The week ahead in fly fishing: July 25

Posted in Carp, Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Flies - Local Favorites, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on July 24, 2016 by stflyfisher

This is the first “week ahead” fly fishing report on Southern Tier Fly Fisher. As explained in a previous post, my weekly reports and other fly fishing articles will reside here until I have a new improved site in place.

It’s hot out there, and I should start my report by saying these are tough times for trout, particularly for the resident fish that inhabit local creeks. A recent stop at an access on the West Branch of Owego Creek was enough to remind me that this is not the time to stress coldwater species. My recommendation is to focus on warmwater stuff – brownlining as I sometimes refer to it. Take time to explore the many great warmwater fisheries we have and leave the high octane guys alone for a while.

Summer heat is here although we’ve had a string of cool nights to check the oppressive daytime temps. In our neck of the woods, watering corn fields is pretty much unheard of but I recently observed it in action for some newly sprouted corn. That says something. Some areas are harder hit than others – lawns are a good barometer.

Here’s the fly fishing report for the week ahead:

Catskill Rivers: The West Branch Angler reports that after several days with very warm air temps it was nice to wake up today to a river with some more cold water running through it. The West Branch at Hale Eddy is flowing a nice 822 this morning, a great little cold water bump that will help keep more downriver sections cooler during this heat wave. The increased release is always a good thing, giving the slower moving sections of water a bit more texture throughout the river. The Sulphurs are still coming off consistently starting in the early afternoon hours up around Deposit. Even though it doesn’t look like much cloud cover over the next few days you will likely see a few BWO’s in the 18-22 range as well as some 14-16 Cahills. The Isonychia are still around in small numbers. Terrestrials are always safe bets this time of year so don’t forget the ants and beetles. Nymphing on the upper West has been pretty tough due to the algae in the water but the extra flow should help clear it out a bit. Downriver, say on the lower half of the West, the algae isn’t nearly as bad and nymphing is much easier.

Local streams and creeks: The creeks and small streams in our area are incredibly low, clear, and on the warm side right now. It’s best to leave these waters alone as long as the heat and dry conditions prevail. If you do fish, fish early or late and try to land and release fish quickly.

Lakes: John Gaulke of Finger Lakes Angling Zone reports that Lake Trout action is top-notch on Cayuga and Owasco Lakes. Cayuga will likely provide some excellent fishing over the next 6 weeks at the very least. Cayuga Lake is usually good for all day action in August. Here’s John’s lake-by-lake report:

  • Owasco Lake:  Lake trout action is top notch. Angling Zone friend/client Rick nabbed an 11lb brown here late last week.  It was a 28″er! Bass fishing is decent. There’s no shortage of bait on this lake.
  • Cayuga Lake:  Fishing here ranges from very good to excellent for lake trout. There are good numbers of sizeable lakers throughout the lake.
  • Seneca Lake:  Lake trout fishing should be fair to good. Plenty of weeds are floating around. Angling Zone Friend/Client Andrew nailed a giant brown here recently.
  • Skaneateles Lake:  Smallmouth bass fishing should be good to excellent. Lake trout action should be fair to good.
  • Otisco Lake:  Tiger musky fishing had been good with some very large fish around. Bass fishing should be good.

Ponds: Ponds are definitely dropping and warming. Bass and sunfish are very active and willing partners to fly fishermen under these conditions, but low light early or late is best. Topwater is a good choice and don’t forget the damselfly, grasshopper, cricket, and beetle patterns. Poppers will work well along weedlines and lilly pads.

Warmwater rivers: All of the warmwater rivers are running clear, low and warm. Water temps are in the 75 – 80 degree range and wading is very easy with the low flows. Reports have been mixed. Smallmouth bass can be found hunting around the weeds and structure during the mornings and evenings. You’ll also find them hanging in the tailouts of pools chasing bait, sometimes in very skinny water, but mainly when the light is low. During the day, the bass will be deep and in the riffles and runs. Hellgrammite and crayfish imitations fished like a nymph will work well. Channel catfish and fallfish will also be found in the mix. And carp are now pretty active all day long in the weedy pools and tailouts. They can be caught with buggy-looking nymphs and crayfish imitations. Sight-fishing can be especially effective to mudding fish. The white fly hatch is due to start any time now. I’ve seen a few white flies coming off towards evening but nothing of significance yet. Once the hatch gets going, be prepared for terrific topwater flyfishing.

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The Susquehanna River, shown here, is flowing low and clear. Flows recently dropped below 1,000 CFS, making for great wet wading on these hot summer days.

Fly fishing events: Area fly fishing clubs and chapters take the months of July and August off so there is nothing to report here. However, one noteworthy announcement is the following press release concerning the work that Gary Romanic, VP of the BC Flyfishers has done to secure a large donation to reach out to veterans in our area and offer fly fishing opportunities and instruction:

Binghamton, NY – Broome County Executive Debbie Preston, Broome County Legislators, and Director of Veteran Services Brian Vojtisek joined the Broome County Veterans Fly Fishing Program to discuss details of a recent donation to help the program. Broome County recently gave $10,000 to the program to help offset costs for travel to fly fishing destinations to facilitate fly fishing instruction.

“As you know, veterans hold a very special place in my heart and I’m willing to help them out in any way that I can,” says Broome County Executive Debbie Preston.  “Fly fishing is a wonderful activity and I’m on board with anything we can do to help our local veterans live the best possible life they can after sacrificing a part of their life for this Country.”

The mission of the Binghamton Veteran Fly Fishers is to lift the morale and support the welfare of Broome County veterans. “We want to thank the County Executive and Brian Vojtisek in the Veterans Services Office for this wonderful donation,” says Gary Romanic, vice president of the Broome County Veterans Fly Fishing program.  “This money will go a long way in not only getting the veterans to prime fly fishing areas, but also to provide instruction to those who have never fished before.”

“When we were approached for a donation last year, we were delighted to help,” says Director of Veteran Services Brian Vojtisek.  “This program fits into our mission of helping veterans financially, and in adjusting to a return to civilian life.”This is a one-time donation.

The week ahead weather: The weather for the week ahead will be mainly summer sizzle with the usual thunderstorm potential on Monday and Friday and if you can believe it, showers on Sunday at the end of the week. Highs will range in the upper 80’s to low 90’s with lows in the low 60’s. There will be relief at the end of the week with highs dropping to the high 70’s / low 80’s. Tuesday and Wednesday will have bright sun. And speaking of sun, this is the time of year to be extra vigilant with regards to sun protection. Cover up with protective clothing or lather up with sun screen. And don’t forget a hat and sunglasses. The eyes can suffer on bright days and a good pair of polarized sunglasses will definitely help in spotting fish.

 

 

 

 

For the times they are a-changin’

Posted in Fishing Reports, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on July 23, 2016 by stflyfisher

If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s lyrics about change are not lost on the dizzying pace of life in the 21st century. They came to mind as I read a recent email from Examiner.com – the site I wrote for under the title, “Binghamton Fly Fishing Examiner”.

The email politely stated that while “Examiner.com” had been a good ride with billions of content views, media consumption on the internet had changed to the point where the Examiner.com’s business was apparently no longer viable. I have to admit that it seemed site hits were trending lower for me over the last year or so. Initially I blamed myself and my writing for the drop, but perhaps there were other forces at work. Who knows…

Writing for Examiner.com was a big part of my literary life. Over 6 years I published some 530 articles that ranged from how-to articles to weekly fly fishing reports for the Southern Tier. Though I have always loved to write, it wasn’t easy holding down a full time job, tending to family, fly fishing, and writing. Examiner.com staff were pretty up front that no one should quit their day job while writing for them and I considered the compensation “fishing money”. Writing for Examiner.com did help me develop my writing muscle and I learned a lot from the experience, but most of all, the site allowed me to make a lot of fly fishing connections and some of the people I met through it turned into good friends and mentors.

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Captain Ron Presley, fellow Examiner and a writing mentor for sure…

Examiner.com opened doors, broadened my horizons, and got the word out on my take of a sport I dearly love. For that I am very very thankful.

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Joe Laney, from the Big Apple, fishes a stretch of the Otselic River with me.

In any case, I am now without a platform for writing weekly fishing reports and informational articles on fly fishing in the Southern Tier. This blog, you see, was developed to write about fly fishing related themes – my friendships with other fly fishermen, fly fishing history, musings on the sport – everything but the actual fly fishing itself. Southern Tier Fly Fisher is hosted by the wordpress.com blog site – perfect for my original writing needs but not customizable. In its basic form it’s not capable of displaying video, slideshows, or even hosting an online store, for example.

So, over the next few months I will be working on an entirely new home for Southern Tier Fly Fisher with a goal to have a new site up and running by the start of 2017. The new site will include regular fly fishing reports for our area along with plenty of local fly fishing pictures and videos and an online store featuring local flies and tackle. Peppered in with fly fishing reports and how-to articles will be other writing on our great sport and everything connected with it.

Stay tuned…

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Father fallfish

Posted in Uncategorized on July 1, 2016 by stflyfisher

I went fly fishing on Father’s Day, as I normally do, but this year I fished a new stretch of river with another fly fishing father and, befitting the day, learned to appreciate on an entirely new level, what dads bring to this world.

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Father river – the lower Otselic…

Father’s Day honors fathers and for us fly fishing fathers, it’s a day to fish without that nagging guilt that the lawn needs mowing, the front door needs painting, or the honey-do list needs some attention. Us father fly fishers should recognize on “our” day that there are other fathers among us – fathers of the fishy kind. Some are not known for their fatherly qualities, while others are role models for all species, the human kind included.

If you’ve fished any of the warmwater rivers of the Southern Tier or even some of our coldwater rivers and streams – the Salmon River included – you might have noticed large piles of stones of the same size that stood high and possibly even dry above low summer flows.

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A fallfish nest this size means there’s a big male around…

You also may have wondered how these stones came to be piled in one spot. The answer is as old as the Native Americans of the Hudson Bay region who called this interesting fish, “Awadosi” or “stone carriers.”

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When caught, these fish are often called chubs or suckers. But upon hook-up, this feisty member of the minnow family puts on a show reminiscent of a nice brown trout or smallmouth bass. Black-backed, silver-sided, and streamlined, these flowing water dwellers put a good bend in a fly rod and can be taken on streamers, wet flies, nymphs, and even dry flies. They can attain sizes of over 18″. In fact, the New York state record is a 19″ fish that weighed over 3 lbs and was caught in the Susquehanna River.

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Nice fallfish = happy angler…

Besides the piss and vinegar the fallfish displays on the line, this species has a unique fatherly devotion to its offspring like no other.

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A dandy of a fallfish that hit a streamer with gusto on the swing. This could be a female, ripe with eggs as evidenced by her pronounced belly…

Every spring, fallfish feel cupid’s arrow and spawn. Water temperatures and seasonal light patterns provoke changes to mature male fallfish. The head area of the males will turn a beautiful red grape color and develop small breeding tubercles, also called “horns”. These horns actually shed after the spring spawn. The horns possibly play a role in nest defense and stimulation of mates.

Fallfish close up

The fallfish spawning ritual consists of the male moving over a pit or trough he has excavated and by trembling in place, sending sexual signals to the female. The female swims to the side of the male and deposits her eggs, releasing between 1,000 to 12,000 eggs. Timing is critical because fertilization occurs externally in flowing water. But it’s after spawning that the male fallfish truly comes to the fore of fatherhood.

When spawning is complete, the male selects and totes stones with his mouth and stacks the stones back into the pit over a two- to four-day period. The mound created may contain thousands of similar-sized stones. Big fallfish move larger stones and make huge mounds. The somewhat-circular mound of a large fallfish can measure up to six feet in diameter and three feet in height. The male covers the pit and eggs with stones presumably to prevent predation of eggs and suffocation of the eggs by silt.

Sometimes you’ll find a series of these nests spaced apart in a row in line with the current flow. During my trip to the Otselic River, I saw several areas with 3 – 5 nests in a row. It’s a pretty amazing sight to see, particularly in regards to the size of the larger nests, remembering they are built one stone at a time by a minnow that must swim in current while doing it.

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The work of daddy fallfish…

Fathers are part of the whole in the human dimension: dads wouldn’t exist without moms and vice versa. In the fish world, there are fathers that simply broadcast, others that help, but the fallfish, like a truly good father, builds and protects. Next time you’re out on one of our local streams or rivers, look for that pile of stones. And if it’s a big pile, be sure to work a nymph or streamer through the faster water, runs, and pools. One never knows where the next state record might be. But be gentle. That big fallfish has many more stones to move and progeny to shelter…

 

 

A fly rod all my own…

Posted in Fishing Reports, Gear, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on June 8, 2016 by stflyfisher

Fly fishers are blessed with opportunity and not only with all the fly fishing that’s available throughout our great country. This wonderful sport offers participants so many other ways to be involved beyond wetting a line, and these niches, in and of themselves, can become full time fly fishing activities. One look at the fly tying greats and it’s readily apparent that some spend more time fly tying than actually using their flies to fool fish.

Beyond fly tying, fly fishermen can learn how to tie custom leaders and how to make nets, wading staffs, and other wading accessories. They can pursue the art of fly casting or focus on the conservation side of the sport. Entomology is yet another area that can be mastered for those anglers with a scientific bent. And finally, there is the craft of fly rod building.

My own foray into rod building started when my local fly fishing club, the BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF, offered a class on the subject. For $125, the class offered participants a fly rod kit. Most kits were 9 foot, 6 weight, 2 piece kits, but a participant could substitute another rod kit of their choosing, as I did. I purchased a 2 piece, 8 weight, medium fast action PacBay blank in a rich forest green finish. The kit was reasonably priced and with the right components could serve duty as a heavy warmwater river rod, lake rod, and light saltwater rod with saltwater grade components. Rod building materials such as epoxy and varnish, tools such as a basic wrapping station, files, and other items, and free instruction given by a master rod maker over three, 4 hour classes, were also included in the price of the class. The class ended up being one of the best “investments” of money I’ve ever made in the realm of fly fishing, much of it attributed to the outstanding instruction of Joe Swam, BCFF member and professional rod maker.

I’ve documented the details of the class with slideshows on my Examiner.com site where I write as the Binghamton Fly Fishing Examiner, but as an overview, I’ll list the basic rod building process:

  • Finding the spline – a critical step used to determine guide orientation.
  • Installing the grips – this step consists of prep work to allow the cork to seat into position on the rod and then the application of 2 part epoxy to secure the grip in place. Additionally, the reel seat is shimmed for gluing later in the process.
  • Ferrule wrapping – this was just the beginning of a lot of rod wrapping. The ferrules (where rod sections are joined) are a stress point and would break eventually if they are not reinforced by wrapping.
  • Prepping the guides – filing and sanding the guide feet is critical for secure guide placement on the rod blank.
  • Wrapping the winding check and the hook keeper.
  • Spacing, aligning and wrapping the guides. Lining guides up true can be challenging.
  • Prepping and epoxying the reel seat in place and gluing the cap.
  • Setting and expoxying the tip-top guide in place.
  • Wrapping the tip-top guide.
  • Treating the wraps with color preservative (optional) and then finishing the wraps with varnish or epoxy.
  • Adding cosmetic touches such as a decal, measuring wraps, etc.

While the steps don’t look difficult on paper, the “hands-on” of fly rod building takes a bit of doing. It’s easy to say, for example, “ream the cork grip, glue the rod blank, and slide into place”, but a seasoned rod maker like Joe Swam made all the difference by providing the nuances of the process, like the proper fit of the cork grip, how to mix the 2 part epoxy, and how to ream out a little extra flare at the butt end of the cork grip to give the excess glue a place to collect. I cannot imagine doing this the first few times on my own, and I’d highly recommend that anyone interested in building a fly rod take a class in the art of rod making – even a very basic one – before trying it on one’s own.

Building a graphite or glass fly rod is a matter of assembly. The blank is already fabricated and finished, unlike bamboo where a rod maker truly builds the entire fly rod, blank included. And while a master rod maker can build a bamboo fly rod in 40 hours, beginning graphite or fiberglass rod makers will require this amount of time and quite possibly more.

I found that the building process literally “built” upon itself, excuse the pun. Tying that first wrap and doing it well was motivation to repeat the step with the same or better quality.

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Wrapping the rod guides was enjoyable work, and a fine beer seemed to lubricate the process quite nicely…

Certain components, like the cork grip, and stripper guides, spur one on to complete the project as a blank starts to look more like a fly rod.

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Full wells grip assembled in place with the butt end of the blank shimmed for the reel seat.

Raw materials slowly add character. One can feel the rod evolving. And then at last, the beautiful wraps cry out for varnish or epoxy – the rod blank asks for adornment.

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My fly rod benefited from the kharma that “Hemingway On Fishing” provided – the book served as a great thread tensioner…

I followed the advice of Joe Swam who recommended the use of McCloskey’s marine spar varnish for coating of the wraps. The other option was the use of a two part epoxy, which is common in the industry, but Joe prefers varnish for his bamboo rods and feels it is easier and more forgiving for a beginner, yet still makes a great finish for even an expert rod maker such as himself.

With each coat of varnish, the wraps filled and smoothed with glossy goodness. After the final and fifth coat was applied, all that was left to do was to add a custom decal. I kept my inscription pretty simple: my name, “rod maker”, and the length, weight, and action of the rod. After securing the decal, a very simple process, I applied two coats of varnish over the decal and let the rod dry adequately over a few more days.

The finished rod impressed me after a lawn casting session. Naturally, I have some bias, for what father isn’t proud of their “child”, real or otherwise. The rod handled a floating WF line just fine, but it was the way it threw an intermediate sink-tip line and a sinking tip fly line with relative ease that really caught my attention. I noted that my addition of two stripper guides (for a total of four) in place of snake guides may have given it a bit more backbone. After casting, thoughts of fishing big flies on the Susquehanna and even casting for blues and stripers in New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay, swirled in my head.

On May 24th I took my rod to the water for its baptism. Nicknamed “The Golden Bear” for its Vestal school colors of green and gold, I strung it up with an 8 weight intermediate sink tip line and waded downriver. The rod balanced perfectly in my hand.

I cast a #6 streamer across a shallow bay and loved how well I could bomb out long casts. Later I set it p with the sink tip line and worked some deeper water. I caught a number of very nice 18″+ bass that evening and returned a few days later to land a best-of-the-year fish.

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This Susquehanna River smallmouth bass nudged the 20″ measuring wrap – a promise that Hemingway’s kharma was there and would hopefully bless the rod for many more years of great fly fishing.

Rod building has bitten me hard. While I truly cherish my production fly rods, in particular my Scott, TFO, and JP Ross fly rods, among others, the feeling of building and customizing the rod as you truly want, adding touches that identify the rod as wholly your own, and then casting it, fishing it, and finally, feeling the head shake of a good fish – well no fly rod company can sell that…

 

 

 

 

Connections…

Posted in Uncategorized on May 31, 2016 by stflyfisher

A recent comment on this blog came from someone I didn’t know. Its timing was prescient, appearing on a day of tremendous importance that I had forgotten in the fog of every day living. I have written here before about connections using the metaphor of dropping a pebble in a vast body of water – a seemingly simple act that can nonetheless touch distant shores. John Donne’s poem, For Whom the Bell Tolls, tells us that we are all one, interconnected, and not islands of mankind, even in death. This theme of connection also applies to my life as a fly fisherman, for the very act of fly fishing is fundamentally based on connections – the knots we tie, the line we use, the casts we make, the flies we use, and ultimately the act of enticing a fish to strike.

So out of the blue I was reminded by a former sailor, named Dan, that I had missed the anniversary of the attack on the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf in 1987. I felt bad that I had to be reminded, but grateful to hear from a sailor who shared my own loss.

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USS Stark FFG-31 heading out to sea while conducting training operations at US Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1983. I was aboard her then…

It turns out Dan once worked for a Stark crewmember by the name of Bob Shippee, one of the 37 sailors who lost their lives as a result of the attack on the USS Stark. Dan’s email correspondence following his blog comment reinforced the importance of connection and celebrated the impact one life can have on another.

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Bob Shippee, FTCS, USN. “No greater love..”

Dan was fresh out of Fire Control Systems “C” school in 1977, an E4 (3rd class petty officer) and was assigned to serve at the Sperry plant in Ronkonkoma NY. Sperry was the maker of the MK92 fire control system used on all Oliver Hazzard Perry guided missile frigates, like the USS Stark. At the plant, the Navy ran a full scale mock-up of an Oliver Hazzard Perry class combat system. The detachment used the mock-up to develop preventive maintenance procedures, exercise the system software, and train new Combat System crews prior to reporting for duty to their newly commissioned ships. In total, over 20 sailors and 2 officers were on hand at the Sperry unit, all of them having to be the best in the fleet in order to get such a plum but vitally important assignment.

Bob Shippee was Dan’s lead petty officer, and in Dan’s own words, “the kind of person who commanded instant respect.” Shippee was “confident without being arrogant, had superb technical knowledge, and could easily hold his own with engineers who integrated the system equipment.” He did more for Dan as a man than any of his friends. Dan credits Shippee for lessons he still uses in his career as an engineer, including the values of continuous learning, integrity, respect, hard work and duty.

According to Shippee’s obituary in the Watertown Daily Times, Shippee grew up into a smart kid who preferred to keep a low profile in school. He wrestled in high school, hunted and fished as many kids do in upstate New York, and worked in the afternoons after school at a local horse ranch. With the draft on in 1969, Shippee decided to sign up, partly out of patriotism, and partly because he could take his pick of service. His father suggested the Navy. Although Shippee signed up at a time when the draft was still in force, he did not have to join the service. A boyhood operation had left him with only 10 percent of his hearing in one ear, but recruiters believed he was faking it. When tests proved otherwise, they told him he could obtain a deferment. Shippee refused and his stance of take it or leave it must have impressed the recruiters because the Navy took him on anyhow. And this would end up being one of life’s greatest blessings for my new friend, Dan.

 

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FTCS – the rate and rank Shippee attained…

 

In reverence for his former shipmate, Dan finds a quiet spot alone, every Memorial Day. There he thinks about the loss of his friend, Bob Shippee, and all the others throughout history who have given their lives for their country. I do much the same. As in past years, I returned to Balls Eddy on this past Memorial Day. On that day the river ran clear and cold, the birds were in full song, mayflies and caddis fluttered about in the spring air, and eagles soared effortlessly against bluebird skies. I arrived before 8 am, rigged up, put on my waders, and after a walk and wade downriver, was soon at the head of a long run I love to fish. The head of the run has fast water where the water bubbles and foams white. Behind the large rocks at the head of the run are eddies and good holding water for trout and it’s there I like to fish a nymph, dead drift.

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Bob Shippee’s run…

 

For the first hour of the morning’s fishing, I chose flies that matched what was hatching. Caddis rode the wind upriver, but my imitations were not getting any interest. 9 o’clock came around and I knew I would soon hear the volley of the three gun salute.

At 9:05 AM I heard the shots, the salute to the fallen, and their echo off the surrounding verdant hills. I paused, retrieved my flies, and got very quiet. I said a prayer for all of the fallen heroes of the Stark with whom I served; DeAngelis, Kiser, Foster, but I added one more name this time – that of Bob Shippee – because I now knew him through Dan. The rush of the river sang along and seemed to lift my prayers skyward. And I wondered if he listened.

Then I changed out my fly for a march brown soft hackle and cast upstream into the fast water. I watched my indicator, kept slack out of my line, and followed it as it passed in front of me. On that first drift my indicator shot like a rocket upstream. I lifted my rod on instinct and instantly felt that good spongy heaviness of a large trout. I saw the flash of the fish as it fought the fly in its mouth, slowly played it carefully out of the fast water, felt its powerful runs, and finally brought it to net. I removed the fly and cradled a beautiful brown trout gently, reverently, in my hands, set it down for a quick picture and then released it. The trout swam off and vanished back into the river. And I knew then, that Bob Shippee had heard me…

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The answer to my prayers…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grumpy old men…

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on May 19, 2016 by stflyfisher

In the midst of a typical day waging war on poor quality, a fellow quality engineer and I would often commiserate on our fate in the professional life. We would rehash the days when we were young buck QE’s, all bright eyed, bushy tailed and Ned Flanders-like, ready to save the world and perfect both process and product. We both observed back then that our older mentors – in their 50’s and early 60’s – had a similar disposition to ours now. They seemed at best “grumpy old men”, wise in years but railing out against all things as if there were nothing good left in the world, and we could not, in our inebriated state of youthful exuberance, figure out why.

Now, it seems, after wading deep into the half century mark, we are becoming them.

Hollywood makes much of growing old. You know, the geritol jokes of comedians, and the movies, a classic of which is “Grumpy Old Men”, starring the epitome of grumpiness, Walter Matthau. Burgess Meredith plays an interesting role as John Gustafson’s (Jack Lemmon) “grandpa” and counters all grumpiness with his own spirited comments, to wit…

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Grandpa: What the… what the hell is this?
John: That’s lite beer.
Grandpa: Gee, I weigh ninety goddamn pounds, and you bring me this sloppin’ foam?
John: Ariel’s got me on a diet because the doc said my cholestorol’s a little too high.
Grandpa: Well let me tell you something now, Johnny. Last Thursday, I turned 95 years old. And I never exercised a day in my life. Every morning, I wake up, and I smoke a cigarette. And then I eat five strips of bacon. And for lunch, I eat a bacon sandwich. And for a midday snack?
John: Bacon.
Grandpa: Bacon! A whole damn plate! And I usually drink my dinner. Now according to all of them flat-belly experts, I should’ve took a dirt nap like thirty years ago. But each year comes and goes, and I’m still here. Ha! And they keep dyin’. You know? Sometimes I wonder if God forgot about me. Just goes to show you, huh?
John: What?
Grandpa: Huh?
John: Goes to show you what?
Grandpa: Well it just goes… what the hell are you talkin’ about?
John: Well you said you drink beer, you eat bacon and you smoke cigarettes, and you outlive most of the experts.
Grandpa: Yeah?
John: I thought maybe there was a moral.
Grandpa: No, there ain’t no moral. I just like that story. That’s all. Like that story.

I tend to like Meredith’s spunk in the movie, and hope it too will rub off on me some day.

But why-oh-why, do we men get grumpy, anyhow…?

A book, recently reviewed in this blog reveals a good explanation. The book, Younger Next Year (YNY) – profiled here before – is written by an older but very fit 70 year old (Chris) and his 46 year old internal medicine doctor (Harry). The book’s thesis is that by following “Harry’s Rules”, one can live like they’re 50 well into their 80’s. The chapters of the book alternate between patient and doctor – giving a practical viewpoint of the patient and the “why” behind the rules. While much of the book is physiological in nature, sections also tackle the mental and emotional aspects of aging, and it is here where the topic of grumpiness is well-explained…

Doctor Harry Lodge’s theory is that as one ages, emotions get pared back and become more primitive, causing a quicker shift to Fight or Flight mode – a most Darwinian response. Old men, like old wolves or lions, are at mounting risk of being turned out by the pack and eaten by other predators. And as a response to this threat, they have to be quick to protect themselves from the inevitable for as long as possible.

Don’t turn me out…

Chris, the patient, opines in YNY; “Can’t you just see the mangey old wolf, snarling furiously at the slightest threat? The kind of threat which could turn fatally real at any time now? Of course they are quick to bare their teeth and snarl. Who wouldn’t be? I had a wonderful old pal in Aspen in the 1990’s who used to leave dinner parties most nights. Walk home, furious, in the snow after an argument about this or that. Great guy, too, but absolutely furious much of the time. People used to wait and speculate what it would be that would set him off tonight. I’m going to get just like him, I can see it. An old boy, snarling at the dinner table, sick with fear that I am going to be turned out into the fatal night. Dragged down on my deaf side by unheard predators. Or not invited back to dinner. Because I am becoming impossible.”

I find myself feeling that way at times – at work and even on the water. And YNY advises that most of us men, in the “Next Third” of life, will indeed become grumpy.

So what is Chris’s advice for us who march towards potential grumpiness? Fight it like a steer. Think about it every time you want to rise up in righteous wrath at someone. Think about the strong possibility that the seething injustice you are about to crush is nothing. Write the letter but don’t send it. Form the angry words in your head and count to ten.

And I will add for all the potentially grumpy fly fishers out there, to FISH MORE. Get out on the water, preferably with other potentially grumpy men. Connection, after all, in keeping with Harry’s rules, is SO important and social interaction pays huge dividends. But even if fellow fly fishers are having a bad day, too grumpy to flail the water, get out anyhow. Talk to people if they are on the water. Channel the energy to rant to proving your piscatorial prowess on the water. Remember that there will be young guns out there happy to flaunt their fish porn. But you, my aged friend, have years more on the water. You’ve seen more, experienced more, fished more. You are, essentially, the “Old Man and the Sea”, and perhaps, if lucky, even Santiago…

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Santiago, the main character in Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel Prize winning novel, The Old Man and the Sea, suffers terribly as an old fisherman of Cuba. In the opening pages of the book, he has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish  (talk about feeling the skunk!) and has become the laughingstock of his small village. Can you imagine how grumpy he could have been and had every right to be? But he fought it, and showed up day after long day, to fish. Santiago’s commitment to sailing out farther than any fisherman had before, to where the big fish could certainly be, was testament to his deep pride and showed his determination to change his luck.

And Santiago does go on to hook into the greatest marlin he’s ever had on the line and then endures a long and grueling struggle with the marlin only to see his trophy catch destroyed by sharks.

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While Santiago chastises himself for his hubris, claiming that it has ruined both the marlin and himself, his deep pride enables him to earn the deeper respect of the village fishermen and secures him a fishing companion in the boy named Manolin. Santiago knows that he will never have to endure such an epic struggle again and he wrests triumph and renewed life from his seeming defeat. And even though he is growing old and his life is drawing to a close, Santiago will persist through Manolin, who, like a disciple, awaits the old man’s teachings and will make use of those lessons long after his teacher has died. Santiago manages the most miraculous feat of all: he finds a way to prolong his life after death, the ultimate defeat to grumpiness.

 

 

 

The All-Rounder…

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on April 30, 2016 by stflyfisher

You might have heard it as you worked your way up through high school, preparing for college, a profession, or work: “you should go out for track (or band, or the debating club, or…) to be more ‘well-rounded’. Whether that worked out for you or not, there is some merit to the strategy of being a “renaissance man”, so to speak – so much so that a version of the term even eked its way into fly fishing.

The Orvis Company, a giant in fly fishing, began a transition to graphite rods in the early 70’s, thanks to Howard Steere, the superintendent of the Orvis fly rod shop. Steere loved bamboo but had the vision to recognize the potential of graphite as a fly rod blank material. During this era, no company had built a satisfactory graphite fly rod. Orvis eventually came out with their own  and these rods included the Orvis 8’3” All Rounder 7wt. The name of the rod recently caught my eye, especially in light of my parent’s well-meaning lectures to be ‘well-rounded’ in life…

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The Orvis All-Rounder – 8’3″ of versatility…

While there is truly no all-around fly rod, the Orvis All-Rounder is considered by some to be a good attempt at a noteworthy objective in rod design. It is a full-flex rod with great butt strength and a soft tip and because of its design, it has the ability to cast a lot of line or cast short. The rod handles small flies fairly well yet due to its line rating, can throw streamers in the salt. Its short length allows its use in small streams that have close alder growth and cover.

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A description of the All-Rounder found in an old Dan Bailey’s fly fishing catalog…

As I researched the All Rounder, I started to realize how specialized fly fishing product has become. These days one can buy a myriad of fly lines with tapers targeted to specific fish species, casting taper (WF, DT, Intermediate, Sink Tip, etc.,) and even fishing conditions. A recent scan of one online fly fishing store’s inventory showed a Mastery Redfish Warm and Mastery Redfish Cold fly line. Talk about niche fly lines! The same applies to fly rods where the choices must be absolutely bewildering and intimidating for beginners. Material choices have expended and now include bamboo, fiberglass, and graphite, as well as composite blends. The lengths of fly rods range from diminutive 5 foot creek rods to 14 foot spey rods, all offering different cork grip options, reel seats, guide types, ferrule types, and sections, including a return to one piece rods. Actions vary from slow to ultra fast and then there are rods built for specific species or types of fishing, switch rods and nymph rods being recently marketed niches.

And yet, many of the old timers and the greats of fly fishing did just fine without the specialization. Lee Wulff, for example, spent a lifetime pursuing larger fish on lighter tackle and frequently used a one-piece, six foot bamboo rod to catch fish ranging from small stream trout to Atlantic salmon up to 26 lbs!

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I happen to own a Scott G706/3 (7′ 6 weight 3 piece) that is a replica of the fly rod that Scott’s founder, Harry Wilson, first built for Lee Wulff. It supposedly became Lee’s favorite rod and he used it to catch everything from trout to Atlantic salmon to permit.

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None other than Lefty Kreh was interviewed in an excellent video about his fly fishing biography during which he bemoaned the fly fishing industry’s over-pricing of product so that many people – particularly the working class – have not been able to afford to enter the sport of fly fishing. Lefty also discusses fly rods during this video and has an intriguing take on their classification. He breaks down fly rods into 3 categories as follows:

  • Presentation weight – up to 6 weight. These are generaly used for trout fishing where tippet protection is of most importance.
  • Distance weight – 8 to 10 weight. These are used where distance casting and the use of large / heavy flies is common such as with smallmouth and largemouth bass, pike, and carp.
  • Lifting weight – 12 – 14+ weight. Lifting weight rods are almost exclusively used in saltwater fly fishing where the rod’s primary function is to fight and land big fish.

Lefty’s approach would definitely help any beginner angler slim down their choices to a few, rather than pursuing a stuffed quiver of specialized rods such as I now own that fill up an entire corner of my study. And while Lefty doesn’t see much use for transition weight rods (7 and 11 weight), it’s interesting that the All Rounder happens to fall squarely in the gap between presentation and distance categories.

My own start in fly fishing began with the purchase of a St Croix Pro-Ultra 9 foot 5/6 weight 2 piece fly rod. I bought it at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store for $99.00. This rod served me well until I began to read fly fishing magazines and then fell under the product trance they sometimes cast. It wasn’t long before I started purchasing higher end specialty rods under the auspices that they would somehow make me a better angler. It’s ironic that even now, with some very good yet high priced rods in my stable, I’ll pull out the St Croix…

So, I’m on the verge of taking action on the goal of fly fishing for a year with some sort of “All Rounder”, just to see. I’m certainly no Lee Wulff or Lefty Kreh, but maybe fly fishing with one rod could be a good thing. Maybe it would force me to focus on improving my skills, rather than relying on new fly rod design and technology to bolster me up. And quite possibly it would then put a halt to expanding my inventory of fly rods, putting a smile on the wife, reducing credit card debt, and making a seller’s presence on eBay? Stay tuned…

 

 

 

 

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