May 17th, 2004

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Soapstone Sliding
By Michael Saunders (Gill Nut)

"If you go down to that creek, you'll get a whipping when you get home."

Those were commonplace words in the summers of my youth. We lived on ten acres outside of the sleepy little city of Selma, Alabama. A quarter mile of dirt road wound past two other houses that sat on Hwy 80 by the row of mailboxes and past the driveway to our home. The city limits were on the other side of Valley Creek, which was the east boundary of our property.

Valley Creek was like a magnet to a small boy. I would eventually find my way there at least once or twice a week. Watching out for the occasional water moccasin was like second nature to my list of comrades and I. Getting caught was the biggest worry. I guess the only way I got caught was by the telltale stains on the bottom of my cutoff shorts. Soapstone stains, from sliding down the slick bank into the pool where the old grist mill had been at one time. If you splashed enough water up from the creek on the right area and plopped down with the right amount of forward momentum, you were pleasantly rewarded with a small amount of air time before hitting the water.

Give me a moment here to recover a little of my childhood before I talk about the other type of soapstone sliding. That is, the fishing kind. The kind that almost always rewards you with a good fight from a scrappy bluegill or occasional bass.

Soapstone is a wonderful thing. It got the name by the texture, with a consistency like a bar of soap. I'm talking river soapstone here - not the kind you see things carved from or inlaid with. This is gray colored, slicker than banana pudding when wet, soapstone. There is a particular type of mayfly that burrows into the soapstone and you can break chunks of it apart and dig out the larva, or "grubs" as mom used to call them.

Most of my fishing is done on one of several rivers, all within ten miles of me. I live where the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers come together to form the Alabama River. Along the banks of these rivers there are sections of this wonderful stone exposed with numerous niches and structure under the water level. These are areas that you don't want to pass up on your way as you float down the river. Most fishermen neglect this wonderful fish holding structure in favor of a brush pile or fallen tree. Don't let a soapstone bank pass you by next time. Let me introduce you to the art of soapstone slidin' as we call it.

Before my introduction to the wonderful apparatus known as a flyrod, I would use the 'other' long pole, a bamboo one about 12 - 14' in length. No bobber was used to dangle the cricket below. Only a #10 or #12 cricket laden hook and one BB split shot. Deftly swing the offering over towards the bank, allowing it to actually hit the bank, then fall into the water. From the fishes point of reference, this is a terrestrial offering that apparently lost its grip and dropped into the buffet area.

Nothing left to do but watch your line from that point. Having done this with a cane pole and 6# test line for years, when I switched over to the flyrod it became even easier to watch the larger diameter of the flyline for the take. Sometimes the take will come as a twitch on the line, but more often than not the line will stop flowing with the current and start back upstream. This means either a fish is on or the fly has become lodged on an object. Most often it will be a fish as there are rarely any snags along these banks.

Best fly choice for this is either a nymph or some attractor type of wet fly. A small attractor is my favorite as it is more easily seen by the fish as the current moves it by. I tie a bead-headed nymph on a #10 hook, using Green Tinsel Chenille for a body and a red bead. You can tie one of these quicker than seven cats can skin a minnow (as my dad would have said). Expect quick and hard strikes with this type of fishing. They want to grab the food and move back to their structure as fast as they can. I do not use a heavily weighted fly. I want the drop to be more natural. More like a drift. A bugger with some crystal flash tied in and no lead wire would be another good choice.

I will float the same bank time and time again in the course of a days fishing. Maintain position with a trolling motor while drifting along, keeping yourself a set distance from the bank. I will get to the end of a bank and crank the big motor, and move back to the upper end and fish the same bank again. Usually by the time you have done this, the areas where you picked up fish are calmed back down from the excitement and you can pick up another.

One last tip that goes against the grain for most. Don't try to maintain a tight line while your fly is drifting. It will just pull it away from the bank and out of the productive zone. This is a visual method and line watching is a must. A long leader is not needed unless the fish are holding deeper. Tie on a strike indicator at the leader/line connection if needed.

Good Luck and remember to keep a "loose line" - until that big Bluegill is on the other end. ~ Mike Saunders (Gill Nut)

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