and many other hard to get, or even illegal, feathers have a brilliance that dyed feathers are a lame attempt at immitating. The only thing we have that comes close nowdays is the flashabou, and other artificial flash additives. I never used to use that stuff, because the natural feathers had all the flash you needed.

I soon discovered, however, that these flies I had tied did not cast very well with my spinning rod. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed tying them, and determined that one day, when I could afford it, I would obtain a fly rod and learn how to cast these things.

Learning to Fly Fish

When I turned 16, we lived in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and I started fly fishing on the small lake that our back yard bordered on. I bought a Shakespeare fly rod and a simple clicker action reel, equipped it with a double taper line, and taught myself how to flycast, because I knew no one who had ever done this crazy kind of fishing before who could teach me. It never occurred to me that I might be able to read about it in a book from the library. I just started in with it, and kept at it until I could do it.

Since I was now old enough to drive, my generous father allowed me to take the boat out by myself, which involved driving to the lake, hooking its trailer up to the car, taking the boat down to the marina, and launching it. This made me such a great hit with the girls that my fishing kind of got sidelined for a while.

The Atlantic Ocean

When I turned 17, we had moved back to New York, only this time we were on the south shore of Long Island, in a neighborhood with a canal in the back yard that went out into the Great South Bay. My father got a 38 foot Pacemaker fishing boat, and I started to learn the ways of salt water fishing. I used to catch bluefish, striped bass, weakfish, flounder, fluke, and offshore, I caught pompano dolphin and bluefin tuna. I lost my taste for Charlie Tuna in the Starkist can after tasting the real thing, fresh caught and grilled on the Weber Kettle by my father, or home canned in Mason jars by my mother.

By this time, I had inherited the 18 foot Lyman, now equipped with a 75 HP Johnson outboard, and repainted it a mean looking black with the mahogony brite work, and renamed it the "Foxy Lady", after the then popular Jimi Hendrix song. Again, the ladies distracted me somewhat from my fishing, but I also had guy friends that liked to fish, so I still got out to fish fairly often.

Every time I took a girl out fishing, she got seasick, so I stopped doing that. The only girl I have ever taken salt water fishing that has really liked it is my daughter. She didn't get seasick either. There's just something about catching a fish bigger that you are; you can't beat it!

Blue Water Fly Fishing

When I was in college, around 1970 or 1971, I read an article about a crazy guy that used a fly rod to catch salt water fish. The article even showed a few of the flies he tied to do this. I immediately got excited! You mean I could catch those BIG saltwater fish on my old fly rod? Wow! That would be a gas! I had been winching them in with a Penn International 30 until then.

So I dug out my old merit badge fly tying kit and tied up some copies of the huge flies I saw in the magazine article. They were about 6 to 8 inches long, which I thought was really ridiculous for a fly, but I knew dolphin would hit bait that size, so that's what I tied. I tied a few ballyhoo, and a couple of mullet.

My old rod and reel were never intended for the corrosive salt water, but I didn't care if they rusted away, just so long as I caught something really big on them. I had already gotten many years of good service from them, and the rod only cost $14.99, and the reel was $3.98. I don't remember what I paid for the line, but this was all bought in the 1960's, and things were considerably cheaper back then. Of course, I only made $1.65 per hour at that time also.

Dolphin on the Fly

Next time we went out offshore, I took my new flies and my old fly rod. We found a nice sargassum windrow and cut the motors on the boat and coasted up near the weeds. I could see the dolphin hanging out in the shade below the sargassum. I stepped up on the bow of the Pacemaker and started to strip out line as I false casted. My heart was pumping double time. Would those stupid fish really fall for this new trick of mine?

The fly hit the water about 15 feet past where the fish were. I retrieved the ballyhoo in quick long jerks right in front of them. One followed it out. I slowed my retrieve, then gave a 2 foot pull. The old bull dolphin hit that fly like it was the best looking thing he had ever seen!

I had a real fight on my hands now. That cheap old clicker reel had no drag on it. I was not wearing gloves or any other protection. I forgot about the reel and started hand retrieving the line, fighting the fish as I did so. I was afraid to horse him in too quickly, lest he break my tippet. We battled for about 10 or 15 minutes, then I got him tired enough to not run when he got close to the boat. My father leaned over the transom and gaffed him and threw him in the fish box. I had just landed my first saltwater fish on a fly rod!

I continued to carry the old fly rod with me whenever I went out blue water fishing after that. I caught many more dolphin, but was never brave enough, or stupid enough, to attempt a tuna on that tackle. It was designed for bass -- freshwater bass -- and I was really abusing it on the dolphin; a tuna would have destroyed it.


Then, in 1977, we moved to south Florida, but the economy was not as good, and we only had one rather lousy boat down there. I did less fishing in Florida than I should have, but I still caught dolphin on the fly rod. I also went out to Loxahatchee State Park in the Everglades and caught largemouth bass.

About that time, I got married to a wonderful lady from Kentucky. We had a daughter and moved up to Kentucky. When my daughter was about 5, we tried fishing, but she was not interested in the little bluegills we caught. She decided she did not like fishing, so I did not go anymore until we went down to Granpa's in Florida. Her Granpa and Uncle Ken and I were planning to go out for sailfish and marlin, but she was not interested. When I came back with pictures of an 8 foot sailfish I had caught and released, she decided she had missed out on something, and said she wanted to go next time we went.

A couple of years later, when she was about 15, we finally got to go to Florida again, and planned to go fishing. My daughter wanted to go too. She caught some jacks and a small barracuda, and had a blast!

Lake Michigan Tributaries

I now live in Grayslake, Illinois, in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. This spring, 2001, I heard that they have salmon runs up in Wisconsin in the Root River in Racine, and in the Milwaukee River in Milwaukee. I heard that the fish sometimes go over 30 pounds. I decided that such a fish was worthy of my putting forth an effort to catch it.

So I bought a new rod and reel from Jim Williams and got a bunch of new fly tying stuff, waders, vest, and all the associated paraphernalia. I had never fished a river before, nor caught a salmon before, so I bought some books, especially Kenn Filkins' great book, and started educating myself about this new endeavor. I also started frequenting The Steelhead Site, which is a great online resource for salmon and steelhead fly fishermen in the Great Lakes region.

Due to a complication with a medical procedure, I was unable to go fishing this spring, but I spent the summer bass fishing with big deer hair bass bugs and Dahlberg divers. My nice new tackle, consisting of a G. Loomis GLX Mega FR1028/9 rod, Steelfin Vario 8 reel, and Rio Saltwater Taper 9 wt line, threw those big bugs out 65 to 70 feet with almost no effort at all. The setup practically casted itself. Many kudos to Jim Williams for recommending this combination for my needs. I told him I wanted something I could use for salmon, steelhead, bass, pike, muskie, and salt water. This is what he recommended, and it is perfect.

I have since landed a large number of King Salmon with this setup, and it has never failed me yet. I did have a few fish empty my reel, but thanks to a tippet that is intended to break before the backing, all I lost was the tippet and the fly, and the time to wind everything back onto the reel. Many thanks go out to Rich Brown, the Fishin' FatMan, for showing me how to catch these Great Lakes monsters. He is truley a great teacher. Don't miss his Tuesday Fly Tying sessions at Bass Pro Shop in Gurney, Illinois.


So I said all that to say this: I, Gumbo, am a fairly experienced fly fisherman, but not with the kind of fishing we do here in the Wisconsin Great Lakes Tributaries area. For the salmon, I am a rank amateur who had a blast this fall. For steelhead, I am an as yet uninitiated aspirant, but I plan to correct that any day now!


I chose the name "Gumbo" because I am practically addicted to the excellent gumbo and pork BBQ cooked by my friend Eric Anderson at his restaurant, the Hickory House BBQ & Deli. He hickory smokes his own pork, beef, chicken, and turkey on the premises. He will smoke fish or game for you for so much per pound. He is more than just a BBQ chef; he is an experienced gourmet chef, and has many specials. Email him to get on his mailing list. He mails out a menu with specials every week. He also has a free lunch drawing on this list.

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Robert J. Brown
Last modified: Sat Feb 23 03:49:02 CST 2002