The All-Rounder…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The ideal fly fishing vehicle?

Posted in Uncategorized on April 5, 2016 by stflyfisher

This past December, our family waved farewell to our beloved Subaru Outback, affectionately named Molly by the kids. We bought her in May of 2008, fresh off the auction lot with 76,000 miles on the odometer, yet very much looking like a really new used car. She was born in 2002, a 4 door “sport” wagon with a nice looking silver metallic finish, roof rack, 4 speed automatic, and a 2.5 liter boxer engine under the hood. She could get up and go and was eager to climb hills and gobble up snow, which she always did with ease courtesy of Subaru’s reliable all-wheel-drive system. And as an Outback, she rode with a little more ground clearance. Her interior gauges featured a tachometer, various engine gauges, and even outside air temp. She also sported far-seeing bug-eyed fog lights.

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The old girl in winter mode, waiting for the grim reaper to pick her up and take her away…

Some readers might recall that Subaru got in a bit of trouble after the “Outback” concept was launched for marketing that labeled the car as “off road capable”, apparently hinting that the car’s AWD system was as good as 4WD. Aussie actor Paul Hogan was hired by Subaru and in TV commercials touted the car for rough-terrain driving capability with the ride and comfort of a passenger car. While Molly was not a Jeep, she never left any of her drivers stranded. Some of the places I took her were certainly off-road, most on the way to some Southern Tier river, stream, creek or lake.

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Not only was Molly a capable and safe ride for the kids, she was also extremely reliable. We experienced very few issues and even drove her right on the tow truck (leading her to the slaughter?, yikes!) with 167,000 miles on her. Her original Panasonic battery failed after 8 years of use. I remember removing it when the car would not start and could hardly believe it. As reliable as her engine and transmission were, Molly’s 2.5 liter engine was not exactly stingy on fuel. On the highway one could count on 25 – 26 mpg which was not bad, but certainly not great for a 4 cylinder engine.

In the end, Molly’s undoing was a car’s cancer: rust. Her lighter gauge steel frame and body were not enough to hold up to upstate NY winters and regular baths in road salt. I suspect we could have gotten twice the miles on her odometer before putting her out to pasture, but her underbody was so badly rusted that our mechanic could poke holes through her frame and therefore could no longer pass her for state inspections. Our family has owned 3 Subaru’s and they’ve served us well, save their susceptibility to corrosion.

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Mollie is loaded up, headed to car heaven where all fly fishing vehicles surely go…

I loved Molly as a fishing vehicle for all of the aforementioned reasons, and more. She was not too tall to single-handedly put a kayak atop her roof. And with her rear seats down there was plenty of room for gobs of tackle, gear, and provisions. I am left wondering how to fill the fishing vehicle void she leaves behind.

That’s made me ponder the question of what makes a good fly fishing vehicle. Searches on the internet abound on the topic and everyone has their own particular needs for the specific fishing they do. But for the record, here’s my take on general requirements. Amp up or tune down as necessary…

  1. Off-road capability. I consider off-road capability to be very important as many of the places fly fishers are drawn to are indeed, off-road. It also helps for late fall/winter/early spring fly fishing where snow and ice may be encountered. Off-road capability is all about traction and that’s where some type of all-wheel-drive or 4 wheel drive system is important. I also prefer a manual transmission, though automatics have really closed the gap on fuel efficiency and performance. Off-road capability also includes road clearance. Imagine driving a Corvette over some of the roads used to get to that prized fishing spot!
  2. Cargo space. This is also subjective, but I’d say the ideal vehicle should have enough storage space to support lugging fly fishing gear, provisions, and camping equipment – enough to satisfy a week in the woods. An added bonus is enough room “in the back” to support sleeping in the vehicle if necessary.
  3. Towing power/carrying capability. Most of us in the Southern Tier are, at most, towing a drift boat or small outboard-powered skiff, jon boat, or canoe, and at least, car-topping a kayak or light canoe from time to time. So the power and torque to tow and the ability to roof carry gear or small craft is a plus for any fly fishing vehicle.
  4. Fuel efficiency. Right now, oil is at all time lows, and gas and even diesel prices at the pump are very low. Still, a 4 – 6 hour round trip to a favorite but distant fly fishing destination shouldn’t drain the bank or the tank. And, long legs help if a trip is remote enough to where gas stations aren’t around every bend.
  5. Reliability. The last thing any angler needs is to get stuck going to or returning from a fly fishing trip. Of course getting stuck where one is fly fishing does have some advantages (“gee honey, the car just won’t start” while a fly reel sings in the background), but since most of us have to work and have obligations of some sort at home, getting stuck anywhere is ultimately a problem.
  6. Cost of Ownership. Price is obviously a factor to consider in purchasing a vehicle, but the total cost of ownership should also be considered. Maintenance costs, reliability, and fuel efficiency all factor into this category.

I am a recent diesel convert thanks to my current commuter – a 2.0L VW Passat TDI. While this 4 door sedan offers incredible room and trunk space, a comfortable ride, and a 6 speed manual, its the motor that makes the car. The turbocharged diesel offers mileage that realistically surpasses the 50 mpg mark at moderate highway speeds and gobs of torque on hand (it unfortunately runs a bit short for my version of the ideal fly fishing vehicle in that it is FWD only and lacks the extra cargo space of a wagon). Diesels offer all a fly fishing vehicle could ask for in mileage, towing power, and reliability, but nipping at their heels are other engine options. The improved fuel efficiency of gas engines and the recent addition of hybrids and electrics will only add more options for those anglers looking to squeeze a few nickels out of their fly fishing dollar.

Added to the increase in power-plant choices, power, and fuel efficiency, is a surge in newly designed trucks, SUVs, and crossover vehicles, all easily fitting the fly fishing capable category. And while the more traditional Chevy Tahoe or Silverado might meet the rough and tumble needs of some, I’m going to highlight a few recent entries that might be on my list as a future buy:

  • Volkswagen Alltrack – the concept of an “Outback-beater” that features VW’s all-wheel-drive system (4 motion), 6 speed manual, lots of cargo space, increased ground clearance, and a reasonable price will launch in 2017. At this point, the powerplant will be VW’s 1.8L TSI (turbocharged) 4 cyclinder, but when VW resolves its diesel woes, there could be a 2.0L TDI (turbocharged diesel) under the hood for truly extended fly fishing range (30 city / 44 highway mpg). The Alltrack is a vehicle that blends well with everyday life.
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The VW All-Track

  • Chevy Colorado / GMC Canyon – both mid-size truck offerings from GM will soon be equipped with a 2.8L turbocharged diesel. This diesel puts out 177 horsepower and a mighty 369 ft-lbs of torque and offers fuel economy of 22 city / 31 highway mpg and 7,700 lbs towing capacity. The Colorado / Canyon can be configured with an extended cab for extra passenger room, yet still offers a large bed that can be capped for dry hauling. Extra road clearance and excellent off-road capability make this a winner for remote fly fishing adventures.
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The Chevy Canyon Diesel

  • Jeep Grand Cherokee – the ultimate SUV offers luxury with rough and tumble all wheel and 4 wheel drive options, cargo room galore, 22 city / 30 highway mpg, and 7,400 lbs towing capacity. But that same luxury drives the price of this fly fishing vehicle into hoitey-toiteyville. Jeep is also toying with more diesel offerings and a rebirth of the Jeep Comanche (or Gladiator) – essentially a mid-sized Jeep pickup truck.
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The Jeep Grand Cherokee Ecodiesel

 

After all is said and done, fly fishing is often more about personal choice, i.e., fly rod brand and action, reel drag type, vest or sling pack, and this certainly applies to the type of vehicle one prefers when driving the river road. Style, budget, and purpose all play into personal choice. The criteria listed in this post should help inform those looking to improve their fly fishing “wheels”. And lets hope those wheels lead down the road of better fly fishing adventures…

BC Flyfishers – a new IFFF chapter grows up

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2016 by stflyfisher

“The finest gift you can give to any fisherman is to put a good fish back, and who knows if the fish that you caught isn’t someone else’s gift to you?”

Lee Wulff

Two years ago, I was asked if I was interested in getting in on the ground floor of “something new”. Some fellow anglers, it seems, were looking to wake a fly-rod wielding caveman who was once seen fishing these parts. The caveman was none other than a Johnny Hart cartoon of a Neanderthal using a fly rod instead of a club. Let’s call him the more genteel type of caveman…

Johnny Hart's fly fishing caveman, courtesy of johnhartstudios.com

Johnny Hart’s fly fishing caveman, courtesy of johnhartstudios.com

Most people in our country are at least somewhat familiar with the BC cartoon strip, possibly less so of the cartoon’s creator, Johnny Hart. In the Southern Tier, however, Hart is very much a legend. His cartoons have been associated with many activities, including “BC Transit” (the Broome County bus system), Broome County Parks, Broome County Meals on Wheels, Southern Tier Red Cross, the infamous PGA event – the BC Open, the Broome Dusters Hockey team, and the BC Icemen UHL hockey team, to name a few….

Cavemen are apparently adept at many sports...

Cavemen are apparently adept at many sports…

Hart was all “Southern Tier”. Born in Endicott, NY (birthplace of Endicott-Johnson shoes, and later, IBM, and still pronounced “endeecott” by locals), Hart attended Union-Endicott schools, and after graduating high school, enlisted in the US Air Force. He sold his first cartoon to the Saturday Evening Post after his discharge from the military in 1954. Though a bit controversial to some in terms of his views on religion, Hart is regarded as one of the best cartoonists of all time.

Hart was kind enough to draw a cartoon of the fly fishing caveman for the first BC Flyfishers fly fishing club. The club promoted both fly fishing and conservation but ended up disbanding.

Step back to late 2013 and a small group of ardent fly fishermen looking to create an active fly fishing chapter of the International Federation of Fly Fishers (IFFF). The original cast consisted of Nick DiNunzio, John Trainor, Gary Romanic, Kurt Nelson, and Bob Bruns (yours truly). The first meeting took place the following spring, on March 15, 2014. And from this formation meeting, a fly fishing caveman was awoken from a deep ice-age sleep…

The board went right to work, creating a website, writing bylaws, and crafting a mission statement to guide it through years to come:

  1. Promote the sport of fly fishing.
  2. Teach best methods of fly fishing, fly casting, and fly tying.
  3. Uphold fly fishing values: respect for the environment, courtesy, patience, and integrity.
  4. Act as a regional resource for fly fishing in the Southern Tier of NY and surrounding areas.
  5. Promote resource conservation.
  6. Leave a legacy of fly fishing to future generations.

Now fast forward to 2016. The BC Flyfishers have over 50 members. It’s a prospering, active chapter, but still a toddler compared to many similar fly fishing organizations. The area’s own Trout Unlimited chapter – the Al Hazzard TU chapter – was founded in 1972, for example.  And for comparison, the oldest saltwater fly fishing club in the country is the Rhody Fly Rodders – a club founded in 1963. Look to the east, to the country where fly fishing started, and you’ll find the Darley Dale Fly Fishing Club – formed in Derbyshire in 1862!

The first monthly meeting was very well attended and strong attendance continues to be the theme as membership grows. A great speaker program was put in place, hosting a nice balance of member speakers, speakers from other chapters, and local pros / guides, such as Wayne Aldridge (Catskill guide), Joe Goodspeed (pro, originally with Cortland and now with T&T fly rods), Joe Ackourey (Pennsylvania guide), John Shaner (former guide and pro with Hardy), Joe Cambridge (Finger Lakes trib pro), among many others.

But a great fly fishing chapter is more than it’s monthly chapter meetings. The chapter has initiated many activities over the last two years as part of its mission, such as:

On the water chapter meetings…

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Joe Goodspeed talks about nymphing strategies and tactics at an “on-the-water” chapter meeting on the West Branch of the Delaware River…

Fly tying classes – there have been 2 very successful classes held, one each winter…

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A steelhead stonefly pattern tied by John Trainor for the BCFF fly tying class…

Fly rod building – the first class is in process as this is being written…

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Joe Swam demonstrates how to find the spine of a rod to the BC Flyfishers fly rod building class…

Fishing trips – Ausable River, Chemung River, West Branch of the Delaware, Tioughnioga River, Chenango River, Susquehanna River, and local ponds.

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BC Flyfishers during last year’s weekend Ausable River trip…

Fly rod raffles have been a big success for the chapter. These are generally a raffle of a TFO fly rod (of the winner’s choice) that is awarded the chapter for hitting membership levels. However more rods will be in the mix in the future.

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BC Flyfishers President Nick DiNunzio receives a 100th Anniversary Cortland fly rod from Cortland’s Brooks Robinson. This rod will be raffled off in a future BCFF chapter meeting.

A casting clinic – the first being held in 2015 which was another big success.

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Casting rods are strung up and ready to use at the BC Flyfisher’s first casting clinic. These rods were loaned to the chapter by the parent IFFF organization.

2016 looks to be another great year for the fledgling IFFF chapter. In the plans are the completion of the fly rod building class, an entomology class (classroom and on the water), continued monthly chapter meetings with great speakers, another casting clinic, and more fishing trips. The chapter’s leadership includes a few of the original cast and some new members: Nick DiNunzio (President), Gary Romanic (VP), Bob Bruns (Secretary), John Trainor (Treasurer), Eric Tomosky (Membership / Events), and Tim Barrett (Education).

Meetings, classes, events, and trips, are activities that give life to a fly fishing club, but these things are not the heart and lifeblood, that will sustain a club for years to come. It is the membership that does that: the people who gather to cherish the sport, enjoy the camaraderie, tell stories, and more so, share hope for a better future. Good members carry a club forward, sustain its traditions, and add to its legacy.

Here’s to another 2, 4, 8, 16, 100…. years!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Seiko 5…

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized with tags , , on March 9, 2016 by stflyfisher

In 1968, the Seiko watch company had a great idea for a watch that would surely appeal to a mass market. The company decided to make a watch that had 5 key attributes: 1) Automatic winding, 2) Day / date displayed in a single window, 3) Water resistance, 4) Recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position, and 5) Durable case and bracelet. The watch was originally titled the Sportsmatic 5, but all watches that have these very basic characteristics are considered “Seiko 5’s”.

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A classic Seiko 5 – everything that makes a good watch…

From the start, the Seiko 5 was designed to reinvent watch performance and to bring to the 1960’s generation a watch that belonged to the age and that fitted into their lives. As perhaps never before, the Seiko 5 needed to be a watch that could go anywhere and everywhere and therefore it had to be very durable. To be durable, the watch needed to be impervious to water and shock.

Water resistance was built in as standard to every Seiko 5 watch, and metal bracelets were used so that, from “buckle to buckle”, the watch was resistant to water and sweat. Shock resistance was assured with two Seiko inventions. First, the mainspring was made from “Diaflex,” an unbreakable alloy, and the “Diashock,” system was created to protect the movement from shock within the case.

Legibility was the next vital attribute. Today, it’s taken for granted that day and date are presented in a single window but, in fact, this was an idea built into the Seiko 5 to enhance the legibility of the dial. The genius was to create a unique system that allowed both day and date to be shown in one plane.

The final challenge was to create a distinctive look that defined the brand. Thanks to the extraordinary Seiko invention of the ‘Magic Lever,’ the winding efficiency of Seiko 5 is very high, and the wearer rarely needs to use the crown. So the designers made it smaller and hid it under the lip of the case at 4 o’clock, giving Seiko 5 its signature look.

Inside these watches beat several different movements. The 7S26 features 21 jewels while some improved versions feature 23 jewels (the 7S36, for example).  The caliber 7S25 automatic movement is featured in watches where only the date is displayed. All of these movements beat at a rate of 21,600 bph (beats per hour).

There are currently many versions of this great watch in the marketplace. They range from basic “beaters” to sports watches…

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A military green version of the Flieger (German for pilot) Seiko 5

I own a black-faced Flieger and it’s been a steady companion around the house, in the yard, on walks, and while fishing.

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The glass back casing reveals the simple but reliable inner workings of the Seiko 5’s automatic movement.

The Seiko 5 does a lot of things well and that is its genius. In fact, if I was asked to wear only one watch that was reasonably priced (< $150, and some can be found as low as $50), this would be the one.

And besides being easy on the wallet, most Seiko 5’s are also easy on the eyes, light on the wrist, and feature luminescent hands and dials. What you won’t get with a Seiko 5 are features like hacking, manual wind, extreme water resistance via a screw down crown, or a bezel.

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A dressy version of the Seiko 5

For fly fishing and general fishing use, I prefer the Seiko Monster, which I posted about in this blog some time ago. The Monster is essentially a Seiko 5 on steroids, and features incredible ruggedness, reliability, and superior water proof qualities, at an albeit higher price. It is a not-so-distant cousin of the Seiko 5, though much heavier on the wrist.

For everyday use, reasonable cost, and a great all-rounder of a watch, it’s hard to beat the Seiko 5. And even if you do slip on the Monster for on-water fly fishing duties, you’ll be glad to have the humble Seiko 5 when drinks are served back at the lodge…

 

Goals for 2016

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on February 25, 2016 by stflyfisher

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Ernest Hemingway

It’s that time to proclaim my fly fishing goals for 2016. Much as I’ve practiced in the past, the process for goal-setting starts in late November / December, when I start a review of the year and spend time thinking about where I want to go, what I want to do, who I want to be in the fly fishing world. I usually start putting some draft goals to paper in early January, mull them over through the rest of January and early February, and post them – a formal commitment – before my birthday in early March.

So here they are – my fly fishing goals for 2016:

  1. Learn more about nymph fishing.
    1. Study Joe Humphreys’ “Trout Tactics”
    2. Study George Daniel’s “Dynamic Nymphing”
  2. Learn to fly fish for muskie.
    1. Purchase rod, reel, line, leader
    2. Purchase / tie flies
    3. Study muskie fly fishing
    4. Fish for them
  3. Saltwater flyfish in Destin, FL.
  4. Continue fly tying – learn to tie 5 more patterns.
  5. Donate a box of my flies to the TU banquet.
  6. Float-fish the Susquehanna (4X)
  7. Make perfect fly casting practice a habit.
  8. Fish with friends, including at least 3 trips with new friends.
  9. Fly fish and/or attend fly fishing events 100 times this year.
  10. Learn to tie 3 new fishing knots.
  11. Fish the Salmon River – Spring, Fall, Winter.
  12. Night fish for trout.
  13. Fish marginal waters.
  14. Build my own fly rod.

Looking back on 2015

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Uncategorized, Writing on February 20, 2016 by stflyfisher

Around this time every year, I take a pause in life and look back. Then, after considering the past year, good and bad, I look forward. The looking back is a good exercise in gaining perspective. It keeps me humble, and clears the way for using my God-given creativity to set a course in fly fishing and with life in general. So take a look back with me at the year that was, through the lens of a Southern Tier fly fisherman.

It’s hard to forget just how bad the winter of 2015 was, particularly as we enjoy very tepid conditions so far this winter.

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2015 was a bad winter. A little brook that bisects Jones Park, in Vestal NY, is shown here in late February, 2015.

I actually didn’t get out to fish until after the big freeze began to release its icey grip on the area. Unfortunately, the heavy ice on our pond, in combination with lots of snow, caused a massive fish kill, often referred to as “winter kill”. I was devastated as I paddled the shoreline one sunny spring afternoon, seeing large numbers of hand and even plate-sized panfish and nice bass lying dead along the shoreline. Even the grass carp, which had grown huge in size over the years, couldn’t tolerate the lack of oxygen in the water. I feared this would be the case with many ponds and did, in fact, hear of similar accounts from some pond-owners. And I wondered what impact the cold might have on other fisheries.

2015 was the first year I attended “The Fly Fishing Show”. I was not able to attend any of the earlier ones, like Somerset, but did make it down to the March show in Lancaster, which was a well done affair. I purchased a wonderful JP Ross switch rod while there, watched some fly fishing greats like Joe Humphries, Bob Clouser, and Lefty Kreh, and otherwise enjoyed the “fly-fishy” ambiance. I actually shook hands and spoke briefly with Joe Humphries after one of his casting demonstrations and what a terrific person he is! I paid the price for going though. It was a very hazardous drive down and back due to snow, ice, and sleet. My return trip took some 9 hours as opposed to 5, AND, I managed to slip on a step outside the Lancaster arena where the show was held and broke a rib.

Winter may have been extremely harsh, but it was quick to leave and yield to a spring of generally warmer than average temperatures and gradually drying conditions. For evidence, consider the following chart of May temperatures:

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Note the extremes in highs – in some cases close to the mid-80’s!

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This USGS chart of the West Branch of the Delaware shows the effects of a dry spring with flows dipping below 200 CFS. Charts of other local rivers, including the big Susquehanna and the Salmon River, have similar trends. Note also the extreme variability of the flows on the West Branch. The constant changes drew alarm and concern from many of the fly shops and fly anglers that fish the river, sparking a public outcry to the commission that supposedly manages the Cannonsville release.

I started the year with my usual “rites of Spring” fishing on beautiful Cayuta Creek. I caught some nice stocked browns in a favorite stretch of “The Little Gem”. I went back a few times as spring turned warm and enjoyed some good dry fly fishing. Cayuta is always a wonderful host for shaking off the casting arm rust…

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A nice stockie brown that clobbered a JJ’s Jigs Picket Pin Streamer. The Picket Pin streamer is a great fly for dishwater spring fly fishing…

I also managed to catch a beautiful Salmon River brown (a first) in mid-Spring on a fly I just love – The Salmon River Gift (“the gift”). I had fished with Eric Tomosky and one of his friends on South Sandy Creek in the morning and managed a brief hook-up with a steelhead, but had a hell of a time getting my egg pattern through swarms of big suckers. I will note here that the lowly sucker is an outstanding practice fish for a beginner steelhead fisher. After some time on South Sandy we decided to give the lower fly zone of the Salmon River a shot. Third cast with “the gift” and I felt that great head shake on the end of my line…

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A gift brown – a first – on the “Gift”…

Despite the warm spring and low water, I was able to get in some dropback steelhead fishing – a goal of mine and a first for me. Courtesy of two Douglaston Salmon Run season pass-holders, I was able to fish a few times and found some success, initially with some very large smallmouth bass. For smallie anglers like myself, Mr. Smallmouth is much maligned on the Salmon River by some anglers trying to set their hook into spring steel, yet this angler was pleased as punch to tangle with spring bronze.

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Tony and John fishing the upper glide of the DSR

The dropback fishing was not as good as it can be according Tony and John. Indeed, they claimed their absolute best fishing in terms of numbers and aggressive takes was normally in spring when the steelhead were on what John referred to as the “the see-food diet”. Nonetheless, I enjoyed some good fishing with them, fishing stonefly nymphs under an indicator. An afternoon followed by early morning session produced 3 silver rocket steelhead with another 7 that broke off or threw the hook.

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My first dropback steelhead…

In late May I fished a “marginal water” creek with fly fishing friend, Eric. “Marginal waters” is a fly fishing strategy attributed to local fly fishing legend Joe Goodspeed. Goodspeed was known to fish these “less than desirable” waters where few, if any people fished. He’d prospect these creeks and small streams for areas that had very specific trophy holding water, knowing that the few large browns that called them home were more natural in response to a well fished fly. After listening to a few of his presentations on the subject, I became a believer. This particular creek was already very clear and low when Eric and I first fished it. Many of its pools appeared barren of even stocked fish (which it gets) but did hold a lot of minnows. We hiked up through dense cover and eventually came upon a long deep pool that had a pebbled shoal bank on one side, and steep high clay bank on the other. Toward the pool’s lower end and tailout, a large bush hung out from the bank and, partly submerged, formed what looked like perfect overhead cover for just the sort of brown Joe Goodspeed liked to target. I decided to cast a black wooly bugger just upstream of the overhand, let my fly sink into the shadows of the brushy overhang, and then strip my streamer back. I was using a leader with 4X tippet – definitely undergunned for a streamer. As my fly swung under the brush, my line briefly tightened, then went slack. My fly was gone. A second such cast was met by a brown, butter yellow flash that felt like an electric jolt on the end of my line. I missed what appeared to be a big brown and I thought to myself, there’s no way I’ll get another chance, but cast my fly the same way again. There was no take as the bugger swung under the brushy overhang, but as I stripped the fly back, a big dark shape followed and swatted it good. My 4 weight rod bent and bucked to this solid marginal waters brown…

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Smallmouth bass fishing in the summer was mixed, with some disappointing days in places that normally held good fish. This observation was backed by other bass anglers I talked with; they too felt the fishing was off, in general. Perhaps it was the conditions or the brutally cold winter. One such place that under performed was a favorite pool on the lower Tioughnioga River. This spot has a wide riffle that feeds a very deep and long pool. A river braid enters in on the far side of the river, creating interesting current and numerous holding areas for fish. I slowly waded across the riffle and swung a streamer through the head of the pool and picked up only a few less-than-impressive bass. When I reached the opposite side, a man whose home borders the pool, waded out to where I was. He asked me about the fishing and when I remarked that I was disappointed – that this pool – indeed, “his pool” – always offered up some very solid bass, he agreed with my observations. He always did well in his “home” pool, but even fishing bait, had done very poorly that summer and couldn’t explain it.

I floated the upper Tioughnioga River with fellow angler Bob Card and his son, Brian. We put in at the Messengerville bridge and slowly floated the very low and clear river. I was immediately impressed with the scenery and the variety of holding water but it took a while for the fish to show off their river. I’m convinced the low flows, crystal clear conditions in combination with the warmer water temps really had the bass on the spook. It wasn’t until halfway through the float that I hooked up and that was in a very deep pool where the bass no doubt felt safer. I caught 3 nice smallmouth on a streamer, then landed one of the biggest fallfish I’ve ever taken. We continued our float through another long and clear pool and it was there that I saw smallmouth swimming with carp, but again, exceptionally wary and skittish. Fallfish, however, jumped streamers cast to the shaded areas of the pool. It was a memorable float and one I will definitely do again.

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A nice Tioughnioga smallmouth that inhaled a streamer…

Towards the end of August, fellow fly fisher Eric Tomosky and I fished the West Branch of the Delaware at night. This was a goal we had set early in 2015. We fished the Gentleman’s Pool – the no-kill area just downstream of the Rt 17 overpass bridge. We caught nothing but it was certainly an interesting experience and one we will do again in 2016.

The fall was absolutely beautiful for fly fishing. River flows were summer-like, as were water and even air temps. I increased my river fishing with the low water levels, but found the smallmouth fishing lackluster. In fact, while the bass fishing seemed to be off, other species stepped into the fray in a big way.

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Tioughnioga River pike – fun on a fly rod…

I found the channel cats very willing to take the fly. Most years I will run into one or two, but 2015 was a record for me with at least a dozen or so hook-ups and most landed. Labor Day weekend, in particular, was spectacular and remarkable – remarkable in that after much observation, I believe the channel cats were feasting on large emerging mayflies near the river’s surface at the tailout of the pool I fished. It was an early morning pattern I happened to stumble upon that repeated itself reliably over three great days of fishing.

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The biggest cat of my three day labor Day weekend on the Susquehanna River…

I got in a second float of one of our warmwater rivers, this time on the Susquehanna. This trip was unique in that I floated down through a productive stretch of the river and then paddled and wade-towed my kayak back up, saving me the hassle of staging cars. I hooked up with some beautiful bass and even had a musky chase my fly at one point.

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A stout Susquehanna smallie that nailed a 1/0 white Deceiver

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Indian summer and fall splendor on the Susquehanna…

I achieved a first with my older son Chris in 2015. I booked a trip on the Big Jamaica II, a 125′ party boat out of Brielle, NJ, in early October. This would be a 22 hour offshore trip to the Hudson Canyon for a variety of species; tuna, swordfish, mahi, wahoo and even white marlin, on occasion. The initial trip was cancelled due to a ferocious Nor’easter, and then, as luck would have it, I was able to book Chris to join me. We left on a beautiful and still warm October afternoon and came back with two yellowfin in the 50 – 70 lb range. I’ll write in detail on this trip in a future 2016 post.

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Yellowfin…

We didn’t have a very hearty fall or fall/winter transition, for that matter. Conditions were dry and relatively mild well into November, as seen in the following chart of November temperatures:

nov temp trends

And December was not much better…

dec temp trends

But October, November, and December were good months to be “up North” as fellow angler Bob Card would say. Bob and I fished the Salmon River on a number of occasions, the first being in late October – an outing I would consider a banner day with Kings, Coho, and steelhead. The fishing for kings was best described as violent, a description one doesn’t apply to fly fishing much but with big spawning king salmon a very much applicable one. And while I never landed one, just hooking up with one of these brutes is a terrific experience. I managed to land 2 coho salmon, however, between the October and November outings – another first.

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A nice coho, landed for me by “Tawm

The mix shifted to steelhead later in November and December.

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Steel and eggs…

I caught some very nice steelhead and for my last outing of 2015, enjoyed a float trip with guide Tony Gulisano and Bob Card. That too was some good fishing AND learning…

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A steelhead from the Schoolhouse Pool of the upper Salmon River

While I enjoyed the fishing in the fall / early winter up North, the overall consensus of the season from a number of veterans of the Salmon River was that it was another “less than spectacular” year. 2014 was reportedly terrible for salmon and that trend improved only slightly in 2015 with another lackluster run that was also very spread out – some cohos and kings being caught far later in the fall than normal. Some speculated that the fall was too dry and warm, forcing the spawning salmon to rocket up the river at night, causing the lower and mid-river to be barren of fish. Others seem to feel that it was just another bad year for the fish. The steelhead run suffered too. Indeed, as we drifted the river to Pineville, Guide Tony Gulisano noted the lack of fish in areas that would normally hold 20 or 30 steelhead. And while we did manage to catch some nice steel that day, I left the Salmon River with mixed feelings about the season as a whole – the wild swings in river flows, the strange weather patterns, and the odd changes in fishing patterns. Perhaps this is the new norm, one that is less based on traditional seasons of fairly steady and reliable fishing – and more based on unpredictable swings of fishing goodness and badness – a catch-as-catch-can era of fishing. I guess we’ll see…

 

 

 

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!

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