A martini for the river…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2016 by stflyfisher

”I had never tasted anything so cool and clean.” “They made me feel civilized.”
Ernest Hemingway – A Farewell to Arms.

I grew up with the martini. My dad once called it “the tonic of the gods”. As a kid I can remember my parents holding their daily after-work social hour and a martini – on the rocks – was always in attendance. And so it goes that this “king of cocktails” has graced my life. I hold court with it most every night – one, mind you.

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The martini is clean, cold, pure, and the ultimate symbol of class. Ernest Hemingway described making Martinis as one of three manly skills alongside bull fighting and game fishing. Indeed, the Nobel prize winning author’s characters drank what Hemingway himself quaffed, and the martini was a constant. In Across the River and Into the Trees, Colonel Richard Cantwell orders a Montgomery Martini: 15 parts gin to one vermouth. In A Farewell to Arms, Frederic Henry muses of sipping martinis: “I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized.”

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The master at work – Hemingway pouring a strong one…

Most recently, I learned the martini even crosses over to fly fishing, in an entirely new cocktail recipe. Friend and fellow fly fisher, Eric Tomosky, mentioned the drink one day while we talked and then pitched an email my way with a delightful article from the “Scuddlebutt” section of Drake magazine. The article, written by Dana Sturn, gave the history of the making of this excellent version of an old classic and dubbed the formulation, The Steelhead Martini.

 Sturn writes that the drink was born out of need when a key ingredient – dry vermouth – was forgotten on a steelhead trip. For the non-sophisticated drinkers out there, the classic martini is an easy cocktail to make. The main ingredient, gin, is married with a small amount of dry vermouth: the drier one wants their martini, the less vermouth is used. In fact, some aficionados will literally wave the bottle by the gin in a symbolic act rather than pour even a drop of it in their drink. In any case, the vermouth was not in the fishing trip bar bag and so Sturn and his buddy improvised with scotch as a substitute – and the steelhead martini was born.

The steps are only a little varied from the standard martini recipe but are imbued with tradition which makes them even more appealing. Here’s the basic process:

  1. Start by placing glasses and stainless steel shaker in the freezer or on ice to get them chilled. Sturn’s exact instructions are to use stainless steel “goblets” for obvious reasons when roughing it along a steelhead river. Once the shaker is chilled, fill it with cubed, crushed or cracked ice.
  2. Pour 6 – 8 measures of quality gin into the shaker. Sturn uses Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray, which are both very high quality gins. I prefer Beefeater or better yet, the supremely delightful Hendrick’s.
  3. Add what would be the equivalent of a dash or so of dry vermouth in a classic martini, but in this case, we add no more than a teaspoon of single malt for the Steelhead Martini. Sturn advocates the use of a very smokey Islay malt such as Lgavulin or Laphroig, but also mentions the less challenging malts such as Balvenie or Glenmorangie, as substitutes in a pinch.
  4. Take a stirring implement of some sort – a glass stirring rod, a spoon, a long-bladed knife, or better yet, as recommended by Sturn, the tip of your spey or switch rod (I like that the best), and give the mixture one or two soft swirls. Now here is where I disagree with Sturn in personal taste. I’ve always liked my martinis ice cold and shaking is the best way to achieve that. However, it is said that shaking can “bruise” the gin, meaning the drink turns cloudy from the tiny shards of ice dispersed in the mixture.
  5. Now let the mixture sit – don’t pour just yet. In some ways, letting the drink rest allows the ice in the shaker to dilute the mixture a bit, smoothing the taste, but the process is rather more symbolic of what the steelheader does, in that good steelhead fishing is a cast and wait game and that rushing anything would bring bad kharma, riverside.
  6. The last step of the process is to stir the mixture again for several minutes in what Sturn describes as a slow and relaxed meditative manner. Then retrieve glasses, goblets, or cups, read aloud the final paragraph of A River Never Sleeps, and pour. Garnish the martini as you see fit – olives, cocktail onions, a dill pickle, or lemon twist.
  7. Getting back to my preference for an ice cold martini, I suppose the process could be altered to shake the mixture in step 4, and then after letting it rest, stir instead of shaking it in step 6.

More than anything, the true test of a quality martini is how it leaves you feeling. Some might say, “well, it leaves me feeling quite drunk” and that kind of remark is exactly not how to cherish such a classic libation.

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A steelhead martini, chilled to perfection, garnished with a dill pickle. What a way to celebrate a good day on a river…

Instead, make it part of a riverside tradition. Doll it up with folding chairs and even a small folding table dressed with a tablecloth, as Sturn suggests. Use it to slow the pace down. Sturn claims the Steelhead Martini is especially warranted after a good morning of catching, if and when you are so blessed by the piscatorial gods. In that case, after sampling this unique concoction, listening to the sounds of the river, and regaling in the morning’s good graces, you might not even want to return to the river.

Cheers!

How’d we do in 2015?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2016 by stflyfisher

It’s that time of the year when I draw up to the fire (well, maybe not this year based on how mild it has been), break out my goals for the year, and see how I’ve done. I’ve posted my goal reviews here before, but somehow fell out of practice in 2014. So without much adieu, here are the goals I set quite optimistically this time last year, with their status as of the end of 2015:

  1. Become a better nymph fisherman. Complete. This one is probably not a great goal as we can always be better, but I’d like to say I made good progress towards being better – both from an equipment perspective, tactics, and results. I did not fish the West Branch as much as I normally do, in favor of the Salmon River, but I did well nymphing for steelhead.
  2. Learn to fly fish for musky. Not complete. I’ll have to give this one a go again next year. I never got around to purchasing and setting up the proper tackle, nor did I tie any musky flies, but I did get a nice follow from one who chased a large white deceiver to my kayak!
  3. Continue fly tying – perfect these patterns – goal to catch fish with each pattern: Mostly complete. I caught steelhead or browns on the Salmon River on all of the patterns I tied below, save Rusher’s Stone fly and Tom’s Redhead.
    1. The Salmon River Gift
    2. Rusher’s Stone Fly
    3. Sucker Spawn
    4. Egg Flies
    5. Tom’s Redhead
  4. Donate a box of my flies to the TU banquet. Complete. I made up a pretty nice box for the TU banquet and noticed it going early in the table raffle!
  5. Float fish the rivers – 2 times. Complete – see below…
    1. Float fished the Tioughnioga – Messengerville to Marathon
    2. Float fished the Susquehanna – Apalachin to Hiawatha
  6. Make perfect fly casting practice a habit. Complete. I’d say I did a pretty good job practicing my casting, especially since I was involved in our IFFF chapter’s (The BC Flyfishers) casting clinic and also because I gave fly fishing lessons to a wonderfully nice older couple throughout the summer.
  7. Fish with friends. Complete. By my records, I got out and fished 10 times with friends.
  8. Fish 50 – get out and fly fish 50 times this year. Complete. I did get out and fish 50 times this year, including some new spots.
  9. Learn to tie additional fishing knots. Complete. I learned the Palomar knot.
  10. Fish the Salmon River. Complete. This year I purchased a new JP Ross 11 fot 8 weight switch rod and put it to work. I fished for dropbacks in the spring 4 times and followed that up with fall and fall/winter fishing on the Salmon River for salmon and steelhead 4 times. I caught steelhead during both seasons and my first salmon – 2 coho’s (I lost a number of kings too) in the fall.
  11. Night fish for trout. Complete. Finally got out with fly fisher friend Eric Tomosky on the West Branch. No luck, but a very interesting learning experience. This will be repeat in 2016.
  12. Learn the whip finish. Complete!

So there you have it. A very good year in comparison to past years – I scored myself a 90%. Key to this score were two things; 1) setting realistic and achievable goals and 2) getting after them.

Coming soon will be a post listing my 2016 goals. If you haven’t set yours, I’d recommend taking time to do so. Write them out – then let them marinate a bit. Review them again, and commit by showing them to someone, preferably a fellow fly fisher. I promise you won’t regret the exercise and you’ll be a better angler for it!

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Here’s to great goals and success in 2016!

Younger Next Year

Posted in Writing with tags , , , on January 3, 2016 by stflyfisher

We all go through at least a few life-changing moments during our winks on this good earth. For me there have been a dozen or so, most of them deeply philosophical, a few from the school of hard knocks, but two, detailed herewith, that related to physical fitness. I can see the eyes rolling already; “yeah, yeah, yeah, another message about how important exercise is for good health and what the heck does that have to do with fly fishing anyhow”. Well, bear with me…

Step back in time some 36 years: the location is Camp Pendleton – a United States Marine Corps base in very arid southern California that stretches over 125,000 acres of coastal land made up of salt marsh, floodplain, oak woodlands, coastal dunes and bluffs, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral – basically a very inviting environment for long leisurely walks…

A leisurely walk, Marine Corps style…

While the weather was quite bright and warm, the greeting committee we NROTC midshipmen met was, well, less than sunny, shall we say? And the accommodations – Quonset huts right out of Gomer Pyle, USMC, complete with a resident mascot bulldog that had the undershot jaw only an orthodontist could love.  What stands out as most memorable about Camp Pendleton were the leaders we served with for that week – a Latino gunny sergeant whose name escapes me now but who talked about chevies (with a hard “ch”) and cleaning the rifle chamber (with a soft “ch”) – and a most charismatic “bully pulpit” major by the last name of Hatch who unabashedly took us “young guns” to task for being pathetically out of shape and then proceeded to lead us on runs through the hilly terrain complete with oh-so-colorful jodies. I recall one “speaking to” after a run through the hills when we were severely dressed down for not being able to keep up with a man twice our age. So taken was I by the espirit de corps of the place that I remember leaving Pendleton wanting to become a marine officer. Asthma prevented me from walking down that path and while that might not have set well with the mighty major, I think he would be pleased that I have tried to remain at least reasonably fit all the years since…

Fast forward to the summer of 2008: I’m fishing the Chenango River, late one summer afternoon. I round a bend in the river and see another fly fisherman – hunched a little, butt-deep in the river – he false-casts his fly two or three times with nice loops in an easy, almost effortless motion. It’s a rare sight: he is only the second fly fisherman I’d seen on the river in the course of 10 years. I slowly fish my way down to him.

I wade with the river, working my streamer down and across, then pull out just upstream of him.  He has a gentle manner about him, and is so soft spoken that I have to draw close and listen cup-eared just to understand his words above the river’s soft murmur.  He’s an older man, late-60’s – maybe early 70’s. His face is drawn, his eyes worried…

We talk fly fishing; he prefers fishing dry flies, but laments the days of chasing trout in the faster rivers of the Catskills are largely over. As he says this he glances down at the long wooden wading staff attached to his waist and wagging atop the water below him.

I wish him luck and wade downriver as evening sets in. A few times I turn upriver and observe him in the same spot, but eventually, almost imperceptibly, he removes himself from the river. As I finish my evening of fishing and hike back to the car, I double back on my promise to keep physically fit but this time the promise is targeted on fighting off aging so that I may actively fish well into my eighties, and even beyond, God-willing.

Sometime after my riverside re-awakening, I came across a book that would be that second life-changing moment related to physical fitness. The book was titled, “Younger Next Year” co-authored by Chris Crowley, a 70-something ball of energy, and Henry “Harry” Lodge, M.D., his internal medicine doctor. The two trade chapters: Chris providing the application and real-world experience side of the book and Harry, the facts and reason behind the advice. The book’s premise: if you can fight the biological clock by sticking to some basic rules, you’ll live like you’re 50 well into your 80’s and beyond. I read the book and was compelled to read it again with highlighter in hand.

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Harry’s Rules are so simple that one might question buying such a book. But it’s what’s behind the rules that fascinated me most. The medical detail behind each rule convinced me of the book’s worth and reminded me of a common criticism I have of the medical profession: that many doctors preach rules, order tests, but rarely take the time to explain “why”…

So, here are Harry’s Rules:

1. Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
2. Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life
3. Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.
4. Spend less than you make.
5. Quit eating crap.
6. Care.
7. Connect and commit.

Notice that the rules go beyond being just a gym rat, another thing I loved about the book. And even the importance of non-physical rules, such as “Connect and Commit” are backed by sound medical rationale.

The book is a delightful read, especially for us older guys. It’s written by a guy who can relate to age and by a doctor who sees daily, the results that lifestyle can have on one’s aging. Harry and Chris use the mantra, “grow or decay” throughout the book and it is a good one to remember as is their chart that depicts normal aging and what “old age” can be.

Here, according to the authors, is how we typically age…

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And here is the aging process if we live by Harry’s Rules…

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According to Harry, over 70% of premature death and aging is lifestyle related and that through simple lifestyle changes, captured in Harry’s Rules, over half of all disease in men and women over 50 could be eliminated.

The choice is ours. We can look at aging and all the associated aches and pains and limitations as normal, or we can choose to delay the onset of the slippery slope, and continue to live well into our 80’s.

And so I’ll begin 2016 with another read of Younger Next Year. I’ll think of all the fishing left to do in my life and remember the old guy on the Chenango. I’ll re-commit to fighting the relentless tide of old age, with Harry’s Rules in hand, so that I can still venture out and wet a line into my 80’s. And with a little luck, maybe I’ll hear the young bucks over the roar of the fast water say, “would you look at that old guy?”

 

Indian Summer

Posted in Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Writing with tags , , , on November 10, 2015 by stflyfisher

The Indian Summer of life should be a little sunny and a little sad, like the season, and infinite in wealth and depth of tone, but never hustled.

Henry Adams

Indian summer is a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather that sometimes occurs in autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. The US National Weather Service defines this as weather conditions that are sunny and clear with above normal temperatures, occurring late-September to mid-November, and particularly after a killing frost. Such were the conditions when I set out on what was to be my second kayak float of one of the Southern Tier’s great warmwater rivers. I had my eye on Columbus Day weekend for a while, and as it got closer, kept hoping the predicted indian Summer conditions would hold, and that the river would remain low and clear. Thankfully, it held…

I set out early with a plan to launch from the Apalachin DEC fishing access but my pick-up plans were still a little in the air. Last year’s trip had been a float of the river from the same starting point to Hickories Park in Owego, but I had found out the hard way that those last couple of miles below where I fished were nothing but slow moving river and a tough, long, and arduous paddle. So I decided to see if I could float roughly 3 miles down to the choice fishing areas and then paddle back. There were a few places where I would need to haul my kayak around faster riffles and runs, but generally I felt it could be doable.

I fished this same stretch last year and wondered if it would be as good as my last visit. That trip brought me to totally unexplored water and absolute solitude save a few recreational kayakers. The varied water in what I refer to as the “outback” made for great fly fishing and a surprise visit from a musky that inhaled a 10″ smallmouth I had on the line and, though it was not hooked, would not let go of his meal for a good 20 minutes.

The river had been through a spate of dry weather since mid-summer and the river was showing it with flows below the 1,000 CFS mark. Low water tends to concentrate the fish a bit which is a help on such a big river but it can also make for spooky fish when the water is crystal clear and the sun bright. With that in mind I focused on fishing the northern bank on the float down, hoping the shady areas would hold some bass.

The morning was chilly and foggy but it did not take long for the rising sun to burn through. I drifted past my honey hole, about a quarter mile below the bridge, figuring I could hit it on the way back if fishing wasn’t that good below. I focused my morning efforts on some shaded downfalls that had produced some nice bass on last year’s float, but this year, no one answered my casts. Perhaps the extra skinny water was the culprit, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the day.

I paddled on and fished the bend in the river where weeds were prevalent adjacent to deep water and where again, last year, I had caught some nice bass. I thought for sure there would be some bass willing to play here but again, it was “no joy”.

Beyond that spot is what I now call, “the promised land”. This stretch of the river is a lot like the St. Lawrence in terms of the bedrock and boulders that make up the river bottom and shoreline. The water is deep here, yet out of nowhere, boulders and rock outcroppings loom large in the current. It is perfect smallie habitat and the home of at least one big musky. So I fished it thoroughly, and finally was rewarded for my efforts.

Love the chocolate brown coloring of this smallmouth bass.

Love the chocolate brown coloring of this smallmouth bass.

Maybe it was fly size, maybe color, but changing up to a 5″ long white deceiver I had tied for saltwater striped bass and bluefish fishing changed my fortune. Tied to a stout leader and an intermediate sink tip fly line, I cast to the shallows and stripped the fly across and through the boulders and the deep run of the river. I immediately hooked up with bass after bass, over a dozen and two of them real gems – full bodied, broad-shouldered. One of those two had a large baitfish tail protruding from its gullet, it’s belly extended noticeably. But even 12″ chunks, as I refer to them, eagerly attacked this big white streamer. And halfway through, so did a large green torpedo…

I decided to

I decided to “go big early” and fished a white deceiver, like this one, and the smallmouth loved it…

For the third time, I encountered Mr. Musky. My two previous encounters were while “bait fishing”, that is, catching a 10 – 12″ smallie on a fly and suddenly feeling it get REAL heavy. Both encounters were amazing in that the big guy on the end hung on to the “bait” for 20 minutes before finally having had enough. They were never actually hooked. This third encounter was an aggressive follow, but only as I swept the fly up and parallel to the kayak, getting ready to backcast.

Indian summer and fall splendor on the Susquehanna...

Indian summer and fall splendor on the Susquehanna…

I paddled back upriver around 2 pm and fished the shade of the southern side of the river, picking up a few nice bass and missing some more. The wind had started to blow with the warming of the day. Leaves littered the river and of course the wind blew my kayak around a bit, but I enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon and the vibrant fall colors.

I gradually worked up the river, then hit another run and riffle and got a good workout pushing my little boat home. I had passed my home pool – a favorite wading spot and the home of my largest smallmouth bass – on the way down, but on the way back I decided to fish it a bit before continuing on to the takeout. The night before I had stopped here to gauge the fishing and was smitten. I caught a large fallfish, a nice walleye, a good northern with a fat belly, and two very nice smallmouth bass. And on this afternoon, my second cast and retrieve came to an abrupt stop…

I was fast to another quality smallmouth and this bass was a fighter. Once in hand and released, I fished the rest of the pool and missed a few fish. It was beginning to get late and I still had to paddle / wade and tow my boat another quarter mile, then pack it up and head home. So I left my honey hole and towed my kayak home.

Terrific way to end a beautiful day...

Terrific way to end a beautiful day…

The drive home was as pleasant as it gets. I had enjoyed a long day on a beautiful river with not another angler in sight and enjoyed only the company of a few bald eagles, osprey, mergansers, Canada geese, and mallards.

A soft warm breeze blew through my open windows as I smoked a cigar and drove through hills painted in hues of scarlet and gold. Winter was not far off, but for now I enjoyed one last dance with summer – and a flirt with fall. Long gone were wet wading days on the river, shirt-sleeved evening slogs on late summer evenings. I felt blessed and happy for having another year of fly fishing and for having one last shot at fish before the winter snows arrived. And I could almost hear fall’s siren call to fish of all kinds – the basses, pikes, salmonoids, and trout – hastening the feed for some in advance of winter, and sending others upriver to spawn and create another life-cycle all their own.

Tawm

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on November 6, 2015 by stflyfisher

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.

Henry David Thoreau

He stood at the head of the run, atop a flat rock, fighting a good steelhead that behaved at first but then decided the thing pulling on its jaw was really getting annoying. The fish screamed downstream, and the big man on the rock dipped his rod to the river as if bowing to this majestic force of nature and let the drag scream away. Anglers on either side of the run dutifully retrieved their lines with Salmon River etiquette. But the big angler on the rock stayed put on his fishing perch and decided to stand and fight rather than follow the fish down-river.

I watched the spectacle, line in hand and I was annoyed, to be quite honest. ‘Move down and get below him’, I thought. Who would dare fight a steelhead from upstream, especially when just below the run the river turned really fast. But this angler stayed put atop the big rock and let his fly line arc across the entire run. His fighting position was almost defiant to the bank-side anglers below, as if to say, ‘I’ve got a good fish on and you need to watch me fight him’.

The steelhead did what it was born to do. The tug of war went on and my aggravation increased. ‘Why doesn’t this guy just move down below the fish’, I kept wondering…

Then I witnessed something truly revolutionary. The big guy on the rock started to steadily reel the fish up. Though his rod was bent deeply into the butt, rod-tip just above the water, he slowly cranked in, gaining line as if retrieving a fly bogged up with a wad of stream bed clutter. This went on for what seemed forever, and granted, there was a little tug of war in the midst, but he eventually got the fish to the point where the leader was just beyond the rod tip. I thought to myself, “OK, now I can fish again”.

The steelhead charged downstream as if the fight had just begun. Big guy followed it this time as there was an angler with a net at the end of the run. I started fishing after he moved below me but a while later he came walking back up the wall path. As he passed me he said with complete sincerity, “thank you for your patience”. He had lost the fish but regained my favor.

I asked what type of fly he was using, and it wasn’t long before I began to get hook-ups. Most of these were short-lived affairs – some the result of a poorly set hook, others a tribute to the brute power of these fish – a mix of king salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead. At one point, a snag turned out to be a very big king whose explosive leaps left me with a slack line and straightened 2X heavy hook. But eventually I got one to stick. After some good runs, a few jumps, and lots of head-shaking, I worked the fish up-river to some slack water just below the big guy’s rock post.

“Do you want me to try and land him for you?”, big guy asked, in an accent from a far-off state. “Sure”, I said, and a friend was gained.

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A gift from a newly-made friend

I introduced myself afterward, to which he stuck out a huge, caloused hand and shook mine with the grip of a lineman. “I’m Tawm”, he said, smiling big and wide. He was an imposing figure, but had a laid-back warmth that immediately made you feel good just to be in his presence. “You’re obviously not from around here”, I said. He grinned, “nawww, from Maine but born and raised in Bawston”…

I asked him about his unique fish-fighting technique and he smiled. “Oh, a friend showed me that – he calls it walking the dawg”. “It doesn’t work all the time”, he continued, “but it somehow just calms them down in a lot of cases. I won’t chase ’em if I can avoid it.”

I had more hook-ups, as did he, including a dandy of a steelhead to which he complimented me in simple Tawm terms: “Nice”.

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Courtesy of Tawm’s “walking the dog”…

And I fought that steelhead just like Tom did, eventually ‘walking the dog’, right into a net.

We fished side-by-side the rest of the day, though I felt a bit overshadowed by this gentle giant of a man. Fair skinned with a fireman’s mustache and very much commanding the run, Tawm greeted almost every angler on the run as if they were at a high school reunion. Anglers far different than Tawm, with accents straight out of “Rocky” or “My Cousin Vinnie”, shook hands and hugged him like long lost brothers. He knew them by name, called out to them, verbally sparring, joking, and laughing.

At one point, even though the action was steady, Tawm rested his rod and drew out a big cigar. Sitting bank-side, he deftly smoked the stogie, occasionally looking skyward. “Sometimes it’s nice just to sit back and take it all in”, he mused. I looked at him and thought myself a bit of a fool for going at fly fishing so damned hard all the time. Indeed, I had started the morning at 6:30 am, not taken a break for any kind of food, or water and in my haste to ‘get a spot’, had left my own cigar in my car.

“You seem to know everyone here”, I said, as he puffed away. He was deep in thought, and maybe, it was the very thing I was asking about that was on his mind. “I’ve known some of these people for years”, he said. “The fishing here is so good, but that’s not the only reason I come.”

The sun soon dipped beneath the ridge behind us and left the sky. The run darkened with the coming of evening and anglers slowly left in piecemeal fashion, but not one of them without some word to Tawm, including some colorful expressions that reminded me of my Navy days. Then Tawm packed up, and walked by me on his way to his car. “I’m wore out, just plain wore out”, he said.

I soon left too, plodding up the steep stone stairs to the parking lot above, my upper back and arms sore from casting and tangling with lake-run fish. It would be a long drive home but a very good one – one of perspective that eventually makes for a better angler and deeper human being. And though I’m not so sure Tawm was the type of man that would read Thoreau, he certainly lived like he did, making memories of fly fishing big rivers, but most of all, the people in them.

Deputy Dawg and Old Fighter

Posted in Fishing Reports, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on October 3, 2015 by stflyfisher

As I waded downriver, the prospects of fly fishing the tail-out of a pool I’ve long loved were looking better and better. The river was low, the water warm and clear, and best of all, there was a low canopy of fog overhead. I started by fishing an intermediate sink-tip line and a conehead bugger with some good-looking white legs. It wasn’t long before I was rewarded with a mid-sized smallmouth bass and then another bigger brother. I began reminiscing in some great action from a few summers ago when I caught some dandy bass and lost a few more that made me miss this spot. On that warm summer morning I could see the bass, cruising and hanging in the tail-out and ambushing bait. It was exciting stuff for a bass guy…

A few casts more and I was tight to something that didn’t jump. A deep and slugging kind of fight ensued and a nice walleye came to hand. I made more casts and got another hook-up and again, another deep slugging fight followed. But this one was different. This fish pulled drag into the current, swung like a door below me and across, and did little corkscrews and tight twists and turns. It was hard just lifting it to the surface to see what it was. Eventually I had it close and confirmed what I thought – a channel cat…

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Channel cats will hit a streamer with authority and put a good bend in an 8 weight fly rod…

It was my second catfish of the year on a fly – the first having been caught a week prior under similar circumstances. I have run into these fish every year it seems, but normally only one or two a year at best. They are chance happenings – a streamer stripped across their nose or a big nymph drifted too close for them to resist, I suppose. I’ve never intentionally fished for them.

The tailout...

The tailout…

As I approached the end of the tail-out, I saw that the surface commotion I had first witnessed from afar was not the splashy rushes of bass on the hunt, but sporadic boils and bulges in the water, as if big browns were gorging on emergers. The surface action was different but energizing nonetheless. I began extending my casts so my streamer swept deeper and deeper into the tongue of the tail-out. I jigged the streamer as I fished it and was soon rewarded with a good tug and a solid fish. This one fought the same as the previous cat, but with a lot more bravado. The fish surged upriver, held steady, and then made for the depths of the pool. I clamped down on the drag. A little later, a bigger channel cat twisted and turned at my feet.

Another nice cat with a bit more beef and brawn.

Another nice cat with a bit more beef and brawn.

Two more channel cats followed over the next hour, and all of them had struck the streamer with authority. The biggest had my eight weight bent well into the butt section and took well over 10 minutes to land.

The biggest cat of the three days. This fish, like the others, was very well fed and sported quite the gut...

The biggest cat of the three days. This fish, like the others, was very well fed and sported quite the gut…

I returned to the same spot on the next two mornings, trying to determine whether this was some fluke event or an actual feeding pattern. The fish were still there both times and continued to take the streamers I fished. While I caught one cat and lost one on both subsequent days, the feeding seemed consistent and the water continued to boil sporadically.

A Saturday return visit, a week later, yielded nothing, however. Perhaps the cold front that doused the area late in the week with unseasonably cold and rainy conditions put the fish off. There were still some of the surface boils I had seen previously, but no takes this time at all. Interestingly, there was a steady hatch of large Isonychias coming off. They lumbered skyward – relative “bombers” compared to some of the caddis that were fluttering about.

Thinking back on those interesting mornings, I now believe these cats were feeding on emerging Isonychia nymphs as well as their spinners. The hatch was a good one and as fly anglers of the Southern Tier know, this is a big mayfly. It seems odd for a catfish to feed up in the water column, but channel catfish are omnivores, much like carp. On the last day I fished this pattern, I experimented with nymphs and even skated big dries across the tail-out. A large bitch creek nymph on the swing did provoke a splashy take but that was the extent of my success fishing anything different than a big streamer.

I was thrilled to partake in this newly discovered pattern of feeding but was still a little puzzled. Should I have indicator fished large pheasant tail nymphs to the feasting cats? Would I have been better off fishing Isonychia dries or emergers to these fish – patterns I normally housed in my trout vest and not my bass vest? Research on the internet revealed the fly rod world record to be taken by indicator fishing a wooly bugger. Such tactics were able to fool a 20+ lb channel cat in Texas. Could they have worked equally well on those days on the Susquehanna? And could the hot and dry weeks prior to my fishing have set “the bite” up?

I continued to think through this fishing conundrum but what suddenly came to mind was not some divine answer from the piscatorial gods, but the memories of a cartoon I watched as a child. Deputy Dawg was a cartoon series that ran in the early 60’s. It featured a dog – Deputy Dawg – who was a deputy sheriff in a backwater area of the south. The other characters in the cartoon series were varmints – Muskie Muskrat, Moley Mole, Vincent Van Gopher…

Deputy dawg doin' some catfishin'

Deputy Dawg doin’ some catfishin’

Deputy Dawg would pal around with Muskie and Vince just as often as he would lock them up in the Jailhouse, and the trio would often engage in their favorite pastime, “fishin’ for catfish”…

Old fighter always seems to outsmart Deputy Dawg...

Old fighter always seems to outsmart Deputy Dawg…

But the catfish – and above all the largest and wiliest in the lake, Old Fighter – would always somehow get the upper hand any time Deputy Dawg tried to catch them, causing him to scowl and howl his infamous “dagnabbit”.

And so I waded off the river on that last Saturday morning, empty-handed, thinking a little like Deputy Dawg and his holy grail quest to catch Old Fighter. I resolved to return again, in late summer of next year, and figure out old Mr. Whiskers. I’ll fish those tail-outs on foggy or overcast mornings after a period of warm and dry days. I’ll look for those enticing surface boils. But I’ll experiment a bit more. I’ll try an indicator and some big nymphs and have a white-legged bugger streamer ready in reserve. Maybe I’ll get to tangle again with those beautiful channel cats, and just maybe, dagnabbit, with the Old Fighter of the Susquehanna.

In like a lion…

Posted in Gear, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on March 2, 2015 by stflyfisher

So it is said, however the month of March comes in, it will go out exactly the opposite. In like a lion, as in bad weather, means one should expect a gentle, lamb-like, exit to the month. And the start of March seemed very much lion-like on the eve of my 56th birthday this year. I planned to trek south to Lancaster, PA to attend The Fly Fishing Show as well as visit Cabelas and the TCO fly shop in nearby Reading.

I was on a mission to look at some switch rods. Several of the rods and brands I was interested in were either at the show or at one of the retailers nearby. And the one I had the most interest in, a JP Ross Trib switch rod, might be on hand at the Tailwater Lodge booth at the show. Tom Fernandez kindly said he’d try to have some available though he himself wouldn’t be at the show.

So I woke up early Sunday morning and with coffee at my side, looked bleary-eyed at weather.com. I had every intention of leaving at 6 am so I could get a full day of browsing and shopping in, but the weather forecast was pretty shady for starting off in the dark. It was snowing heavily already, and the forecast was for more of the same for the next few hours. I figured I’d wait for light and then hit the road.

I left around 8 am and drove down Grippen Hill without too much of a problem even though the roads were not plowed. I passed a guy coming up the steepest section – his Corolla was at a slipping crawl. That was the first moment of many where I began to question my judgement.

Being an early Sunday, the likelihood of plowing activity was not good but I thought, optimistically, the highways should be clear. I was soon on Route 17 West and found the highway in pretty poor shape. The slow lane was clear with tracks – the fast lane was completely snow-covered. But I continued on despite it all…

I made Lancaster by noon. A fine and historic town I must say. Everywhere it seemed there was brick, colonial architecture, narrow roads, plaques speaking to history…

Lots of old brick in Lancaster - charming, but slippery after freezing rain and sleet...

There’s lots of old brick in Lancaster and it’s charming. Just beware the brick and stone sidewalks after freezing rain and sleet…

After parking, I walked to the convention center through pelting sleet and snow. I walked carefully, then decided to take a covered walk that was two steps down from the sidewalk. Wrong move – feet up in the air – followed by back, elbow, and stone stairs all colliding at once. Oh, I got up fast enough, like a pro boxer unexpectedly knocked down by an underdog. I brushed myself off and headed into the convention center entrance wondering if anyone saw me.

The convention was nice. I’ve been told the Somerset version of The Fly Fishing Show is better, but this was a first visit for me so I was impressed with what I saw. I walked around to get the lay of the land. I saw Bob Clouser, Joe Humphreys, Lefty Kreh, and George Daniel. I stopped at some of the fly tying booths, gawked at all of the fly rods and reels. I breathed it all in and thought of spring fly fishing.

The casting seminars were great. I was particularly intrigued with the casting demonstration of Joe Humphreys. He MC’d every cast, threw in puns and jokes, and made it a lot of fun to watch. It was all about simplicity and just watching him made it all seem so easy.

Joe Humphreys and a beautiful brown trout.

Joe Humphreys and a beautiful brown trout. Picture courtesy of the Lackawanna Chapter of TU

Fly tyer Safet Nikocevic was on hand. He ties some beautiful Caddis nymphs that I had read about in a fly fishing magazine. So was Mike Hogue of Badge Creek Fly Tying – a great local fly tyer, fly fisherman, and retailer.

Safet Nikocevic at the vise...

Safet Nikocevic at the vise…

As I walked around I finally spied the Tailwater Lodge booth. Two nice ladies were at the booth, but I saw no fly rods. I was expecting a rod rack and possibly some other gear but the exhibit was only about the lodge.

Tailwater Lodge offers some great accommodations on the banks of the Salmon River. The reps at the booth were as accommodating as this picture suggests...

Tailwater Lodge offers some great accommodations on the banks of the Salmon River. The reps at the booth were as friendly and welcoming as this picture suggests…

After a few laps of the exhibits, I thought I’d better at least ask about whether the rods had made it down to Lancaster. I approached the booth and before even opening my mouth to inquire, I was immediately greeted with, “Oh we have two rods for you…”. I assembled both rods, gave them a wiggle, and admired their beautiful fit and finish.

The JP Ross Trib Switch Fly Rod...

The JP Ross Trib Switch Fly Rod… (picture courtesy of JP Ross Fly Rods)

It’s not a first for me, being a JP Ross fly rod owner. I purchased a Beaver Meadow 7 foot 4 weight 2 piece years ago and was utterly impressed. I soon put the rod to good use on the creeks and small streams of the Southern Tier.

A nice little Cayuta Creek brown thanks to JP Ross and a Picket Pin wet fly...

A nice little Cayuta Creek brown thanks to JP Ross and a Picket Pin wet fly…

I also purchased a workhorse of an 8 weight that has done double duty for smallmouth bass and steelhead.

A nice smallie that inhaled a double bunny streamer. Delivery courtesy of a 9 foot 8 weight JP Ross fly rod...

A nice smallie that inhaled a double bunny streamer. Delivery courtesy of a 9 foot 8 weight JP Ross fly rod…

This switch rod is designed primarily for trib fishing for browns, rainbows, steelhead and salmon. I plan on putting it to work on the Salmon River this spring for hungry dropback steelhead.

Two JP Ross Trib Switch rods, ready for duty...

Two JP Ross Trib Switch rods, ready for duty… (picture courtesy of JP Ross Fly Rods)

Beauty and the beast. I've found these rods to be both beautiful to own and sturdy fishing tools...

Beauty and the beast. I’ve found these rods to be both beautiful to own and very sturdy fishing tools… (picture courtesy of JP Ross Fly Rods)

After going over the rods thoroughly, I knew I couldn’t walk away. They felt too good in my hand. The Salmon River called to me and I decided to bring the 8 weight home.

I spent a little more time at the show but decided I best leave by 3 pm. I was advised by Mike Hogue that the bad weather was not letting up. So with rod tube, fly tying supplies and other miscellaneous tackle in hand, I set out for a long drive home. A 3 hour drive gradually lengthened to 6 hours – 6 steering wheel death-gripping hours, with my side still hurting like hell. Cars littered the side of the highway – snow plows came out in force. Darkness overtook the light. I drove on, just wanting to get home.

I finally got to the base of Grippen Hill, and after looking up a steep climb, the road deep with virgin snow, decided that March had indeed roared in like the King of the Beasts. After a long bitterly cold winter, it seemed like spring was ages away, not a mere 21 days. At least tradition promised a lamb on the other side.

 

 

 

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