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Beer of the month for November is Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.  Not only is it one of my favorite IPAs and no doubt one of the best in the land, but it also features a brook trout on the bottle and packaging – in that regard I like to think of it as the fly fisherman’s beer.  Sadly you won’t find Bell’s in Louisiana, which is something that I hope changes in the near future, but you can find it in Georgia, which is where I was able to find it last week. What Bell’s has to say about the Two Hearted Ale:

“Bell’s Two Hearted Ale is defined by its intense hop aroma and malt balance. Hopped exclusively with the Centennial hop varietal from the Pacific Northwest, massive additions in the kettle and again in the fermenter lend their characteristic grapefruit and pine resin aromas. A significant malt body balances this hop presence; together with the signature fruity aromas of Bell’s house yeast, this leads to a remarkably drinkable American-style India Pale Ale.

Alcohol by Volume:  7.0%
Original Gravity:  1.064
Shelf Life:  6 months
Dates Available:  Year Round
Available Packages:  Bottle (6-packs), 16 oz. cans (4-pcks) and draft”

What the beer geeks have to say about Two Hearted Ale:

http://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/287/1093/

http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/bells-two-hearted-ale/1502/

http://draftmag.com/review/1075/

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In the past few years I have really grown to appreciate a good beer.  It is no coincidence that the rest of the US seems to feel the same way, as craft brewing in America is bigger than it has ever been.  These are exciting times for beer geeks, a little overwhelming at times, but exciting.  For once Louisiana is not being left behind either.  Several new breweries have come online in the past few years and, as a state, we’re slowly building quite a catalog of craft breweries.  I’m proud to say that my cousin Lindsay is now officially in that number.  Lindsay and her husband Scott have talked about opening up a brewery in New Orleans for a few years now and just recently they accomplished that goal with the grand opening of the Courtyard Brewery.  I happened to be working in the New Orleans area that week and was able to stop by to check the place out and grab a couple pints of deliciousness.

Their first day open was also the first day they were allowed to start brewing so they didn’t have any of their own beers available (not sure if that has changed yet, but I think a session IPA was going to be their first offer), but that really didn’t slow them down.  They operate a little differently than you’re standard brewery and offer 12 rotating guest taps with only top shelf craft brews.  They are fans of West Coast style beers so Lagunitas, Green Flash, New Belgium, Stone and North Coast were all represented.  The one local option that made the cut was the Korova Milk Porter from Gnarly Barley, and it was obvious why as it was damn good.  In fact I’m pretty sure it was the first to keg to tap out on the night.

The brewery itself is small, so small it is being dubbed a nano-brewery.  Their brewing equipment is slightly larger than what you would have at home, so don’t expect to find any of Courtyard’s beers at your local grocer.  Because of it’s size don’t expect a big brewery tour either – if you’ve taken one brewery tour though you know the process – beer is made the same everywhere, with the same 4 ingredients – water, yeast, malt and hops. The brewery felt more like a tasting room and I’m pretty sure that is the vibe they are putting out there.  I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the tap list was superb, I left just as the food truck started serving, but I’m pretty sure they will be doing that as much as possible.  All of the beers offered were $5-6 for a heavy 16 oz pour, a heck of a deal, so if you’re looking for a good place in New Orleans to get good beer at a good price, go check out Courtyard at 1020 Erato St.

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I have not had much time to sit down and write lately as I have been busy – busy with work, busy with family, busy with life in general.  That being said this blog has been nominated again this year in the YakAngler 2014 Kayak Angler Choice Awards.  I’m honored to receive a nomination because it shows that there are kayak anglers out there that appreciate and are entertained by this blog and for that I am very thankful.  I hope I can keep things fresh and promise I will eventually find time to write (and fish) again.  If you’d like to extend a vote my way I would be happy to accept it: YakAngler 2014 Kayak Angler Choice Awards

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If you don’t know whom else to vote for in each category I will offer some suggestions:

Angler of the Year – Hands down Steve Lessard.  I can’t think of a more deserving kayak angler out there than my friend Steve.  The man consistently whoops our behinds in BCKFC and IFA tournaments and he was up to the task on foreign soil in the Hobie Worlds.  He is an exceptional angler and a great guy – he is my AOY.

Kayak of the Year – I’m a Jackson guy so I may be a little biased  but I’m torn here between the Kraken and the Big Rig.  Each of these boats is a game changer in their own way.  I got to paddle a Kraken at the Dealer Summit and can tell you that this is one slick ride.  They don’t mention it much but guys like me can stand and fish from the Kraken and still have the fastest boat on the water.

Paddle of the Year –  The Manta Ray carbon and the Surge carbon from Aqua Bound have been my two favorite paddles I’ve ever owned.  Surprisingly the Surge carbon wasn’t on the nomination list, so the nod here goes to the Manta Ray. Compare it’s weight and blade size with other paddles that have been nominated – you won’t find another high angle paddle under 30oz.

Forum of the YearBayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club is my local club.  It’s a great group, no surprise they were nominated.

Outfitter of the Year – Another local favorite here - Pack & Paddle.  Why do I love Pack & Paddle?  Let me count the ways – huge kayak rigging section, local tackle and flies, a knowledgeable staff that fishes, great seminars and demo days, Beer & Gear, and one of the best kayak displays I’ve ever seen.

Location of the Year – Grand Isle, easy.  The site of the biggest kayak fishing tournament in the World in Ride the Bull.  This place is kayak fishing mecca and I have some converts from freshwater Alabama that may agree.

Video of the Year – Business as Usual by Team HookedonYak.  I love this video because its fun, original, it comes from regular guys like you and me, not some video professionals who want to blow you away with drones and forced fishing drama.  These are some South Louisiana boys going to work on some reds showcasing the incredible fishing we have to offer.  If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch below.

I didn’t do a good job of posting my monthly staples, beer and fly, in October so I am doing it now.  The beer of the month for October was the Milk Stout Nitro from Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, Colorado.  I got turned onto milk stouts by an old high school pal of mine one night when I was back home for Thanksgiving.  He did a little bartending while in college up at Indiana, so I was privy to his recommendation.  I wasn’t much of a stout drinker at the time, but a good milk stout will certainly turn a man.  I’m not sure if the Nitro is what we were drinking, but it has been my favorite of the style thus far.  I’m kind of bummed that the one time I went through Longmont, CO I didn’t make it over to the brewery, we went to Oskar Blues instead (not too shabby for Longmont to have both Oskar Blues and Left Hand in the same town).  There is a damn fine fly shop in Longmont and plenty of good fishing nearby so maybe I’ll make my way up there again in the future.  This is a Nitro:

And this is how you pour it – hard:

What the beer geeks have to say about it:

http://allthesamebeer.com/2013/01/24/beer-review-0313-left-hand-milk-stout-nitro/

http://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/418/115076/

http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/left-hand-milk-stout-nitro/155990/

I don’t believe I’ve ever fished for a fish where you count follows.  A follow meaning the fish following the bait to the boat.  I’ve counted strikes before when fishing and I’ve counted fish that have “long distance released” themselves, but never follows.  I learned last week that in musky fishing you count follows.  Otherwise what do you have to show for when you fish for them?  When you fish for the “fish of a thousand casts” you have to keep the optimism, counting follows makes sense, it helps to keep you casting and helps to keep that bait in the water.

I did a float last Sunday up in Tennessee with fellow Jackson teammates Chris Funk and Josh Tidwell.  Josh, having fished for musky a handful of times was our resident expert, which wasn’t saying a whole lot (no offense to Josh, I think he’ll understand), but he was the only one of us who had ever actually touched one.  We didn’t get too early of a start, getting a good breakfast in us before hitting the water.  We had heard a different section of the river we planned to hit was blown out, so we were a little nervous about the condition, but upon arrival it was in great condition, we would have a good day, even if we didn’t catch anything. which is entirely possible in musky fishing.  It was a little low, but clarity was excellent, with just the slightest of stain to it and all more important no one was at the put-in or the take-out – the water was all ours.

I have previously fished for musky before.  One time, four years ago, same stretch of water actually.  It was when Jackson first came out with the Coosa and a bunch of the OG fishing team guys went to the factory to find out a little more about the boat and this whitewater company that was making it.  We had a huge group on the float and none of us really knew what we were doing.  I remember getting a bite from something, probably a smallie, and that was it.  Not very memorable, other than it was the first time any of us had floated in the Coosa, or even in a Jackson Kayak at all.  I trusted that Drew knew what he was doing when he designed this boat and rolled the dice.  Fast forward to today and I am super happy to have made that decision, it has been a lot of fun being a part of the Jackson team and the boats just keep getting better and better.

Because of our slow day last time and because I really haven’t thought about musky fishing in the four years since that first trip – I really didn’t have high hopes of even seeing one, even though Josh was saying, “we will at least see one”.  Imagine my surprise when not fifteen minutes into our trip Josh is hooked up and it’s a musky.  Fish of a thousand casts my ass.  It was a juvenile fish, maybe around 24″, but it was really cool to actually see one up close and to know that it really was possible.  Unfortunately for me, he caught him on a walk-the-dog style bait and all my walk-the-dog style baits were in a saltwater box back in Louisiana.  Josh hooked up with musky below:

The musky fishing quieted down after that fish and brought us back to reality.  More typical musky fishing took over and we began counting follows whenever we could get them.  I had two throughout the day with a near hook-up boat-side on a figure 8 retrieve with a buzzbait.  I finally got a solid eat almost within sight of the take out – a testament to the “fish of a thousand casts” moniker.  I was throwing a black/blue chatterbait hoping for musky or smallies when I got a vicious eat near the bank.  I saw the giant musky head shake and when I reared back to set the hook it came back limp.  He easily broke me off as I wasn’t fishing wire tippet.  It was enough to get the adrenaline pumping and to give me a fish story I can tell the rest of my life, where the subject keeps growing as I get older.  Right now I’ve got him at around 36″, but by the time I die that musky will be damn near 72″.

Conditions were excellent for the first half of our float, everything was beautiful, unfortunately the skies opened up on the second half.  Smallie fishing was pretty good throughout and the rock bass were on fire for Chris.  That man can flat work a jig, he was picking up fish left and right, especially right along any bluff wall.  I didn’t land too many of my fish, but managed to boat a nice smallie who hit a buzzbait pretty much on impact with the water.  I learned on this trip that I fish way too fast for freshwater.  Chris landed a couple personal best smallmouth and had a few heart stopping moments with musky as well.

It was a good float and like Josh said, we did end up seeing some musky.  I’d love to have that one that ate back, that would have really been something special, but I wasn’t prepared and I paid for it.  I know better than that.  That was the first time I’ve fished with Chris and I’ve got to say, it is a hoot!  You’ll never meet anyone out there on the water that has more fun than that guy.  He has jokes for days too, which goes a long way in a good fishing partner.  Chris is an excellent photographer, so I didn’t really take too many, knowing that he would have better quality shots.

Back at camp we had just enough time to change clothes before we headed off to EJ’s house for a little pre-summit social.  It was a pleasant surprise to see that Jackson teamed up with Ninkasi Brewing out of Oregon and they had several of their craft brews available for us to partake.  Good people, good beer, and good food are the elements of a great party and the Jackson’s always hit on all parts.