Fishing the Salmon…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 22, 2015 by stflyfisher

It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory … over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: You will outlive the bastards.

― Edward Abbey

I have fly fished my share of upstate NY over the years, but the fabled Salmon River has always escaped me. I suppose I was intimidated by the river’s fame and also by its power – both for good and bad. The river is well known for its world class fishing but with that comes its own curse. It draws a circus with each year’s salmon run and along with many good and respectful anglers a draft of the darker side of humanity. And it can be a widow-maker, literally, when wading anglers come ill-equipped and ill-informed.

Looking upriver at the Douglaston Salmon Run.

Looking upriver at the Douglaston Salmon Run.

It wasn’t until late in 2011 when I first wet a line there and that was only under the sage tutelage and guidance of Loren Williams, a great local guide and fly tyer.  I did well under Loren’s watch, but failed to return to try it on my own. I was too much in awe of it, and so chose to fish the places I knew far better – places where the river bed was certain and the fishing calculable – places and fish that were comfortable to me. Perhaps I was just playing it safe, but safe bets get one no closer to achieving improvement in any endeavor. I think an angler’s fishing suffers when they don’t continuously fish waters that in some way push the envelope at least a little bit.

Enter John Trainor, one of the board officers in the local IFFF chapter of the BC Flyfishers. John has fished the Salmon River a lot over the recent past. And he’s certainly done well there. After hearing some of his stories, I just had to ask – “wanna go fishing”? John was kind enough to oblige.

We met up very early this past Veteran’s Day – a Tuesday. We drove north to the Salmon River in the dark, had a quick breakfast on the way up, and arrived on the river a little past 7:30 am. Our first stop was a place a coworker had recommended – the Long Bridge Pool. We parked in town, rigged up, and walked our way down to the river, and I must say I was disappointed, but let me first preface that statement. I am one of those anglers spoiled by the solitude found on some of our local waters, particularly the warmwater rivers like the Tioughnioga, Chenango, Chemung, and the Susquehanna. As has been posted here before, an angler could spend an entire day and see just a few anglers, if any at all, on these waters. So walking to any river and seeing anglers every 20 to 30 feet or so and in some cases closer yet, was hard for me. John seemed unfazed and commented that the crowd actually wasn’t too bad. I guess my lack of Salmon River experienced showed!

We walked up to the Long Bridge Pool and found two openings. John rigged me up for bottom bouncing one of his fishy looking estaz egg patterns. Then he headed upriver to some transition water where he tried swinging a streamer, leaving me to fish the head of a pool below him. There was an interesting seam and a very deep pocket not far from where I stood and it was there I decided to work my fly. I cast up into the faster water and followed the fly down the seam. As is sometimes the case with fly fishing, long periods of dullness can suddenly erupt with goodness. But this was no wild take. Instead I noticed my fly line suddenly move upstream to which I followed by raising my rod tip sharply. I soon had a tiger by the tail, but this tiger did not jump. Instead it zigged and zagged, shook its head at times, and on many occasions darted out to the fast water just beyond. After some net assistance from a downstream angler and John, it became apparent that this was a domestic rainbow – splendidly colored and a somewhat unique catch.

A beautiful rainbow trout from the Salmon River...

A beautiful rainbow trout from the Salmon River…

We fished that stretch a bit more and then decided to head upriver. I won’t pretend to have come close to memorizing the pools John spouted off by name, their history, or his personal vignettes from years plying the Salmon River. We ate a great lunch at a little diner in town – regrettably, I’ve since lost its name but could recognize it just walking by. It was one of those home-town places frequented by friends, not customers. I felt right at home and devoured a roast beef club and a tall icy Coca Cola fountain drink.

By that time, temps outside were becoming exceptionally pleasant for early November. We headed upriver again after fishing a bit in town and like a tour guide, John pointed out all the various holes and access points with their interesting names, like The Compactor Pool, Sportsman Pool,  Trestle Pool, Pineville, and Ellis Cove, all the while filling in with his own stories, good and bad, from fishing these spots.

We ended up at the lower fly zone, and after scouting a bit for the best access, decided to fish a pool located at the foot of a cemetery and church. We actually stopped there once, then decided to check out the upper fly zone, before returning to find the stretch of river a lot more crowded than when we first stopped. Indeed, there were only a few spots along a stone bank erosion wall. It certainly wasn’t wade fishing perched atop the rocks, but it did provide good access to a pretty run that looked very fishy.

The fishing was more “chuck and duck”, and ongoing experimenting with fly type, size and color, and weight. After a while my persistence was rewarded when my drift came to a very abrupt halt, followed by a nice head-shake, and the spastic run and jump of a steelhead. My JP Ross 8 weight handled the fish well – bending deeply to its power. I played it carefully as it waged a deep upstream slog, interrupted by occasional runs for the riffle just below. Eventually I could feel it tiring, and John was there to tail it for me. It was a nice male, dark from time in the river and best of all, hooked fairly in the corner of its mouth with one of my own estaz egg patterns.

A nice steelhead on my own tied fly...

A nice steelhead on my own tied fly…

A while later I hooked up again – this time with a different color and style egg pattern…

John doing the honors for me with my second steelhead...

John doing the honors for me with my second steelhead…

In all it was a great day on the water, far surpassing how I thought it might go. It was a day that built my confidence, thanks at least in part to John’s help in introducing the river to me.

A couple of weeks later I decided to try it all again. John could not go so I decided to spread my wings on my own. As I prepared for the Sunday trip, I could feel that same uneasiness that I’d felt before – would I be up to the task?, would the river smack me down after “beginners luck”? I can say I’m glad I went for two reasons – the fishing and the fishermen…

I fished the same spot in the lower fly zone. I felt I knew the water at least and the weather would again be on the milder winter side, although this time there was snow on the ground. I arrived fairly early but already the river had a good crowd. Anglers were spread along the river and ironically, I found the same section along the bank erosion wall to be open. I set up and began fishing. A while into fishing I got a good jolting grab at the end of a drift and struggled to get my line on the reel. By the time I was tight to the fish it was off and the end of my tippet told the woeful tale – my non-slip loop knot had not been tied correctly (note that this is a great knot that can give good movement to a fly but it can be tied incorrectly and will then fail easily). Worst of all, I had lost a nice fish on one of my flies.

I continued to fish a while with no results – the fishing seemed to be off and then on again and with no obvious explanation. During the off period I was lucky enough to be entertained by an absolute riot of a fly fisherman who had been sleeping on a nearby snow bank while his friend fished downstream of me. Eventually he rose, rigged up, and fished, and I will admit he was good – he claimed to be a guide. This guy turned out to be part comedian, part “gangsta-rapper-dude”, part California surfer, sporting a flat-brimmed ball cap and a voice tone reminiscent of Jeff Spicoli, of Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame. His stories were hilarious feats of angling prowess combined with life in the fast lane. He told me later he had stayed at the Tailwater Lodge and his dinner bill at the bar the night before was $170, with only $40 of it going for food.

In any case, I honestly liked the guy, and he was good with a net, landing the two steelhead I caught that day for me. I learned from him as well – both from observation and discussion. In between stories and narration of the fishing around us, he’d point out tips and techniques as well as different fly patterns that worked for him. He and his friend left mid-afternoon, quite possibly to hold court at the Tailwater Lodge bar. I left soon after that myself, feeling good about my day on the Salmon…

A beautiful steelhead, landed with the help and net of my colorful fishing friend...

A beautiful steelhead, landed with the help and net of my colorful fishing friend…

My second steelhead of the day...

My second steelhead of the day…

Driving home I thought about how anglers sometimes make fly fishing too difficult. The monster of awe we lay on fish and fishing can cause us to respect and esteem the wariness and cunning of the gamefish we seek too much, perhaps. I was once reminded by a guide that the trout we were fishing for were armed with a brain the size of a pea. While it is never good to fish such fabled rivers as the Salmon with an air of smugness, it’s just as bad to not fish it because we think it greater than our capacities, skills, or abilities. I look back on the years I didn’t fish the Salmon River as years I’ll never regain. But I’ll value that as a lesson looking forward. I’ll remember the Salmon every time I hesitate to venture on new waters, cast to  unknown fish, or angle in ways unfamiliar. And I’ll fish regardless.

 

 

 

 

More on Maddie – no better friend…

Posted in Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on December 5, 2014 by stflyfisher

Those who follow this blog know a little about Maddie. I posted a piece on our adoption of her, or perhaps I should say her adoption of my family about a year and a half ago. She was a “return”. Previous owners had adopted her as a young puppy but we believe may have found her too much to handle. So she was lovingly taken back by her wonderful shelter, Every Dog’s Dream, in Greene, NY, and after we saw her photo, it was, as they say, love at first sight…

Most people know that Labs love the water. But Hound / Lab mixes like Maddie – well, I wasn’t so sure. As near as can be guessed, Maddie is a Redbone Coonhound and Labrador Retriever cross. She has the ears of a Lab, the head of a coonhound, the coat of a Lab and the tail and deeper chest of a coonhound. She’ll bay like a coonhound, even stand up to a tree if she’s chased a squirrel, yet she also has a deep bark that warns with authority. She’s goofy, playful, wicked fast, retrieves, and loves her toys…

A dog's gotta have toys...

A dog’s gotta have toys…

Maddie first met water not long after we adopted her in March of 2013. And beautiful Jones Park, profiled here before, was the site of our first forays in field and stream. Maddie loved the snow and the woods, but ice and water took some getting used to. The first time I crossed the brook there, she paced back and forth on the other side, whining aloud before finally being coaxed across the frozen surface of the brook. From there though, she started liking water, and these days that little brook is a favorite of hers.

Beautiful Jones Park - this little brook was Maddie's intro to the wonderful world of woods and water...

Beautiful Jones Park – this little brook was Maddie’s intro to the wonderful world of woods and water…

But that was generally shallow wading with the exception of a few few plunges in chest-deep holes. It took most of this past summer before the Susquehanna River dropped low enough for easy wading and the perfect opportunity to introduce Maddie to real swimming and maybe even some river fishing. My first trial would be a “no pressure” jaunt to an area above the Campville fishing access where there was a lot of water with a gradual transition and areas shielded from river current. We took a ride there one Sunday summer afternoon. While I had my fly rod, the goal was to wet wade and fish casually, inviting Maddie to join the water and “fish” with me.

It’s never an issue getting Maddie to take a ride in the car. Open any door and she’s eager to climb in and take up position in the back seat. She’ll then plant both front feet on the center console and look forward, or roam across the back bench seat, poking her head out either open window, ears flapping in the wind. It’s a sight to see in a little Subaru Outback and reminds me that one day I really do need to get a pick-up truck…

Cruising and scoping out the countryside, Maddie style...

Cruising and scoping out the countryside, Maddie style…

So after we arrived at the large DEC access, I took a few minutes to rig up, and then set off up-river, through the woods. Maddie was all over the place in her usual land rover style; sniffing, marking, chasing chipmunks and squirrels – all good doggie stuff. We walked out to a large rocky bar on the river and there we did a little wading as I cast my line. Maddie never strays afar – possibly an attachment issue from her past. She was right by me the whole time. I waded into the river until she almost moon-walked the bottom – and that was good enough for our first adventure. I didn’t want to push it.

Maddie wades the Susquehanna shallows...

An intro – Maddie wades the Susquehanna shallows…

The following week we repeated the same exercise. Maddie was a lot friskier, chasing plovers, wading in where I fished while watching the fly line where it entered the water. We waded deeper this time but I wasn’t having much luck with the bass. Eventually we headed to a feeder creek with a very deep hole. I spied a bass in the hole and cast my olive soft hackle bugger across the pool. It was like ringing a dinner bell as 4 bass quickly emerged from the green depths. These fish had most likely been trapped in this hole all summer – the feeder creek tailed out to a slight trickle before entering the river – and as the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers in a spot like that. The biggest of the bass struck my fly aggressively, not wanting to let such a meal get by, and a good tussle began. The fish darted towards the security of a downfall and root ball. I put the brakes on while hollering for Maddie. I lipped the bass, removed the hook, gave Maddie a chance to say hello, and then released the bass. Maddie literally dove right into the hole in pursuit and soon experienced water without bottom. She came dog-paddling back, no worse for wear, and a certified swimmer!

Scoping out the faster water....

Surveying the faster water and making Dad a little nervous from afar…

I was thrilled, but never doubted she could do it. So we returned to the river the following week with a plan to explore a little more. I wondered, would she travel down to the honey hole – the one where the bass could be big – the one I loved to fish?

We got to the access and this time took a wooded path downriver. The path paralleled the river for a bit and then veered off along a river braid. As we hiked, Maddie would dash down to the river braid and then charge back up to find me, flying up 6 foot banks like they were nothing. Soon we came out where the river braid re-entered the river at a beautiful bay that I love to fish…

This is sweet water for fly fishing and fishing this spot gave Maddie the opportunity to explore the river-side and take a swim.

Loving the river...

Loving the river…

Soon after arriving, I cast and swung my olive soft hackle bugger through a chute of water from the river braid and that proved to be a little too much for one nice bass. The fish took the fly solidly and went airborne with the hook-set. Maddie rushed in deep where the bass zigged and zagged, trying to intercept it. At one point it darted between her legs!

A nice smallmouth landed with aid of a water dog - note the paw in the upper left...

A nice smallmouth landed with aid of a water dog – note the paw in the upper left…

Soon enough I had the bass lipped, then removed the fly and put it down for a picture – Maddie’s paw included. Maddie began pawing the bass as I put my camera away and that was enough to send it off in a big swag of its tail.

Soon after hook removal, an errant "pat on the back" sent this bass fleeing...

Soon after hook removal, an errant “pat on the back” sent this bass fleeing…

But as the saying goes, all good things must end. So it was for our river sojourns. Not long after enjoying these visits to the Susquehanna, the rains came, the river rose, and then the cold swept in. Summer faded to fall and then to “see you next year”. No matter, it was great to have a fishing buddy on the river with me…

Relaxing on the deck with a glass of wine after a good day on the river...

Relaxing on the deck with a glass of wine after a good day on the river…

And borrowing a prophecy picture from my original post on Maddie, I’d say she’s turned out to be quite a friend for a fly fisher…

Oh the places we'll go...

Oh the places we’ll go…

Bob’s Most Excellent Kayak Adventure

Posted in Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on October 11, 2014 by stflyfisher

Loyal readers of this blog will likely remember a post I did way back in September 2009, entitled “Kelly’s Excellent Canoe Adventure”. Kelly was a coworker who owned an old aluminum Grumman canoe and he happened to live just a short portage from the Susquehanna River in Owego. That trip was a good one for two reasons: Kelly paddled me around while I fished, a luxury to any fisherman, and 2) the fishing was very good. But since that enjoyable trip, most of my fly fishing has been afoot – wading the muddy and rocky shoals, riffles, and pools. While I’ve certainly caught a good number of smallmouth bass over the last years on the hoof, I’ve always wondered – what’s it like in the back country – could there be places where the bass are bigger and less visited by feather-throwing types?

I set the goal to get out and float the river again the following year after my first Susquehanna float. But the trip somehow eluded me. I changed jobs in 2011, lamented high water for two years and a lack of time in others. So back when the big river was still locked in ice, I developed more resolve towards this goal. And with the river flowing low and clear and the weather splendid, I found one recent weekend to be the perfect opportunity. My daughter and son were home from work and college and could assist in doing shuttle service to make sure I had the reliable kayka-conveying Subaru Outback in place for me at the boat launch in Owego. All I had to do was gear up and get in the water at the NY DEC fishing access in Apalachin.

The trip would take me down-river past a favorite honey-hole and beyond to an area along the Hiawatha Links Golf Course where google satellite imagery showed me some very bassy looking water. I had never fished this area. The call was too great to ignore and somewhat pathetic Salmon River reports just added to the appeal.

Come one Friday evening I hauled my kayak – an Old Town Loon – from its pond-side lair. I was able to get it on the roof rack and tie it down single-handed. The next morning I was off to the access, with a stop thrown in for a Sausage Egg McMuffin and hash brown. Us river rats have to eat, don’t you know!

The river was fogged in as expected with the air temps in the mid-40’s. I had my kayak ready to go at the access and met another angler getting ready to launch his river boat to fish the long pool in front of us. We talked fishing and shared stories, one of mine being the infamous meet-up with a musky covered in this blog some time ago.

The Old Town Loon ready for action...

The Old Town Loon ready for action…

I launched my kayak and fished the tail of the pool, then slid down the riffle following the tailout. In just a few minutes I pulled ashore at one of my favorite pools on the river. Most recently, bass fishing has not been as good as it normally is, but I had to at least wet a line just in case. Between wet wading and enduring the chilly morning air temps and fog, I was close to shivering after about 20 minutes and without any action, decided to get back in my kayak and enter into the unknown waters beyond.

A foggy cool morning on the Susquehanna...

A foggy morning on the Susquehanna…

As I paddled downriver, the fog began to burn off, the air temps warmed, and the colors of fall came out. With a little bit of sun poking through, I noticed the northern bank of the river was still dark with shade. A downfall piqued my interest, so I tied on an olive soft hackle bugger that I tie with a little added schmaltz (gold flash and some long rubber legs) and that has served me well this year.

This downfall caught my attention as I drifted down river, and I'm glad I fished it thoroughly...

This downfall caught my attention as I drifted down the river, and I’m glad I fished it thoroughly…

I cast upstream of the downfall and as I drifted past, stripped my fly down and across its edge. I only needed to do this twice before setting the hook on a nice fish. It immediately bolted downstream, jumped high and mighty, and I was all smallie smiles…

The result of observation, some skill, and a little luck - a beautiful Susquehanna smallmouth...

The result of observation, some skill, and a little luck – a beautiful Susquehanna smallmouth, all browned up…

The north shore of the river hosted a number of such places – areas where debris piled up during floods, downfalls, eddies – and all of them were shaded from the strong morning sun.

Another nice bass that fell to an olive soft hackle bugger...

Another nice bass that fell to an olive soft hackle bugger…

I missed a few strikes and even spooked some bass, witnessing the telltale “puff of river bottom” as I glided down the river about 20 feet off the shoreline.

I passed a few river braids on my voyage that were inviting but fishless…

I explored this river braid but did not find any fish. It re-entered the river at a big bend and deep pool.

I explored this river braid but did not find any fish. It re-entered the river at a big bend and deep pool.

And then I came to a wide riffle and a river bend where the water slowed and the bottom disappeared. A river braid re-entered the river just above the the bend, but what looked very fishy was the line of thick weeds that formed on a bar at the transition point. I fished the edge of these weeds and was soon rewarded with a take and another nice bass…

Another nice bass that liked to hang near the weeds...

Classic smallmouth camo. This bass liked to hang near the weeds…

I continued to paddle, drift and fish as I passed through the bend. In some ways it was difficult fishing as there was so much good water to explore but only so much time to fish and make the long paddle down to Owego. There was also the fall colors and a rich selection of wildlife on display, including blue herons, bitterns, mink, osprey…

Nothing better than the Susquehanna River in autumn wear...

Nothing better than the Susquehanna River in autumn wear…

After fishing the big bend, I came upon a stretch of river that was a lot more like the St Lawrence River than what I’m used to on the Susquehanna. The northern shore was rocky and in places large boulders jutted from the river. As I paddled closer, the bottom came into view, strewn with large rocks in places. Depths varied – in some places the waters were shallow – in others the bottom would fall away. After recon of a 50 yard stretch, I paddled back to the head of this stretch, rigged one of my own crayfish flies, and started casting. It didn’t take long to catch a few nice smallmouth bass, with smaller ones mixed in as well. As I suspected, this was great holding water for smallies. But it was holding water for other predators, which I soon learned.

This stretch of rocky shoreline featured just the kind of habitat smallmouth bass love, along with some bigger toothy predators...

This stretch of rocky shoreline featured just the kind of habitat smallmouth bass love, along with some bigger toothy predators…

I hooked a small bass that, as most bass do, went airborne and then bulldogged down in the 6 foot depths beneath my kayak. As this bass ran around, I saw a golden brown flash come out of nowhere and snatch my fish. My line tightened immediately, my rod bent over double and what had to be a big musky slowly towed me up-river.

I quickly realized that if I was to land this fish, I better get to the other side of the river where the slope to shore was gradual and made for easy wading. I used my free hand to slowly paddle across and downriver as the musky swam upriver. I gradually made my way to shallow water and, keeping rod high and steady pressure on the fish, beached the kayak and struggled to my feet. I then got parallel to the fish, put sideways pressure on it, and tried my best to work the fish in to me, knowing it was probably not hooked.

I could only hope the musky would hold on long enough for me to get close and grab it (carefully) under its gills. But as in my first encounter with such a fish, it was not to be. I could see the beginnings of the sink tip section of my fly line when the fish had finally had enough and released the fish. Remarkably, this bass looked virtually untouched, save one or two puncture marks. I could only surmise that the musky had fully engulfed the bass in its mouth for the bass to escape major tooth wounds. I actually released the bass and it swam away. Also amazing was the fact that my 1X tippet held up to a mouth of teeth known for line-parting effectiveness.

The luckiest bass in the world...

The luckiest bass in the world…

After leaving two great fish to fight another day, I took a moment to soak it all in, trembling a bit from a great battle. The musky had twice taken me down to my backing and bucked my fly rod with massive head shakes for over 20 minutes.

I decided then that it was time to call it quits. Sometimes it’s good to end on a high note, stopping at the end of a crescendo. This would certainly be one of those days even though I never landed “the fish of a thousand casts”. But also, as afternoon advanced into evening, it was still a long way to Owego. Effortless, so effortless, that long paddle home seemed…

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The things I carry…

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on September 21, 2014 by stflyfisher

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 12 and 18 pounds, depending on a man’s habits or rate of metabolism.

The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien

 

In the movie Platoon, there’s a scene where the young, battle-seasoned Sergeant Elias checks the packs of his new grunts (Chris and Gardner) and pulls out, one by one, what they were instructed to carry in boot camp, but what they wouldn’t need in the jungles, swamps and mountains of Viet Nam. These things, after all, have to be ‘humped’ as a grunt would say, and weight in that hot and steamy environment could snuff the life out of any fighting man.

Grunts humping 60 - 80 lbs or more of gear into the bush of Viet Nam...

Grunts humping 60 – 80 lbs or more of gear into the bush of Viet Nam…

I think of this scene every time I pack my vest for fishing. What do I really need? What can I expect on the water? What do I need in order to fish safely? Will I be equipped for the weather? Will I be equipped for the fishing?

I typically pack tubs – one each for the type of fishing I do – a warmwater river tub, a tub for the trout streams of the Catskills, a tub for trout creeks, a smaller tub with pond gear, a tub for the salt…  So before I head out to “the bush”, I’ll take the appropriate tub and pack it in my car along with my wading gear, my rod and tackle, and my vest. I’ll carry these things in my vest, in my fishing shirt, or around my neck and on my wading belt:

  • Bottle(s) of water
  • Cell phone
  • Waterproof watch
  • Rain jacket
  • Wading staff
  • Toilet paper
  • Tippet spools
  • Lanyard with nippers, tie-fast knot tying tool, forceps, leader straightener, small triangular file
  • Thermometer of IR water temp gauge
  • NY State Fishing License
  • Extra reels and/or spools
  • Landing net
  • Split shot
  • Indicators
  • Leader wallet
  • Rigged fly rod / reel
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera
  • Sunscreen, lip balm
  • Fishing hat
  • Extra clothing and/or gloves (weather dependent)
  • Heat tabs (weather dependent)
  • Fly boxes (fishing dependent)
  • Topo map
  • Lunch / snacks

I can fill out a vest pretty well, and all of that has to be humped, sometimes good distances, while wading. I won’t pretend that it is anywhere near the weight hauled by a grunt in Viet Nam. And in almost all cases, there’s no threat of being shot, but still…

Some of the things I carry on the West Branch of the Delaware...

The things I carry on the West Branch of the Delaware…

Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, also writes about the weight that soldiers “humped” in Viet Nam. He gets pretty technical very early in his writing – spouting off military acronyms for all sorts of weaponry and gear – most of which I recognized from my own military experience and my fascination with military history. But the real story he writes is about the other things the men carried and the things that truly weighed them down – their worries, their fears, superstitions, girlfriends, troubles back home… In the face of battle, staring at death, scared out of one’s wits, a man faces what is truly essential, and I suppose after such experiences, is cleansed of what truly doesn’t matter. But then again, those very experiences added weight to their drooping shoulders on the way home, if they made it home. As we are seeing now, much of that does come home. O’Brien writes a chapter about one soldier he served with who survived the war in Viet Nam, but sadly, not at home.

I will admit that I carry some of those things too when I head to the water. I try to fish without weight, but sometimes the matters of daily life jump on. I may be swinging a wet fly, dead drifting a nymph, or stripping a streamer only to have work, family, or other worries grab onto my line and claw their way up to my very being. But I will also say that fishing often dissipates the very darkness that intrudes. The wondrous scenes of nature – an eagle flying overhead, a mink slipping along the bank of a river, the autumn colors of trees, the rush of water, the incredible camo of a smallmouth bass, the green of the back and the rose of the side of a rainbow trout brought to net, the throb of the head shake, the jump a fish gives for freedom…

I have carried many burdens as all of us do. But fly fishing is often the outlet that vaporizes them.  The tug on a line is magic to me. And has saved me…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Never give in…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28, 2014 by stflyfisher

I’ve always admired Sir Winston Churchill. He was a great statesman and leader, a distinguished military officer, an accomplished writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and he loved a good cigar (the “churchill” cigar, designated as being 7″ in length and having a ring size of an inch of 47-50, 64th’s of an inch). Incidentally, Chruchill was credited for inventing the practice of dunking a cigar in port wine or brandy…

He loved a good cigar...

He loved a good cigar…

Sir Winston Churchill, cigar in his mouth, defiantly forming his fingers in the ‘V’ for victory sign, is a classic wartime image. Few photographs of that era show Churchill without a cigar. He was known to smoke 6 to 10 a day…

And Churchill was also famous for a speech he gave to his own boarding school, Harrow School, on October 29, 1941….

 “But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period – I am addressing myself to the School – surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

This speech was in reference to the war effort, which had finally turned for England. In particular, The Battle of Britain had repulsed the Germans from gaining air superiority and then proceeding with operation Sea Lion, an amphibious and airborne invasion of England. This post gives the effort England put in, short shrift. The Nazis put considerable effort into attacking seaports, then airfields, and finally civilian targets to bring England to its knees. Instead, the English held fast with the classic “stiff upper lip”. It was to be, as Churchill would say, England’s “finest hour”…

So why do I bring up such history?

A few weekends ago I arrived at a favorite stretch of the West Branch of the Delaware River. After rigging up, I watched the river and noticed caddis coming off in very inspiring numbers, to say the least. It was early morning – about 8:30 or so. I waded into the river, my nymphing rig set with a march brown nymph on point, a caddis larva nymph riding shotgun, and a sparkle caddis pupa as tail gunner. I fished this rig and experimented with weight and changed flies as the morning wore on. At one point I looked down at my upstream leg and noticed 30 – 40 charcoal caddis swarming me. Regardless of the caddis pattern I fished, the water seemed dead. As time marched on I will admit I considered giving up the ghost. I was getting discouraged, especially with all of the bug activity but no one seemingly home.

By 11 am, the caddis were just a trickle of a hatch, but a few sulphurs started coming off. I decided to change my plan around 12:30 and fish a flashy bubble-back pheasant tail nymph. For one, this was putting something different in the water. And it also was hopefully leading the hatch that I figured was on the way.

My hunch turned the tide. It wasn’t long after changing things up again that I hooked a small rainbow, then a nice brown, and then, this beautiful Delaware River rainbow…

A beautiful West Branch rainbow...

A beautiful West Branch rainbow…

My flashy tail gun fly was a size 18. It always amazes me that trout can see such a tiny thing fly by in fast water.

I continued fishing and lost two more nice fish, and then had this very odd take in some slower water. My indicator slowly slid under the water, much like a snag. I lifted my rod, felt solid resistance but the snag started moving, then through in some head-shakes, and then moved up-river with the heavy authority of a big carp. Slow and steady, this fish ran up the river, then woke up and put on some heavy and fast runs, more typical of a big brown. I had this fish on a good 5 minutes, and could see its butter brown flash as I worked it out of the current into shallower water. Still, it would make a few more runs, and then, twisting and turning, it was off…

My heart sank – all anglers know the feeling. In a way, though, I smiled.  A good strong wild brown had beaten me. I had failed to  retie – the fly had broken off at the knot. But I had persevered through the fish-less morning hours. I had endured the doubt that darkens an angler’s mind and heart when seconds turn to minutes and hours and casting begins to feel more like flogging the water.

I had not given up…

Father’s Day: Do not go gently…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 15, 2014 by stflyfisher

My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives.

Even if his mind fail, be considerate with him; revile him not in the fullness of your strength.

For kindness to a father will not be forgotten…

The Book of Sirach

Father’s Day has changed for me. My father – my rock and foundation as I became a man and then father – is different these days. Now in his 85th year, he is less steady, less sure. His strength is slowly ebbing, but this year the slide has been more dramatic. He is mentally sharp as ever and all in all, in relatively good health for an octogenarian. And I am lucky in that way, for many friends and co-workers will not have their fathers this Father’s Day. But the days of fishing are over.

Good times summer fluke fishing in 2009...

Good times summer fluke fishing in 2009…

Our last fishing trip was in September of 2012. My Dad is not an early riser, and not a fisherman, but has always encouraged me, and for a number of years, would go with me. This last time he had to be up at oh-dark-thirty – an early riser he has never been – but he did just that to spend the day with me. We had a beautiful day, jigging in 90 feet of water for blues off NJ. My Dad did not fish, but he sat, relaxed, and acted as official photographer the entire time.

Jigging up blues - always a blast...

Jigging up blues – always a blast…

After that trip I remember him telling me how sore he was – his legs, he said, were aching. In 2013 he fell and couldn’t remember falling. He had suffered a stroke and some bleeding on the brain that miraculously, resulted in no damage to the brain or to his ability to function in any way. And this year he cancelled coming up for my son’s graduation. Hearing that he may never visit my family in our home again was difficult to take.

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote a poem for his aging father as he faced death. The poem makes a statement on how to accept what we all must face. Old age, frailty, and death are inevitable, even for fathers. But should we resign our lives to them, or fight them on the way down? To me the poem makes it clear that it’s our obligation – indeed, our duty even – to fight and to live.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This Father’s Day, I pray for strength for all fathers, particularly those in the evening hours of their lives. It is never too late and life is too dear to go gentle into that good night.

 

 

 

Earn this…

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing on May 25, 2014 by stflyfisher

Most of my blog audience are undoubtedly familiar with the movie, Saving Private Ryan. The movie’s blockbuster sales and ratings seemed to indicate how good it was, but the A minus grade given by one audience of American WWII veterans who participated in the D-Day invasion is even more telling as to its realism.

While there are several themes playing in the movie, a haunting line towards its end – perhaps the thesis of the movie – is what was on my mind as I nymphed a stretch of Balls Eddy on a beautiful Memorial Day last year.

The West Branch above Balls Eddy...

The West Branch at Balls Eddy…

This tradition of fishing has been something I’ve been doing for a number of years. There’s an old cemetery adjacent to the Balls Eddy fishing access and it is at that cemetery where I first witnessed a solemn and heartbreaking tribute to those who paid the ultimate price. The place is a simple rectangle of fertile river bottom, walled in fieldstone. There are a few trees there and the graves are adorned with flags, the lawn neatly cut. It is a peaceful place. On this past Memorial Day, the sky was blue, the birds sang sweetly, and the river ran by in hues of blue.

Hallowed ground...

Hallowed ground…

I was on the river and fishing by 8:30 a.m., and at exactly 9:05, heard the volley of shots that marked the day. They crackled through the river valley, then came round again in echo until the sound of the rushing water of the riffle finally silenced them. A few drifts of my nymph rig through the ‘rainbow’s den’, as I call it, resulted in my indicator plunging down in the fast water, the hook set, and a rainbow trout that leaped repeatedly and then made spastic runs in the heavy current. The flash of this fish, its strength, its athleticism made me feel good. After landing it and releasing it, I sat down, watched the river, and remembered the movie.

At the end of Saving Private Ryan, the elderly Ryan is seen visiting the grave of Captain Miller, the Army Ranger officer who led the mission to bring the young Private home after so many of his brothers had been killed in combat. Ryan pays tribute to Captain Miller with the following:

“My family is with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel coming back here. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. And I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”

Earlier in the movie, with Captain Miller slowly dying from wounds received while defending a critical bridge crossing, Ryan hears his last words:

James… earn this. Earn it.

"James, earn it, earn this"

“James, earn this, earn it”

As I listened to the rush of the river and the wind in the trees, I slowly came to the realization that Memorial Day is more than just honoring the casualties of war. It’s really more remembering the dead by celebrating life, and celebrating life in a way that honors those words so simply spoken by Captain Miller. In this country, we are free to choose how to live our lives. That freedom was bought with blood, their blood. In getting up early and going fly fishing – in doing good things – in living life the best we can, we earn it, and by doing that we remember them. And, as my grandmother once told me, no one ever dies if they are remembered.

Balls Eddy

In remembrance…

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