I am told the first time I held a fly rod was at the young age of two. Obviously I don’t remember it, but I have an old black and white picture as evidence of my first fishing trip with my grandfather for bluegill (bream) in May of 1954 on Lake Conway in Central Arkansas. We used bamboo fly rods of unknown origin and small corks (real corks), split shot, and worms from my grandpa’s backyard worm bed.
Eventually, I would graduate from bamboo fly rods and live bait to a popping bug with a “bream killer” dropper and a fiberglass fly rod. That first trip was the beginning of a relationship with my grandfather (my fishing buddy) that would last until his death in 1971. It was also the beginning of a lifelong love affair with fishing.
My grandfather was disabled and that was before the days of trolling motors, so I learned early how to make a johnboat dance behind me under the power of a 2 ½ foot sculling paddle. My grandfather would run his 3 hp Evinrude motor and I would sit on the front of a 14 foot rented wooden or aluminum johnboat and when the motor stopped I would scull with one arm and fly fish with the other. By the time I was 11 years old I was adept at my version of multi-tasking: sculling and fly fishing with my popping bug and bream killer rig. We fished the old White River oxbow lakes like Maddox Bay and Taylor Bay and the man-made lakes of Central Arkansas like Harris Brake, Overcup and Conway. We did our best to help control the bluegill population of Central Arkansas, resorting to live bait when necessary. I scraped the scales off of hundreds of bream with a kitchen spoon on the floor of my grandpa’s garage.
By the time I was 13, my friend Mike and I would walk or catch a ride a couple of miles carrying our fly rods and sculling paddle from our lower middle class neighborhood in North Little Rock to the upper class section of town that had several lakes. The lakes were for the residents of Lakewood to fish, swim and waterski. There were several flat bottom boats kept on each lake for residents to use. The boats were chained and locked but we had friends from school that lived in Lakewood and we usually could find a friend to help us out. On the rare occasions that we couldn’t get a boat we would simply wade out to our necks and cast back toward the bank, working our way around the lake. We practiced “catch and release” by necessity. Teenagers with strings of bluegill and bass were not as welcome in folks’ cars as those without fish and we could generally catch a ride at least part of the way home.
By the time I hit 18 I had traded in my fly rod for a Garcia ultra-light fiberglass spinning rod with a Mitchell 308 reel and by age 19 I had a canoe. I definitely spent more time in my college years in the back of a canoe than in class. The destinations of choice back then were Crooked Creek, Buffalo River, Kings River, Cossatot River, and the Mulberry River among others. My buddies and I loved to catch smallmouth and rock bass on marabou jigs, small crankbaits and floating rapalas.
But a new fishing passion started taking hold in those early years as well. I had my first taste of trout fishing when my father and grandfather rewarded me as a 10 year old with a float trip on the White River below Bull Shoals dam. I was hooked for life. I started with spinning gear and live bait, then moved quickly to sinking rapalas and finally a fly rod and woolly buggers before I made an important discovery.
In 1978 my wife and I were camping on the Little Red River when someone told me that I should try using small marabou jigs to fish for trout. I found some 1/32 oz. black and brown marabou jigs and an obsession began. I spent hours in shallow water observing the behavior of trout in response to the presentation of my jig. I learned that if I popped my arm that the jig would jump several feet upward toward me stimulating the trout to strike as the jig dropped back down. The method was much more effective than simply retrieving the jig slowly.
For the next 15 years I caught literally thousands of brown, rainbow, and brook trout up to 30 inches using the “pop and drop” method of jig fishing with ultra-light spin gear and 2-4 pound line. Eventually I started guiding to make extra income. There were lots of 100 plus fish days back then.
I went through the tournament bass fishing phase next. Fishing local tournaments with friends and family in our bass boats. It was great fun but my passion for fly fishing which had never been fully quenched began to re-emerge.
I decided to fully re-engage with fly fishing shortly after I turned 50. I began fishing the small lakes around Northwest Arkansas for “bream” reconnecting with my past. My “fly” of choice was a tiny 1/125 oz. black marabou jig fished below a strike indicator. Bob Kidd Lake, Prairie Grove Lake, Lincoln Lake, Crystal Lake, Lake Leatherwood, Elmdale Lake, the Bella Vista Lakes and Lake Fayetteville are loaded with “eating size” bluegill and red-ear and they loved my tiny black marabou jig. If the bite slowed up, I would “tip” my jig with a “power wiggler” which guaranteed that the strike indicator would go down. I have never professed to being a “purist”. I simply love to catch fish and I love to see other people with me catch fish.
Eventually I took up “stripping” a jig with my fly rod on the White, Norfork, and Little Red Rivers. Again catching and releasing thousands of trout of all sizes on small marabou jigs. The method works well even during heavy generation and high water, but 8 to 10 feet of sink tip leader is a necessity when the flows are heavy.
About 10 years ago an older friend of mine graciously started taking me with him to more exotic destinations. I have now fished with Jim in Alaska, British Columbia, Labrador, Chile and Argentina as well as some of the famous trout streams of the Western United States. I can say unequivocally that a small marabou jig presented properly will effectively catch every species of salmon, Char and trout in large numbers. I have landed King Salmon up to 40 inches and Silver Salmon up to 36 inches on a fly rod using a small marabou jig.
My wife started PJ’s Tackle Co. (formerly PJ’s Finesse Baits) in 1999 as a hobby and because our original jig maker Ellen Klosterman had retired and our friend, Jerry Dudley who also tied jigs had developed an allergy to the marabou. Eventually Pam connected her love for fishing and her tying skills with a passion to help provide employment to women living in extreme poverty in other countries.
I am 65 years old now and God has graciously allowed my wife and I to pass on to our children and grandchildren a love for fishing and has given us the opportunity to launch a small business that helps people and keeps us connected to something we enjoy. I have had the privilege of spending thousands of hours fishing in some of the most beautiful places in the world for some really big fish but nothing thrills me anymore than fishing for bream with my grandkids and seeing that cork (strike indicator now) go down and hearing one of them say “Got one Pa”. Life has truly come full circle.