Looking back on 2016…

Posted in Carp, Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Rod Building, Saltwater, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on January 17, 2017 by stflyfisher

“To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction, is to live twice”

Kahlil Gibran

The book on 2016 is now officially closed and as most who peruse my blog know, I like to take a look back on each year fly fishing the Southern Tier before looking forward to the year ahead.

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The beautiful West Branch of the Delaware – a classic Upstate New York trout fishery that will hopefully continue to provide great fly fishing in 2017…

2016 was an interesting mix of fly fishing highs and lows for the Southern Tier and for me in particular. I’ll summarize those points with commentary in this post. Look for a “year ahead” post in the coming weeks as well as a review of my performance to last year’s fly fishing goals and a list of what I want to accomplish in 2017.

Weather / Climate Summary – The top story of the year is the drought that started slowly, but hung on through summer and early fall to the point where many small creeks and streams were dangerously low, if not outright dried-up. Owego Creek, for example, was dry in sections, something I’ve never seen in the 24 years I’ve lived in the Southern Tier. What’s often not so good for some fishing, however, can be good for others. The warmwater rivers of our area were low enough for good wading access as early as April and even the mighty Susquehanna was low by late June.

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A large fallfish nest lies exposed on the Susquehanna River. This might be expected in a dry year in August, but to see this in late June is a testament to the severity of the 2016 drought.

By July, one could wade across the Susquehanna in many places! River flows hit a low of 500 CFS in mid-September – making fishing from a boat difficult in some areas later in summer. Note the USGS chart below…

susquehanna-2016-trend

As can be seen in the next chart, temperatures were on the warm side in February and March, precipitating early snow-melt, but then tracked in a fairly tight range for the remainder of the year. Precipitation, or lack thereof, was the bigger issue. The chart below shows a growing deficit that widened significantly into the early fall.

2016-temp-precip

BC Flyfisher’s 1st fly rod building class – The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF kicked off 2016 with a rod building class taught by expert rod maker, Joe Swam. The class was outstanding – the group small enough to allow personalized teaching from Joe. It was so good I’m enrolled in the second annual rod building class as I write this. The best thing about the class was the knowledged gained on not only “how”, but “why” fly rods are built as they are. As an example, I never understood why the female end of each rod section is wrapped much like a guide. Now I know, thanks to the class, that the ferrule is very weak and the wrap serves to re-enforce the rod. Obviously too, rod building opens endless opportunity to build a rod that is totally your creation, and perfectly suited to your fly fishing needs. I’ll never buy another. Thanks, Joe!

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Rod wrapping with Hemingway.

Visit to Destin – I visited Destin, Florida, and my son Chris, on my way to a business trip destination at the end of January. I’d never been to the “Emerald Coast” of the panhandle of Florida. I brought my 9 weight saltwater fly fishing outfit with me but without much local guidance, I was unable to stir up a bite. Nonetheless, in talking with a few locals, I was immediately impressed with the fly fishing potential, especially when one older angler answered my query on the fishing by saying, ‘the fishing is not good, it is excellent, most excellent…’

April Steelhead – I made it out for steelhead on a very cold and wet, early April day. I once again was able to fish with friend Bob Card and guide Tony Gulisano. Tony is a great guide and is adept in angling for steelhead and salmon in all ways – spinning, centerpin, and fly fishing. Although I did raise one fish, I skunked out while Bob hooked into a number of steelhead and lost a few more. The only bad side to the trip were the repeated disappointing statements from Tony on what he was seeing as we drifted the river. The numbers of steelhead were low according to him – in some places he saw only a few fish where he’d normally see 20, 30, or more. Tony’s observations are based on years guiding the river. What he saw in early 2016 more or less predicted less than a great run of steelhead in the fall.

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Bob Card with a nice spring steelhead…

Owego Creek – I was able to get out on the “lower” Owego Creek with Rick Searles. Owego Creek is homewater to Rick – he knows it well and has caught some true trophy browns from the Owego. Rick showed me some areas to fish but was pretty up front about expectations. The lower Owego Creek is not loaded with trout but when one does find them they can be very high quality fish, including some big holdovers and wild browns as well. While I did not do so well the couple of times I fished it, I’m a believer in this small creek’s potential. Rick and I fished it in the spring but as mentioned above, by June the creek was extremely low. I stayed away from ALL creeks for the remainder of the year. I figured wild and holdover browns had enough to contend with from Mother Nature.

April Visit to Destin – I managed to visit Destin, Florida again in April along with my wife. We flew down to see our son, Chris, but in the process, decided to see what real estate was like. One thing led to another and before long we were hooked on buying. I never pictured my later life as involving the “snowbird migration”, but suddenly the thought of living part of the year in a warm climate where the fishing is both good and different and then returning north for late spring through fall seemed to appeal to me. On top of that, Destin has a strong vacation rental market and buying a property would allow us to own an investment that we could use a bit, letting rental income defray at least some of the cost before retirement. We ended up buying a townhouse on a stocked lake just minutes from the beach and 5 minutes by golf cart to Cowahatchee Bay…

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Early Season Bronze – The pre-spawn smallmouth bass bite turned out to be excellent. With water levels at spring lows, it didn’t take long to break out my smallmouth gear and look for some early season bronze. I had some excellent fishing starting with the smaller warmwater rivers like the Tioughnioga, but eventually even the big Susquehanna dropped to levels that offered exceptional fly fishing. This early season bite is always there, of course, but only when winters are mild and the rivers are relatively tame does it open up for the wading fly angler. I fished the smaller rivers early on and found some “football” smallies and equally stout fallfish in the river braids and shallow eddies…

Later in the spring, the big Susquehanna also dropped to wadeable levels, and the fishing opened up there too. I did my best to get out when the getting was good, and scored some nice bass in the process. I even got a chance to break in my newly made fly rod, dubbed “The Golden Bear” because of its Vestal High School colors of green and gold…

 

Trout & Memorial Day – I didn’t fly fish for trout as much as I’ve done in past years. Blame the low warmwater river levels and my obsession with smallmouth bass and other warmwater river species. I did make it down to my favorite place on the West Branch of the Delaware River a few times, the most memorable and personally rewarding being Memorial Day. A former sailor, Dan, contacted me out of the blue. He had read my Memorial Day blog posts and told me he had worked for Bob Shippee, one of the 37 on board who had died when the Stark was attacked in 1987. The more I read of Bob Shippee and the more I corresponded with the man who first wrote me about him, the more I wanted to write a tribute to Shippee.

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Memorial Day brown – and evidence that Bob Shippe was listening…

Carp – I ran into a few carp this year and fished for them intentionally a few more times. My first encounter was while fishing for early season bass with “The Golden Bear” – a good test of any rod and one that made me smile all the more.

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Big river carp are a great way to test out a newly built fly rod…

I caught another dandy on the Tioughnioga with Singer’s Crayfish in a size 6 – a great little pattern that’s equally good on smallmouth. In this specific case, I sawa at least a dozen carp moving and feeding in a deep hole. A few drifts with my crayfish pattern and I was hit solidly. What a great fight these fish can put on! My other attempts resulted in a few missed hook-ups but these scouting trips proved fruitful in uncovering a number of areas to fish in 2017.

Father’s Day – I spent a very special Father’s Day with a long distance fly fishing friend, Joe Laney. Originally from the northwest, Joe currently lives and works in Manhattan with his wife and daughter, but has connections in the Southern Tier through his wife’s family. He happened to read some of my posts way back when and eventually we met up to fish our local waters. Since then, we usually get out when he’s up our way. Joe’s a very good fly angler. On this past Father’s Day we explored the Otselic River and enjoyed catching some nice smallmouth bass, fallfish, and even a few rock bass. It’s always a joy to fish new water, especially with a good friend…

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Joe releases a nice fallfish on the beautiful Otselic River…

Catfish – I’ve been running into Mr. Whiskers for a number of years, but it seems like my encounters have increased most recently, prompting me to fish intentionally for them while out hunting bass. Counter to general opinion, the channel catfish that populate our warmwater rivers will aggressively hit a fly, especially large buggy streamers and nymphs. Once hooked, hang on for a deep and dirty fight, even on an 8 weight rod. The state record was a 32 lb fish caught in Brant Lake, but I’d bet river cats are tougher, pound for pound, than their laker kin due to river conditioning. I caught a half dozen up to 32″ with just as many missed in 2016 and repeated an early fall pattern where they were feeding on large emerging mayflies! Go figure…

The Fall Float – I’ve made it out on my small and humble kayak every fall for the last few years and these solo floats always prove very productive. The Susquehanna was very low when I launched downstream this year, making for some even skinnier paddling in places. I fished mainly buggers and the bass were hot to play, including several very nice ones. I did not get a shot at musky or pike, but saw a “fingerling” musky – maybe 12″ long holding near some weeds in about a foot of water. That was most encouraging. Also in the mix was a very nice channel cat and countless fallfish, probably one of the most under-rated beginner “fly fisher fish”, but a species that always fights with bravado and readily and heartily takes a fly…

Blues – The fishing for bluefish was pretty damn good this year. That’s something I truly missed the last several years. Fishing seemed to change off Barnegat Light / Long Beach Island ever since Hurricane Sandy decimated the Jersey shore and that change to the fishing (along with regulation changes) took its toll on the party boats. Whereas two boats – Doris Mae and Miss Barnegat Light – ALWAYS ran for blues from spring through fall, day and night, fishing deteriorated so badly that these boats began to cut back on their trips. Sadly, Doris Mae eventually sold out. Theories abound on specifically why the fishing has changed for Barnegat Light – some indicate bottom changes due to the storm – others point to changes in seasonal currents. Whatever the cause, the trip (think fuel expense and time to fish) to reach blues from Barnegat Light did not make business sense. So after reading some glowing reports this past fall, I looked about 40 minutes north to the boats out of Belmar and I was not disappointed. I took a trip aboard The Golden Eagle with my cousin, Mark, and we had a great day. The only disappointment was that the fish mainly wanted bait in the chum slick. I prefer to jig for them, but it was so good to feel their brute power…

Destin – My wife and I returned to Destin in early November to spend a week at our place there. I finally got a chance to meet Ed Greene, a local fisherman and neighbor to our realtor. He was gracious enough to take me out to the expansive Cowahatchee Bay on his center console 23 foot fishing boat. We fished primarily for “trout” as they are referred to in the south. The bay holds a wide range of gamefish, including summer flounder, ladyfish, bluefish, redfish, trout, jacks, spanish mackerel, and even cobia and tarpon. Once I got a handle on the fishing, thanks to Ed’s sage advice, I ventured out on my own, wading the bayside shallows and tidal creeks. I fished a 9 foot 8 weight rod, an intermediate line, a 6 foot leader, and a number of streamers / shrimp patterns, but the best producer was a chartreuse and white clouser minnow. My efforts were rewarded with a number of small trout, a redfish, many lizardfish, and a summer flounder – a great intro to fly fishing, Emerald Coast style, and to think it was only a 5 minute ride in a golf cart to miles of bay fly fishing…

Ed also was kind enough to take me out wreck fishing offshore in a friend’s 27 foot center console boat. Our target species was red snapper. We first jigged up live bait in the East Pass inlet using light spinning gear and tiny sabiki rigs. This was fun stuff in itself. Proper technique could end up with 3, 4, or even 5 feisty baitfish on the multiple hook rigs. After we had a good supply of live bait, we cranked up and headed offshore to wrecks that Ed had in his GPS unit. We fished in water 50 to 90’+ and used pretty stout boat rods with 60lb mono. The rig was classic bluefish stuff – egg sinker (in this case 8 ounces!), swivel, leader, and snelled circle hook. I’d never fished a circle hook and it does take some getting used to. The idea is to just let the fish take the bait and simply tighten up to it without lifting the rod. The circle hook then rotates in the fish’s mouth, rolls, and hooks the fish in the corner of the mouth. I quickly got the hang of it, and in combination with the 3 other gulf-fishing veterans, it wasn’ long before we each had our 2 fish limit in the cooler. These were beautiful red snappers, hard fighting and even better tasting…

Salmon – Another first for me was a trip to fish the salmon run in the Salmon River. I made it up to the Upper Fly Zone – an area I had never fished before but one about which I’d heard good comments. I fished it with angler friend Bob Card on a rainy day. For those unacquainted, the Upper Fly Zone is beautiful water and well worth a full day or days of fishing. I hooked up as did Bob but we did not land one of thee black beasts, primarily due to our position on the river. If nothing else, it was a great recon trip. I’ll certainly be back up there again in 2017.

The Magic of 100 – I’ll finish up this post with a comment on achieving a goal I set at the start of 2016 to “fish and/or engage in fly fishing events and activities 100 times”. Look for a future post on this idea of “100”in the near future, but setting that goal was largely responsible for most of the 2016 memories that I’ve posted here.

And so, I’ll close out 2016 with a wish that 2017 is even better for Southern Tier long rodders…!

 

 

The week ahead in fly fishing: January 16, 2017

Posted in Uncategorized on January 15, 2017 by stflyfisher

We are now into our second week of the New Year. Last week was wet and relatively mild until the end of the week and into this weekend when cold and some snow came back. Rivers are high, swollen, and in some cases, shedding shelf ice. Fishing is still on the slow side as would be expected while we are in the teeth of winter. Some anglers continue to wet a line while others focus on fly tying, rod building, and fly fishing events.

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Fly shop talk: According to some statistics I have read, by the second week of the new year, only 71% of people making New Year resolutions are still pursuing them. It’s sobering to think over 25% of goal-setters have not been able to follow-through on those heady New Years resolutions! Hopefully Southern Tier fly anglers are not part of that group. I set fly fishing goals, as well as goals in other areas of my life, and do my best to stick with them through the year. A big part of achieving goals, whatever they may be, is making them public, and thereby adding accountability. I post my fly fishing goals here every year and review how well I lived up to them and I sincerely believe that has helped me be a better angler.

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

Great Lakes / Finger Lakes tributaries: The Douglaston Salmon Run is reporting a mix of fishing results, generally not great but better than OK.  Anglers who are covering lots of water are hooking up. Fishing egg patterns and swinging flies are bother producing. Water levels continue to drop and are scheduled to go to 750 cfs. Whitakers Sport’s Store and Motel reports that the upper end of the river is producing some action for anglers able to brave the cold. Anglers reported getting into a few steelhead in the upper end of the river between Altmar and Pineville while bottom bouncing with nymphs or float fishing with egg sacs.

pineville-usgs

The flows on the Salmon River are dropping back to 750 cfs, a safe wading level, according to the Douglaston Salmon Run.

The Finger Lakes tribs are also producing browns, rainbows and landlocked salmon for those willing to fight the cold.

Suggested Patterns:

  • Sucker spawn in white, cream, peach, blue. size 8
  • Estaz eggs in chart, pink, white, blue. size 10
  • Glo-Bugs in pink, chart, orange. size 8
  • Steelie omelet in chart, peach. size 8
  • Steelhead stone in red, purple, orange. size 6
  • Steelhead bugger in size 6.
  • Black / purple egg sucking leech in size 6.

Lakes: John Gaulke of Finger Lakes Angling Zone is expecting very good fishing for salmon, brown trout and lake trout throughout the winter and into the spring. Here’s his lake-by-lake report:

  • Cayuga Lake:  Fishing has been productive for landlocked salmon and brown trout along with occasional rainbows and lakers.  Both fly-and gear fishing is working.   The water level is very low here and launching and retrieving boats could be a hassle for some.
  • Seneca Lake:  Fishing is currently fair to good for landlocked salmon.  Expect some brown trout in the mix.  Perch and pike fishing should be good.
  • Keuka Lake:  Lake trout fishing should still be good here.  Also expect good perch/bass/pickerel and fair salmon/trout fishing.
  • Owasco Lake:  Lake trout and northern pike fishing should be good here.
  • Skaneateles Lake:  Rainbow trout, landlocked salmon and yellow perch fishing should be good here along with some bonus lake trout and smallmouth bass.

Fly fishing events: Here’s a summary of what’s in store for the week:

  • The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF is auctioning their prized 100th Anniversary Cortland Fly Rod. Read more about this unique and valuable fly rod, here. The auction will be held at their next monthly chapter meeting, on Thursday, January 19th.
  • The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF is holding its next monthly chapter meeting on Thursday, January 19 at 7:00 pm, with a fly tying demo at 6:30 pm. The presentation topic isFishing for Silvers in (rainy) Cordova, Alaska” with speaker and chapter member, Dan Leonard. Come out to watch another one of Dan’s entertaining videos of his fishing trip to Cordova, Alaska for silvers (Coho Salmon).  This trip took place in September of 2008 with Mark Heath from Chenango Forks and old friend and guide, Ed Trainer from British Columbia.  In September, Cordova has the most precipitation of the year at an average of 22 inches with an average of 21 rain days of the month.  The public is invited and there is no charge for the presentation.
  • The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF is currently conducting a fly rod building class. The second class was held this past Saturday. While the class is closed to new registrants, the classes are open to the public to attend and watch. Here’s a link from last year’s very successful class. There is one session left – Saturday, January 21, 2017 @ 12:30 pm. The class is being held at the Endicott Public Library in the downstairs meeting room.
  • The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF will be holding its own fly tying class. The class will focus on tying guide flies – flies known for their simplicity and high effectiveness in fooling fish. Four experienced fly tyers will be leading the four classes. If interested, read more here and be sure to sign up soon as materials need to be ordered. The first class will be held on Saturday, February 11.
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Tim Barrett, BCFF board member and guide, will be one of four fly tyers featured in this year’s BCFF Fly Tying Class. The class will focus on how to tie guide flies.

  • The Fly Fishing Show is coming to town! Everything a fly-fisher might want – from rods and reels to vacations in Alaska or Argentina – will be on display in 300 exhibitor booths as the annual Fly Fishing Show™ kicks off the 2017 season Jan. 27-29 at the Garden State Exhibit Center. Parking is free.The facility, 50 Atrium Drive, Somerset, will play host to the three day show. Exhibitor booths will include non-stop casting demonstrations, seminars, fly-tying, a Women’s Fly Fishing Showcase, Fly Fishing Film Festival, book signings and the newest fly fishing tackle and gear. A creel full of Fly Fishing Show door prizes with a retail value of more than $60,000 will be up for grabs. Prizes include fishing trips, tackle and clothing. The Grand Prize – chosen from all seven Fly Fishing Shows is a $7,325 week-long trip to Rio Maria, Bolivia, for freshwater dorado. Additionally, there will be regional show door prizes.Fly Fishing Show admission is $18 for one day, $28 for two days and $38 for three days. Children under age 5 are free as are Scouts under 16 in uniform. Active military with an ID are $10. Film Festival admission is $15 or $10 with paid admission to the show. Hours are: Fri. – 9 am-6 pm; Sat. – 8:30 am-6 pm; Sun. – 9 am-4:30 pm.
  • On February 6, the Twin Tiers Five Rivers chapter of IFFF will be hosting their popular Social Night at 1157 North, an Italian restaurant located in Elmira, NY. This quaint restaurant has been in this Elmira residential area for more than 60 years. Spouses, family members or fishing buddies are encouraged to enjoy the evening with chapter members. The speaker for the evening will be Linda Wales, President of A Hope for Lyme Inc. Linda, a Lyme disease survivor, will be talking about the disease and the impact it has had on her and others she knows. Lyme disease is caused by tick bites and can result in severe health issues. The disease often causes a variety of complications including pains in the muscles and joints, severe fatigue and cognitive issues. Ticks that carry Lyme disease and other serious pathogens are present in our area, so it’s important to be aware of the risk. The social night will start at 6:00 pm with hors d’oeuvres and cash bar followed by dinner at 7:00 pm. Linda’s presentation will be after dinner. The cost for this event is $25 per person and will include a choice of one of three entrée selections  – Chicken Parmesan, Eggplant Parmesan, or  Carne Grande. All meals include a tossed salad, coffee, tea, and dessert. See the chapter’s website for more information and note that reservations must be made and payment received no later than Monday, January 30th.

The week ahead weather: WBNG’s week-ahead weather forecast is as follows:

According to WBNG’s Nathaniel Hopper, high pressure sliding across the area will keep our weather quiet for the next few days with high temperatures slightly above average in the low- to mid-30s. The low-pressure system that’s causing some icy conditions in the central plains will roll toward us in the coming days, which brings a chance for a wintry mix and some rain back into our forecast Tuesday and Wednesday. Some freezing rain is possible with this next batch of mixed precipitation. Temperatures then warm in to the 40s by the middle of the week and stay there through the end of the work week. High pressure moves in starting Wednesday and stays with us, keeping us mainly dry through the end of the week.The average high temperature for this time of year is 28 degrees and the average low is 16. With temperatures possibly reaching mid- to upper-40s next week, that would put us 15+ degrees above average.

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The week ahead in fly fishing: January 9, 2017

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Rod Building, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on January 8, 2017 by stflyfisher

Happy New Year! Another year gone by – another year to come. It’s been a while since the last weekly fishing report so here’s the first of 2017. In general, fishing has slowed with the cold weather, but there is still some decent fly fishing to be had for the winter-hardened anglers out there. I’ll cover the areas with updates where fly fishing is possible. Small stillwaters such as ponds and the smaller creeks and streams and the warmwater rivers are pretty much out now due to the presence of ice.

Fly shop talk: A recent ad from Simms that found its way into my email carried the subject line: “2017 Resolution: Go Fishing.” As simple as it is, and an obvious lead-in to what new products Simms has in store for 2017 that will help you go fishing, anglers should read and heed and definitely carry this mantra forward in 2017. After all, nothing beats hitting the water for anglers wanting to improve their skills and as Harry Murray, famed smallmouth fly angler says, a day you don’t go fishing is a day you never will. Second to going fishing is to desk-top fish in some way, by reading a book, tying flies, working on gear, or even building a new fly rod. I’m convinced ANY type of fly fishing activity makes a better angler in the long run…

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Any fly fishing activity can make for a better angler in the long run…

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

Great Lakes / Finger Lakes tributaries: The Douglaston Salmon Run is reporting that some steelhead are being caught but conditions are less than favorable at the moment with a lot of lake effect snow, very cold water, and marginally high flows for wading. The USGS gauge at Pineville is currently around 900 CFS. Whitakers Sport’s Store and Motel reports that the upper end of the river is producing some action for anglers able to brave the cold. Anglers fishing the Altmar to Pineville section of the river are hooking up with steelhead. One local angler reported landing one smaller size steelhead (5 lbs) and seeing a few others caught – generally the same size. The Finger Lakes tribs are also producing browns, rainbows and landlocked salmon for those willing to fight the cold.

Suggested Patterns:

  • Sucker spawn in white, cream, peach, blue. size 8
  • Estaz eggs in chart, pink, white, blue. size 10
  • Glo-Bugs in pink, chart, orange. size 8
  • Steelie omelet in chart, peach. size 8
  • Steelhead stone in red, purple, orange. size 6
  • Steelhead bugger in size 6.
  • Black / purple egg sucking leech in size 6.

Lakes: John Gaulke of Finger Lakes Angling Zone is reporting the Finger Lakes to be heading for a deep freeze that’s expected to last at least a week. But now’s a great time to plan for spring fishing. Following is his lake-by-lake report:

  • Cayuga Lake:  Shorefishing has been productive for landlocked salmon, brown trout, rainbows and lakers.  Both fly-and gear fishing is working.
  • Seneca Lake:  Last I’d heard, perch fishing was good here.  I’d expect a few salmon and trout to be around, as well as some pike for the boaters as well as anglers in good shore areas.
  • Keuka Lake:  Lake trout fishing is still very good here.  Also expect good perch/bass/pickerel and fair salmon/trout fishing.
  • Owasco Lake:  Lake trout and northern pike fishing should be good here.
  • Skaneateles Lake:  Rainbow trout, landlocked salmon and yellow perch fishing should be good here along with some bonus lake trout and smallmouth bass.

 

Fly fishing events: Here’s a summary of what’s in store for the week:

  • The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF is auctioning their prized 100th Anniversary Cortland Fly Rod. Read more about this unique and valuable fly rod, here. The auction will be held at their next monthly chapter meeting, on Thursday, January 19th.
  • The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF is holding its next monthly chapter meeting on Thursday, January 19 at 7:00 pm, with a fly tying demo at 6:30 pm. The presentation topic isFishing for Silvers in (rainy) Cordova, Alaska” with speaker and chapter member, Dan Leonard. Come out to watch another one of Dan’s entertaining videos of his fishing trip to Cordova, Alaska for silvers (Coho Salmon).  This trip took place in September of 2008 with Mark Heath from Chenango Forks and old friend and guide, Ed Trainer from British Columbia.  In September, Cordova has the most precipitation of the year at an average of 22 inches with an average of 21 rain days of the month.  The public is invited and there is no charge for the presentation.
  • The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF is also conducting a fly rod building class. The first class was held this past Saturday. While the class is closed to new registrants, the classes are open to the public to attend and watch. Here’s a link from last year’s very successful class. There are two sessions left – Saturday, January 14, 2017 @ 9:00 am and Saturday ,January 21, 2017 @ 12:30 pm. The class is being held at the Endicott Public Library in the downstairs meeting room.
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Joe Swam, expert rod maker, teaches a student in the fine art of fly rod building at the BC Flyfishers second annual fly rod building class. Picture courtesy of the BC Flyfishers.

  • The Leon Chandler Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Tompkins County Cooperative Extension 4-H Program will be offering an Introduction to Fly Tying workshop, featuring nine two-hour sessions with several different instructors teaching the basics of tying the dry fly, wet fly, nymph and streamer patterns that are the most effective in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes area. All classes will be from 6:00-8:00 pm on Saturdays, January 14 – March 11, 2017 at the Tompkins County Cooperative Extension Education Center, 615 Willow Avenue Ithaca, NY. In addition to the 9 weeks of instruction, tuition includes complete tying kits (vises, scissors and related tools); all tying materials (feathers, dubbing, hooks and related materials); as well as a comprehensive introductory text on fly tying. Fees are $140 for adults (19 and up), $110 for children (between the ages of 13 and 18) and $215 for a child and adult combination. There are a limited number of partial scholarships available for children between the ages of 13 and 18. A 50% tuition deposit must accompany your application. To register contact Athena Steinkraus at:
    Winter Fly Tying Workshop
    c/o Tompkins County CCE
    615 Willow Avenue
    Ithaca, NY 14850
    MORE INFO:  607-272-2292 (ext. 139)
    ahs38@cornell.edu

The week ahead weather: WBNG’s week-ahead weather forecast is as follows:

According to WBNG’s Nathaniel Hopper, windy and cold conditions will prevail for all of us for the rest of the weekend, while some localized areas will see lake-effect snowfall. Strong northwest winds will be bringing snow off Lake Ontario, as we could see gusts up to 30mph. Wind chills in the negative teens to negative single digits cannot be ruled out. The best chance for snow looks to stay north and east of Binghamton, while a few waves of snow may wobble across Broome/Tioga County throughout the day. Some localized areas north and east of Binghamton may see more than 3″ of snowfall in more persistent bands, though 0 to 2″ is expected for a majority of the area as snow showers end late Sunday. Temperatures then dip into the single digits Sunday night, with some spots possibly seeing negative single digits. Temperatures then look to warm through the first of next week, winding up in the low-40s by mid-week, which is well above average. As things warm up, rain and a wintry mix will be more likely than snow. A cold front then looks to bulldoze through the Twin Tiers next weekend, dropping temperatures back to seasonable with a wintry mix possible as the front passes.

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Maybe the good old days were not so good after all?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 1, 2016 by stflyfisher

Every once in a while, the great “net” of the blogosphere lands a “good one.” Such was the case when I received an email from a long lost Southern Tier Fly Fisher by the name of Paul Brown. Somehow he had stumbled upon this blog and began reading my posts and viewing some of the pictures of our local warmwater rivers. What he saw and read impressed him enough to write to me with a question: Had the health of the rivers and the environment really improved that much in the 30 years since he’d left?

That question led to a string of emails and a story unfolded: that mother nature can take care of herself with a little clean-up and care on our part.

Paul began his fishing career as a bait fisher, but gradually shifted to lures and eventually catch and release fly fishing by the age of 13, courtesy of a high school friend. The two primarily fished for smallmouth bass, but occasionally fished the upper reaches of the Tioughnioga and Genegantlet for trout. Brown recounted a 4 day raft trip down the Tioughnioga, where they caught a few rainbow trout and some nice browns up to 17″. The trout in the Genny were comparatively small, but, even then, he remembered it as a beautiful little creek.

Brown’s fly of choice on our local warmwater rivers was a brown and orange Montana pattern, tied by a gentleman in Chenango Forks whose name escapes him. The man tied flies out of his home and Brown recalled riding his bicycle six miles just to buy his wonderful creations. This fly out-fished every other pattern two to one. It seems this pattern, similar to a Bitch Creek nymph with a shorter body, isn’t too commonly used these days.

Brown claims a locally-tied version of this nymph outfished all others for smallmouth bass back in the day…

According to Brown, the rivers of the Southern Tier in the 70’s were suffering from various levels of pollution and he added in one note that most of the fish he caught had a distinct petrochemical smell.

Graduation gift: Brown cradles a very nice Northern Pike for the Press & Sun Bulletin

Brown recalled; “I regularly caught 12 to 18 inch smallmouth in the Chenango and Susquehanna. Walleye were spotty, but I caught several from Chenango Bridge upstream. Rock bass were also a favorite and willing quarry. I once caught a 1 pound, 14 ounce fish near Chenango Bridge that I had weighed at the Red and White grocery store in town. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that this would have been a state record at the time!”

Brown’s review of my assessment of the state of our local rivers drew an encouraging response. “It sounds like the region is much healthier than I remember from the late 60’s and 70’s. I’m particularly encouraged to hear of the return of osprey and bald eagles. By the 70’s these birds had been virtually wiped out. Even the more common hawks were scarce.”

The following article in the Ithaca Journal, dated May 1, 2015, backs up Paul’s observations at the time and gives a little perspective to how far we’ve come:

The national icon was nearing extinction 40 years ago, largely due to the presence of the now-banned insecticide DDT ingested by the parents, which weakened the eagles’ eggshells. In 1976, the only bald eagles in New York were a pair of 25-year-old birds nesting at Hemlock Lake south of Rochester. The pair’s eggs were too fragile to bear their parent’s weight.

MARY PERHAM, Correspondent 7 p.m. EDT May 1, 2015

As most who now fish our local waterways know, bald eagles are a relatively common sight these days. The DEC now claims over 170 nesting pairs in NY state. And ospreys are right up there along with a lot of other birds of prey.

Brown commented further in another email: “…it sounds like the wildlife has really rebounded too. Ducks and geese were uncommon in the 70s, but there were a few great blue heron around. I recall only ever seeing one egret. I had no idea what it was at the time, and had to go to the library for a bird guide to identify it!”

He went on: “I realize now how little I understood the environment in Broome County back then. I remember some vague concerns about mercury and heavy metals, but I don’t recall any State recommendations about limiting consumption of fish. We know so much more today. Fortunately I ate very few fish back then, but I do remember enjoying a couple of very nice walleye. Fishing regulations were much simpler then too. I remember my first New York State fishing license had all the fishing regulations for the entire state printed on the back! I think our fisheries are much more wisely managed these days.”

Paul left Chenango Bridge at the age of eighteen when his family moved to California. He went on to earn a degree in park management and worked as a park ranger in California and Oregon for a number of years before becoming a technical illustrator. He now lives in Oregon, where he doesn’t fish as much as he’d like.

“After moving from Chenango Bridge I lived in California for several years. Some of my first jobs as a ranger put me in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I worked as a park ranger in Sierra National Forest for two years and got pretty spoiled by the fishing there in my back yard. A high mountain lake I used to fish almost every weekend (Courtright Reservoir) contained a brown trout that was easily 25 pounds and three feet long. Over the course of one summer I cast everything I had at that fish. The water was gin clear and it soon became pretty obvious that that trout had seen every lure ever made. One day it bumped a large carpenter ant pattern behind an indicator (and I thought I was going to have heart failure) but it never took. Just as well, that fish deserved to remain unhooked!”

Brown was diagnosed with a serious hereditary medical condition as a child and unfortunately now struggles with pancreatic and liver issues and a lot of pain. He left the Forest Service and shifted his career to illustration work as his health deteriorated. He tries to keep active with daily hikes in the woods in the Grants Pass area. He is, in his own words, “a tree geek” and is credited for finding a couple of trees that turned out to be the largest of the species for the state. It’s discoveries like this that keep him moving despite the health issues he faces.

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Paul Brown stands next to his national champion Knobcone Pine, located in the Cathedral Hills Trail System south of Grants Pass, Oregon.

Brown has not returned to NY in many years but was very glad to hear the old stomping grounds are doing so well. And for me, his recollections of the state of the environment back in the “good old days” made me feel good about where we are, environmentally. Yet as I write this, there are still real and potential threats to our rivers. Fracking loomed but was banned by New York state. How long that ban remains in effect is anyone’s guess. And even though fracking is banned, a local business, i3 (formerly EIT and before that, IBM) is currently treating landfill leachate from a landfill in New York state that somehow accepts fracking waste from Pennsylvania. This waste is being treated by i3 under a DEC permit and is being dumped into the Susquehanna River at a rate as high as 80,000 gallons a day. While the NY DEC is required to monitor this waste treatment, many in the community have expressed concern that the river and local drinking water is not being protected adequately.

The lesson here is that Mother Nature does her best to persist even in the face of all the bad we humans can throw at her. But give her just a bit of help and she rewards with life resplendent. And as a bit of added motivation to always look out for her, we must not forget how things were back in “the good old days”…

The week ahead in fly fishing: October 31st

Posted in Uncategorized on October 30, 2016 by stflyfisher

Goodbye October, hello November. We start this week with Haloween and then move into November, another transition month for Southern Tier fly anglers. This is a tipping point month where some of the warmwater species start to slow down and coldwater species heat up. It’s also the time where the salmon run matures and ends and lake-run species begin to dominate the fly fishing scene. We’ve already had our first snow and the hillsides are now bare of the red and orange of maple foliage. Oaks are beginning to turn their hues of red, rust, and brown, and aspens are turning gold. Most rivers, streams, and creeks have finally shrugged off the drought with recent rains.

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Welcome, November…

Fly shop talk: As I drove to explore a new stretch of water recently, I thought about my life and proximity to my 60th year on this good earth. As we age we are rewarded with wisdom, but many bemoan that the vigor and virility of youth begins to ebb. We tend to slow down, energy escapes us, and physical ailments begin to impede our activity. We all will some day fight the relentless tide of aging, but I notice that fly fishing is one activity where all of the woes of age seem to vanish. When I am on the water with long rod in hand, all worry and anxiety empty from my conscience. Any aches, pains, or ailments seem to be forgotten. In fact, I don’t even see myself as a 57 year old man – I regain the spirit, focus, and vision of youth. Fly fishing seems to turn back time for me making me wonder if days on the water even count against whatever time I’ve been given to live…

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

Great Lakes / Finger Lakes tributaries: The Douglaston Salmon Run is reporting slower than normal fishing as of late. There are some steelhead and browns being caught and a few kings, though the lower river salmon bite appears to be slowing. The river is flowing at a steady 730 CFS at Pineville with a water temperature in the mid-to upper 40’s. Whitakers Sport’s Store and Motel reports that the upper end of the river is producing the most action for those anglers looking for kings. Anglers fishing the Upper & Lower Fly Zone reported getting into mostly kings and the occasional steelhead. The majority of anglers fishing the lower end of the river are looking for steelhead. Anglers who are working hard and covering water in the lower end of the river have picked up a steelhead here and there in the Ballpark, Town, Longbridge/Staircase, Black Hole and DSR. The anglers we spoke with who fished some of the smaller local tributaries reported getting into mostly kings.

 

Suggested Patterns:

  • Sucker spawn in white, cream, peach, blue. size 8
  • Estaz eggs in chart, pink, white, blue. size 10
  • Glo-Bugs in pink, chart, orange. size 8
  • Steelie omelet in chart, peach. size 8
  • Steelhead stone in red, purple, orange. size 6
  • Steelhead bugger in size 6.
  • Flesh fly in size 6.
  • Black egg sucking leech in size 6.
  • Purple egg sucking leech in size 6.

Note that The DEC recently lifted the ban on fly fishing in the Lower Fly Zone!

Catskill Rivers: The Delaware River Club reports that the recent wave of warmer weather should help the hatching.  There were some olives and a few isonychias out but streamers and nymphs are definitely more productive.  The West Branch, lower East Branch, and Mainstem are all in decent shape for floating and wading.

Hatching:

  • Slate Drake – #12 – 14- Isonychia bicolor
    Olive Sulphur – #18 – 20– Heptagenia hebe
    Tiny Blue Winged Olive – #22 – 26 – Psuedocloeon spp.

Remember that fly fishing for trout is closed with the exception of areas covered by special regs, such as the border waters.

Local streams and creeks: Creeks finally picked up some water, location dependent. Where the water is dirty or stained, streamers will be the best bet, especially for aggressive spawning browns. It still makes sense to tread carefully when fishing the little waters. The trout that have survived the drought deserve to fight another day. “Champion stock”, in the words of local guide Eric Mastroberti, should be released quickly, or better yet, left alone, depending on the water being fished. Remember that fly fishing for trout is closed with the exception of areas covered by special regs. Check the regs if fishing one of the area streams or creeks for trout.

Lakes: John Gaulke of Finger Lakes Angling Zone is reporting that the Finger Lakes has received plenty of rain! Water temps throughout the region are dropping quickly and are optimal for northern pike fishing. Following is his lake-by-lake report:

  • Owasco Lake:  Lake trout action here is fair to good overall but was slow for us last Sunday, mainly due to the weather conditions.  Bonus bass, rainbow and brown trout are around. Action for pike, perch and bass is picking up.
  • Seneca Lake: Expect good pike fishing here. Perch action should only get better.
  • Cayuga Lake: Lake trout fishing is fair to good. Action on chain pickerel and largemouth bass on the lake’s north end is good to excellent. Yellow perch fishing is picking up. Pike action should be underway.
  • Skaneateles Lake:  Expect good nearshore rainbow trout fishing here. Bass, lake trout, perch and landlocked salmon fishing should be good here as well.
  • Otisco Lake:  Expect decent Tiger Musky action as well as some bass and walleye.

Ponds: No real changes here. Colder temps will continue to slow things down on local ponds. If you are fishing ponds, focus on the late afternoon and early evening when water temps are highest. Best flies will be streamers and nymphs but make sure to fish them deeper and slower. The best fishing will be on warmer days.

Warmwater rivers: Some of the local warmwater rivers have come down and cleared a bit but the Susquehanna remains too high for wading but is fishable from a boat.

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The Tioughnioga is dropping and clearing and would be a good choice for those anglers who still want to fish the warmwater rivers. 

Clarity is still an issue, however. Also, rivers temps are crossing below the magic 50 degree mark. Smallmouth bass usually begin to drop back to wintering holes as water temps drop below this mark. If you want to chase smallies and other brownwater species, it’s best to focus on the river tribs and the headwaters of the smaller rivers like the Tioughnioga. The Chemung river, to our west, also appears to be getting back to wadeable levels. Focus efforts at the end of the day and fish warmer days. Dark or very bright large streamers will give you the best chance of hooking up. Remember too, the walleye bite is turning on with the colder weather.

Fly fishing events: Here’s a summary of what’s in store for the week:

  • The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF is auctioning their prized 100th Anniversary Cortland Fly Rod. Read more about this unique and valuable fly rod, here.
  • Twin Tiers Five Rivers chapter of the International Federation of Fly Fishers is also conducting a fly rod raffle – with tickets available on our website via Paypal. The TiCrX 7wt Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) fly rod that’s being auctioned was a gift from the John Rominger estate. The model retails for $280. The drawing will be held at the TTFR Leadership Meeting on December 19, 2016, just in time for Christmas.
    You do not need to be present to win. You can buy tickets on-line here.

The week ahead weather: WBNG’s week-ahead weather forecast is as follows:

According to WBNG’s Nathaniel Hopper, a low pressure system that is currently situated north of Toronto has a cold front stretching to the southwest. This cold front looks to stroll through the Southern Tier on Sunday bringing rain showers and cooler temperatures in its wake. Highs on Sunday will be around 50 degrees while the low temperature Sunday night will be in the mid-30s. Monday will then be cooler as a cooler pocket of air looks to hang about through the overnight on Monday. Tuesday things will toast right back up to the mid-50s and small chance of isolated showers sticks with us through Wednesday. A better chance of showers comes to us on Thursday. Temperatures on Wednesday and Thursday will be around 60 degrees. As we wrap up the end of the week, temperatures will hang out around seasonal norms in the low-50s.

 

The week ahead in fly fishing: October 24th

Posted in Uncategorized on October 23, 2016 by stflyfisher

We are now about one third of the way into autumn. Colors have peaked and the “leaf hatch” is on. That means leaf raking for anglers with yards and irritating conditions at times hooking “leaf fish”. The weather has been very nice until the cold front and lots of rain crossed the Southern Tier late last week / early on the weekend. We desperately needed the rain but with it has come much colder weather and even the first snow of the year. Such is fall…

Fly shop talk: On a saltwater fishing this fall I noticed an angler fishing completely different than everyone else on the party boat. Most anglers were fishing chunk bait in a chum slick for blues and a few more were jigging for them but this guy was fishing with only a medium action spinning rod, fairly light line, and very small metal diamond jigs. What’s more, he was casting not very far from the boat and jigging very quickly and erratically. I asked him what he was doing and his answer was fishing for albacore. Albacore can be taken on the fly and are known for their blistering runs, but they have keen eyesight and unless in a feeding frenzy, can be somewhat selective. This angler fished a long time but his persistence paid off. Every time the bluefish bite mellowed, the albacore came into the slick. He landed several of these magnificent speedsters. While it is important to change up when fly fishing, there’s also something to be said about sticking to your guns. This angler knew his methods would pay off. If you have confidence in a fly, a rig, a method, or even a location, be persistent and fish confidently!

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

Great Lakes / Finger Lakes tributaries: The Douglaston Salmon Run reports it has been closed to fishing through Sunday, Oct 23, 2016 due to current high water conditions. If you have purchased DSR Online fishing passes for Sunday, Oct 23, 2016, please call the Ticket Booth (315-298-6672) to discuss options for receiving a voucher or rescheduling fishing passes for a later date. Please be sure to leave a message if you are not able to get thru, we will be sure to call you back. Office staff will be here for regular hours regardless of fishing closures for the weekend. With the increase in flows, more fish are sure to move into the river. Whitakers Sport’s Store and Motel reports the river is high and we’re still getting runoff from the recent rain. No question the water level is high, but anglers are still fishing and making the most of conditions.  The best visibility was in the upper section of river between the Trestle and Altmar. We did speak with some anglers who landed some kings in the diversions and side channels of the main river as well as the Ellis cove area and the Upper Fly Zone.

Suggested patterns:

  • Estaz eggs in blue, red, pink, chart. size 6-10.
  • Glo-bugs in chart, orange, pink, oregon cheese. size 6-8
  • Black egg sucking leeches in size 2-6.
  • Black flashback nymph in size 6.
  • Bunny leeches in black or olive. size 6
  • Woolly buggers in grizzly, black or olive. size 4-8.

Note that The DEC recently lifted the ban on fly fishing in the Lower Fly Zone!

Catskill Rivers: The West Branch Angler reports that with the higher flows of due to recent rains, the streamer fishing should continue to be a productive, especially on the still-stained water of the West Branch. There should be some BWO’s and the 16 Dark Tan Caddis around in good numbers, particularly on the rainy or overcast days. The Delaware River Club reports that the rivers came up a little bit from the runoff of the recent rains but the releases have been increased to meet the downstream flow targets. Due to the colder air temps, the water temperatures have dropped back throughout the system.  The best bet right now is streamers fished slow.  Nymphing could pay off since the color of the rivers is getting better.  The forecast is calling for winds around 14 mph which is much better than the amount originally predicted. This will throw some more leaves in the river but yesterday’s wind did a pretty good job of clearing a lot of them.

Remember that fly fishing for trout is closed with the exception of areas covered by special regs, such as the border waters.

Here’s what’s hatching:

  • Slate Drake – #12 – 14- Isonychia bicolor
    Olive Sulphur – #18 – 20– Heptagenia hebe
    Tiny Blue Winged Olive – #22 – 26 – Psuedocloeon spp.
    Blue Winged Olive – #18 – 20 – E. lata
    Tan Caddis – #16 – 20 – Hydropsyche spp.
    Dark Brachycentrus sp. – #14 – 18 – Dark Grannom
    Blue Winged Olives #16 – 18 – Baetis vagans (updated name: Baetis tricaudatus)

Local streams and creeks: Creeks finally picked up some water, location dependent. Where the water is dirty or stained, streamers will be the best bet, especially for aggressive spawning browns. It still makes sense to tread carefully when fishing the little waters. The trout that have survived the drought deserve to fight another day. “Champion stock”, in the words of local guide Eric Mastroberti, should be released quickly, or better yet, left alone, depending on the water being fished. Remember that fly fishing for trout is closed with the exception of areas covered by special regs. Check the regs if fishing one of the area streams or creeks for trout.

Lakes: John Gaulke of Finger Lakes Angling Zone is reporting that the Finger Lakes received plenty of rain!  Water temps throughout the region are optimal for northern pike fishing. Following is his lake-by-lake report:

  • Owasco Lake:  Lake trout action here is fair to good.  Bonus bass, rainbow and brown trout are around. Action for pike, perch and bass is picking up.
  • Seneca Lake: The Watkins Glen pier is producing small smallmouth bass, rock bass and there are perch around too.  Expect pike fishing to pick up as the lake cools.  Trout and salmon fishing should be fair to good in the lower portions of the lake.
  • Cayuga Lake: Lake levels are actually HIGH here. Lake trout fishing is fair to good. Action on chain pickerel and largemouth bass on the lake’s north end should be good to excellent. Yellow perch fishing is picking up.  Bonus salmon, rainbows and browns are around for laker jiggers.
  • Skaneateles Lake:  Smallmouth bass fishing is fair to good.  Expect good action on yellow perch and the usual rockbass.  Rainbow trout should be showing up in nearshore angler catches soon.
  • Otisco Lake:  Expect decent Tiger Musky action as well as some bass and walleye.

Ponds: The recent cold weather will start to have an impact on pond fishing. If you are fishing ponds, focus on the late afternoon and early evening when water temps are highest. Bass and sunfish will still be biting but forget about topwater and fish streamers and nymphs. The best fishing will be on warmer days.

Warmwater rivers: All local warmwater rivers are high and dirty right now, thanks to recent heavy rains.

susky-10_23

The Susquehanna crested at just under 8,000 CFS. If you want to chase smallies and other brownwater species, it’s best to focus on the river tribs and the headwaters of the smaller rivers like the Tioughnioga. Dark or very bright large streamers will give you the best chance of hooking up. Wading is out of the question for the bigger waters but boat angling will provide good access to holding water. Remember too, the walleye bite is turning on with the colder weather, AND, channel cats typically get aggressive when water has risen. A big bugger type streamer in dark colors can work on cats.

susky-float-006

The rivers are up, but that typically puts channel cats into feeding mode. Dirty water makes fly fishing challenging, but fishing BIG and dark bugger patterns with a sink-tip or sinking line, might just tempt a catfish to eat, like this nice one.

Fly fishing events: Here’s a summary of what’s in store for the week:

  • The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF is auctioning their prized 100th Anniversary Cortland Fly Rod. Read more about this unique and valuable fly rod, here.

The week ahead weather: WBNG’s week-ahead weather forecast is as follows:

According to WBNG’s Nathaniel Hopper, as we move through the evening Sunday, the chance for showers returns and stays with us through the morning hours Monday, as some showers may be lingering around. Tuesday and Wednesday will dry out with temperatures in the low 40s. The sun will make a return to the Southern Tier on Wednesday. Thursday clouds will increase as will the chance for showers. A slight chance of showers will then hang around as we wrap up the work week.

 

 

Bill Kessler shares his fly fishing adventures for Atlantic Salmon

Posted in Uncategorized on October 19, 2016 by stflyfisher

The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF got off to a great start on Thursday, September 22nd, with its fall / winter monthly meeting program. Fresh off the summer break, the chapter enlisted local Atlantic Salmon fly fisher, Bill Kessler, as guest speaker. The white-maned Kessler gave a presentation to the chapter on his adventures chasing “the king of game fish”, and it was a dandy, replete with high quality pictures and terrific video clips featuring the acrobatics of the freshwater “silver king.”

Kessler started his presentation by emphasizing his total obsession with Atlantic Salmon fishing. He travels widely to catch Salmo Salar, from his “local” home waters on the Gaspé Peninsula and New Brunswick, to Scotland, Ireland, and the remote fisheries just a couple hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle in Russia.

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The Kola Penninsula in Russia – home to the Atlantic Salmon Reserve, powerful rivers, and wild Atlantic Salmon…

The Miramichi watershed in New Brunswick and the famed salmon rivers of the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada are closest to the Southern Tier of NY and provide outstanding angling experiences, but Kessler also makes it a point to fish other places, more remote and wild, with the Kola Peninsula being the ultimate in terms of the big strong wild Atlantic Salmon that call it home.

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Bill Kessler shows why he is “properly obsessed” with Atlantic Salmon. (Picture courtesy of Bill Kessler)

 

 

 

 

The Atlantic Salmon is a unique Atlantic-based strain of salmonoid that has a relatively complex life history that includes spawning, juvenile rearing in rivers, and extensive feeding migrations on the high seas. Atlantic salmon go through several distinct phases that can be identified by specific changes in behavior, physiology, and habitat requirements. Kessler talked about this in some detail during the presentation, noting, for example, that while mature fish will leave the sea and migrate up their natal rivers to spawn in late fall to early winter, juvenile male salmon can become sexually mature before going to sea and can actually spawn with a mature hen.

Young salmon spend one to four years in their natal river. When they are large enough (c. 15 centimetres (5.9 in)), they smoltify, changing camouflage from stream-adapted with large, gray spots to sea-adapted with shiny sides. They also undergo some endocrinological changes to adapt to osmotic differences between fresh water and seawater habitat. When smoltification is complete, the parr (young fish) begin to swim with the current instead of against it. With this behavioral change, the fish are now referred to as smolt. When the smolt reach the sea, they follow sea surface currents and feed on plankton or fry from other fish species such as herring. During their time at sea, they can sense the change in the Earth magnetic field through iron in their lateral line.

When the smolt have had a year of good growth, they will move to the sea surface currents that transport them back to their natal river. When they reach their natal river they find it by smell.

As the adults prepare for spawning, the head of the male undergoes an incredible transformation. The head elongates and the lower jaw becomes enlarged and hooked at the tip, forming a kype. The nesting site is chosen by the female, usually a gravel-bottom riffle area above or below a pool. While the male drives off other males and intruders, the female, on her side, uses her caudal fin like a paddle and excavates a nesting depression (the redd). Adult female salmon can deposit from 600 – 800 eggs per pound of body weight. The eggs are usually a pale orange in color and measure 5 – 7 mm in diameter.

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Atlantic Salmon travel many miles at sea to feed and mature, only to return time after time to their natal coastal rivers to spawn. Unlike Pacific Salmon, Atlantics survive spawning and may spawn multiple times over their lifespan…

Fly fishing for Atlantic Salmon involves a lot of casting. In fact, Kessler refers to it as a casting game, with the caveat, “…that you might be rewarded.” One can catch fish on some trips or go an entire week without a pull. But Kessler’s terrific video clips made it clear how hard it must be to feel the tug from one – and not want more…

Kessler fishes topwater and subsurface for the king of freshwater gamefish. Each approach is unique. Dry fly fishing is done with big flies such as the bomber dry fly using a floating line and a 12 foot leader.

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A “bomber” – picture courtesy of http://www.miramichi-salmon-fishing-canada.ca

Waking flies are also used, including a method referred to as the riffling hitch. Fishing for salmon with a dry fly is one of the most popular and successful means of catching salmon.

Kessler also fishes subsurface using wet flies and streamers, preferably tube flies. His tube flies feature small hooks that he says hold better than larger ones because they are harder for the fish to throw. The method is to cast and take a step down-river and repeat over and over, fishing wets and streamers with a 45 degree downriver presentation and certain nuances depending on the river conditions and the fly being used.

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Swinging the fly…

The fly rods that Bill recommends for salmon duty are a singlehanded 7 to 9 weight, 9 foot fly rod for dries and skaters, a switch rod in 6 – 8 weight and 10.5 – 11.5 feet, and a doublehanded spey rod, 7 – 10 weight, and 12 – 16′ in length. Kessler chooses to use an older Sage RPL 10′ 8 weight for dries and waking flies and really loves his Burkheimer 13’4″ 7 weight spey rod for subsurface work.

But in addition to the technical aspects of the presentation, the beautiful pictures, and the spectacular videography, were the stories…

Kessler told one tale of a salmon that was missed several times on hook-sets but was hooked at last only after waiting longer than usual to strike. The reason? – the fish was a male with a huge kype.

In another story Kessler was fishing a pool on top with no luck, but he and the members of his fishing party were seeing plenty of salmon. After a frustrating day with no hook-ups, he returned to the same section of the river and fished a sinking line, and soon connected, and connected, and connected – with 9 salmon! The lesson learned – sometimes the fish want the fly deep.

And then there was the tail-slap story…

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Kessler talked about a salmon that tormented him with teasing moves towards his dry fly. It started with the slow rise of the fish and the refusal. It progressed over closer rises to actually bumping the fly, nosing the fly and finally actually slapping the fly with its broad tail! But Kessler’s persistence won out in the end. Just when he thought it was time to move on, the fish rose and ate on his last drift.

Bill Kessler certainly informed and entertained at the BC Flyfishers chapter meeting. In his obsession for chasing the Atlantic Salmon, Kessler exemplifies a strategy to fly fishing excellence that some anglers choose on the path to becoming a master angler. That is, rather than fly fishing for a variety of species, pick one and become really, really good at fly fishing for your species of choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most water is private

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transition to saltwater, heads to sea tailfirst

 

Magnetic particles in lateral line, detect chemical signature of natal rivers, may to October

 

Wet flies, 45 degree downstream