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Fishing With Buzzards

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I love to fly fish.  Not for the usual lofty reasons espoused by so many of its adherents, but because it works.  It’s efficient and I catch more fish with a fly than I do with the typical lures.  It may have something to do with the fish in this particular river, but I don’t really know why, it just works.  I live on the Brazos, and when I say “on” I mean on the bank of it.  These fish react much better to flies than to other forms of artificial bait.  If I could figure out a way to keep a live minnow on the hook as I whip the line around I would be using that, nothing works as well as live bait.   If a rusty tin can caught fish I would be flinging that around.  Whatever works is my motto. 

Sometime back I started experimenting with fish attractants, that gooey stuff you put on lures that smells like food to the fish.  Allegedly smells like food to them, but who really knows.   I have tried dozens of commercial attractants over the years, and the results have always been questionable.  I think that some of them might be increasing my catch ratio, but it’s hard to tell.  The one’s that seem to work the best have one thing in common.  They are vile smelling.  The worse they stink, the better they seem to work.

A few weeks ago I had gone fishing and had walked much further down the river than I normally do.  At my age walking in the river is tiring.  My normal distance leaves me exhausted at the end of the day.  This particular day two people were already fishing my normal spot, the guinea hole as I call it, so I went on down to another spot I know of, another mile down river.

On the way home I was dragging as I passed the guinea hole, moving really slowly.  I passed the two fishermen and a half mile later I saw two buzzards standing in the shade on the bank.  They were big, for a minute or two I thought they were wild turkeys.  As I got closer I saw that they were indeed buzzards and I kept walking towards them expecting them to fly off.  They didn’t, they just watched me coming closer.  Admittedly I was moving so slow that a turtle had passed by me, swimming against the current at that.  I wasn’t a threat to the buzzards moving that slow.

Finally I moved out into the river to go by them, I didn’t want them to puke on me.  Buzzards have a defense mechanism; they can shoot a stream of puke twenty feet.  If there is anything in the world nastier than buzzard puke I can’t imagine what it is.  I edged out into the river about thirty feet.  I slowly moved by.  They watched me intently.  They put their heads together, I couldn’t hear what they were whispering, but I know it was about me.

I moved on by, wading out in the water to stay out of puking range.  After a while I looked back and saw that they were following.  They were walking along the water’s edge, keeping pace.  It was no strain for them to keep up.  I thought I heard them chanting in low voices “fall, fall, fall, fall”.  That scared me enough that I picked up the pace.  I was moving so fast that I kept up with another turtle for the next fifty yards.

I told Susan about it that night and she got tickled and started laughing at me, as she often does when I tell her something serious. She said “You know you’re getting old when buzzards follow you around” or something to that effect, hard to say exactly as she was laughing so hard she was garbling her words.  She has a strange sense of humor she does.

The next several fishing trips I saw the buzzards again.  But I wasn’t as tired, I was moving a little bit faster, and moved well out into the river to get by them.  They would watch and follow a little way, then lose interest.  I mentioned the conundrum of the fishing attractants to Susan.  I felt that the stinkier they were the better they worked, but the stinkier they were the less people would probably be willing to buy them. I figure the manufacturer’s marketing people don’t want them to make a smell so powerful that it clears out the store when opened by a prospective buyer.   What I wanted was something so vile smelling that it couldn’t be sold in a store.  Something really foul that put out a huge odor.

Susan decided to help me out.  Using her blender, some liver that had been in the freezer too long, a can of sardines and other miscellaneous fillers, which included garlic, she whipped up a potent and powerful concoction to put on my baits.  She informed me that I was to keep it outside, away from the house.  She was so proud. 

I gave it a try on my next trip a week later.  Opening the little jar the vapors whipped out and assaulted me.  It was probably as vile as buzzard puke.  It hadn’t been near that bad when she made it, but over the week it had fermented in the jar.  Little bubbles were rising to the top of the goo.  It was almost alive; in fact I think it was alive.  It was wildly noxious. Flies started gathering around me.  It made my eyes water every time I took the lid off, but it was working great.  I was catching fish at a phenomenal rate.   The older it got, the worse it smelled.  After about a month of putrefying and fermenting it had gotten to the point I was almost ready to give it up, but the fish kept biting on it so I kept using it.  Gagging makes casting difficult, but the results were worth it.

Yesterday I went fishing.  Those same two guys were in the guinea hole again so I kept on going to the next hole.  I should have gone home.  I wish I had.  When I opened the jar there was an expulsion of fluid!  The gasses had built up to such a pressure that the vile stuffed spewed out and got all over my vest and shorts.  It was really really nasty. I gagged hard for a few minutes, but held breakfast down, barely.   I tried to wash it off by wading out into the deep water.  Man, I caught some fish that day, wading in the water with that stuff brought fish from miles away. 


Catfish were swarming around me like the flies were.  Unfortunately, the oils in the mixture had become imbedded in my clothes; it didn’t come close to washing out.

As I inched my tired way back home I passed the two guys again.  They were downwind.  From two-hundred yards I could see them start reacting to the smell.  By fifty yards one of them was gagging.  As I passed by they suddenly took off, leaving the river by the opposite bank.  They really left fast too.   So I fished there for a while and caught even more fish.

Finally, I was so tired that if I didn’t head home I wasn’t going to make it home.  I saw the vultures.  They smelled me coming and were watching me with an intensity that made me worry.  I moved out into the water, which slowed me down even more.  They started doing a little dance at the edge of the water, hopping about like they were doing a jig.  Way in the back of my conscious mind I heard an airboat coming up river, a long way off.  I didn’t think that was important at the moment, the buzzards had my full attention.   They were scaring me with their agitated behavior.

They followed along the bank, keeping up with me, dancing along, looking eager about something.  I tried to move faster but couldn’t, I was exhausted.  They jumped up and down a couple of times then took to the air.  This was not a good sign.  They flew towards me.  The airboat was coming closer.  The buzzards circled right over my head, not ten feet up.  The circular pattern they were flying was getting tighter and tighter.  I realized they were coming for me.   The combination of my slow movement, the smell, and the thick swarm of flies must have made them think I had died but forgotten to stop walking. They were close to right.  It wasn’t until later I realized the dead smell coming off of me from the fish attractant had pushed them over the edge into a feeding frenzy.

They started making dives at my head.  My only defense was my fly rod.  I started fencing them off with the rod.  I stood in the middle of the river fighting off the buzzards as the airboat came roaring up, wildly flailing at them with the fly rod.  In retrospect I realize it did look pretty crazy but at the time I was in a fight for my life.  One of them, scared by the airboat I think, puked on me before they flew away.  It was horrible.  Truly disgustingly horrible and I puked my guts out, several times.  I’m pretty sure I saw my toenails float away.  I started to lie down in the water to wash it off, but then had a better idea.  I opened the jar and scraped buzzard puke into it until it was full again.  Then the airboat arrived.  It was the local game warden.  We had met before, but not under auspicious circumstances.  He was not my friend, not quite.

He pulled to a stop next to me, making the mistake of shutting down his engine, which eliminated his fresh oxygen supply as the blades rotated to a stop.  I stood there, covered in buzzard puke and rotten fish attractant, smelling like the inside of a ten-hot-days dead water buffalo rotting away in the sun, peering out at him from inside a thick swarm of flies.  I knew this wasn’t going to turn out good. The smell hit him.  He was now at ground zero with me.  He puked all over his nice pretty uniform.  He puked all over his nice pretty boat.  Then he just stared at me for a minute with his red watering eyes and gasped out “You again?   I’m writing you a ticket for molesting a protected species.”  And he did.  He didn’t listen to my story at all, occasionally gagging while he was writing it. Shaking his head and making disturbing sounds.  He made me stick my rod out so he could hook the ticket to my fly.  And then he told me not to worry with signing his book.  I think I can beat the rap based on that technicality.  Then he fired up the engine and rooster tailed away as fast as he could.  The prop wash was a momentary respite from the smells and the flies.  I wished I could have kept up behind him.  But, alas, the prop wash soon dissipated and I was back in the putrid envelope of foul rancid air and flying insects again.

I waded on towards home until I reached the next deep spot.  I looked around - no one.  I stripped quickly and submerged, taking my clothes in hand with me.  I spent an hour scrubbing myself all over with sand – I scrubbed until my skin was nearly raw and bleeding.  I scrubbed my clothes with sand over and over.  I fought off the catfish.   Just as I was about to stand up to dress again the game warden came back down the river.  I remained sitting down; I didn’t want a ticket for public indecency added to the list.

He slowed down as he passed.  From his high perch in the airboat he could see I was naked under the water.  I saw the thought cross his mind, and then I saw the other thought cross his mind as he shook his head, gunned the engine and tore off down river as fast as he could go.

When I got home Susan was watering the lawn.  She puckered her face, held her nose and told me to throw my clothes in the trash can.  She brought soap and a loofa and held the hose on me while I scrubbed and scrubbed – all over again.  I was doused with cologne, sprayed with air-freshener.  By now I barely had any skin left.  She waited a minute and then pronounced that I would be sleeping outside.  And I did, all night long.  Mosquitoes would occasionally land on me and then take off again without biting.


But it’s ok, because I still have that jar of fish attractant/buzzard puke.  Man is that stuff going to catch fish!


© 2024 Lloyd Tackitt
Picture Turkey Vulture Creator USFWS Description A turkey vulture perches on a tree branch. Date of Original 1 June 2008
About the author, Lloyd Tackitt:
I live on the edge of the Brazos River. I walk out my front door and into the river and - boom - I am fishing just like that. For me the river is fascinating. The mile long stretch I fish is a microcosm of the river, I have it all in that one mile. Trying to figure out where the fish are, what they are doing, why they are doing it, what they are biting, if they are biting - this is what keeps me in the river casting flys. I fly fish almost exclusively. It isnít that I am a fly fishing snob, itís that fly fishing works Ė itís effective - and it has added benefits. I carry all my tackle in a vest, no tackle box needs to be dragged along. The casting itself is fun, even when I donít catch fish Iíve enjoyed the experience of casting. Fly rods enhance the experience of bringing fish in. I like the hands on the line feel instead of the feel of line spooling up on a reel and muted down through a gear and crank system. Fish fight better and feel better on a fly rod. Fly fishing just feels better to me than other methods.