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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.