OK, so the Prayer for Good Weather is not working…
The local forecast for tomorrow night is bleak, to wit:
OK, so the Prayer for Good Weather is not working…
The local forecast for tomorrow night is bleak, to wit:
The last few weeks of weather are wearing on me. Normally around this time of year, I’m fishing the Susquehanna big water. So far this summer, I’ve yet to wet a line there. The rain keeps coming; the rivers rise, dirty up, and start settling down, and then the cycle repeats. I feel a little like General George S. Patton must have felt in December 1944, when he faced an impossibly bad string of nasty weather. Patton was rushing his Third Army north to relieve the beleaguered Bastogne, which had been surrounded during the German Army’s bold attack through the Ardennes. His counter-attack later became known as The Battle of the Bulge.
The foul weather had been one of the German Army’s greatest allies during its counteroffensive. The relentless rain had turned roads into muddy sluices and the fog was so thick that visibility could be measured in yards. The weather stalled movement and kept bombers and ground support aircraft grounded. The German’s historic breakthrough, a last ditch attempt by Hitler to counter the Allied Army’s advance, could have been achieved if it had not been for one weapon few would have believed a general, especially General Patton, had in his arsenal.
Patton had a reputation, after all, as a hard-nosed, hard-charging, commander, affectionately known by his men as “old blood and guts”. This is the man that is quoted to have addressed his troops prior to the Normandy invasion with the following Ned-Flanderesque motivational speech (excerpts, as the speech is quite lengthy):
“I want you men to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other dumb bastard die for his country. All this stuff you’ve heard about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of this war is a lot of horseshit. Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle.
Some of you men are wondering whether on not you’ll chicken out under fire. Don’t worry about it. I can assure you that you’ll all do your duty. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood. Shoot them in the belly. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo, that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do. There’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want any messages saying we’re holding our position. We’re advancing constantly and we’re not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy. We’re going to hold onto him by his balls and kick the hell out of him all the time. We’re going through him like crap through a goose.”
So what was Patton’s secret weapon? Read the following quote recorded by Msgr, James H. O’Neill, Patton’s Chief Chaplain of the Third Army:
“We’ve got to get not only the chaplains but every man in the Third Army to pray. We must ask God to stop these rains. These rains are that margin that hold defeat or victory. If we all pray, it will be like what Dr. Carrel said [the allusion was to a press quote some days previously when Dr. Alexis Carrel, one of the foremost scientists, described prayer “as one of the most powerful forms of energy man can generate”], it will be like plugging in on a current whose source is in Heaven. I believe that prayer completes that circuit. It is power.”
Yes indeed, the General must have had an open line to the big fly fisherman upstairs, a line he believed could clear up the weather so he could slay German soldiers by the thousands and march on to Berlin. Patton directed his Chief Chaplain to write a prayer and to distribute some 250,000 copies to the soldiers of the Third Army. Then he asked his men to pray, thinking all that praying just couldn’t be ignored.
The prayer cards were distributed to the Third Army on December 12 – 14. Patton then wheeled his great army to the north to attack on December 19th. On the following day, the rain stopped, the fog lifted and the skies cleared. The rest is history.
So why not adopt Patton’s prayer for good weather for an all-out assault on our great creeks and rivers? If enough of us pray, imagine the good fishing, just in time for the fall feeding frenzy!
Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle fishing. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers fly fishers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory fishery to fishery, and cast to the oppression oppressed and wickedness famished fish of our enemies and establish Thy justice happiness among men fly fishermen and nations their blogs.
I spent Thursday dropping “dadre” (pronounced dah-dray) off at college in Rochester. The “dadre” tag is our family nickname for “daughter” – it stems from my kids referring to me as “the padre”; hence, son – sadre, mom – madre, grandfather – grande padre, and so on. You get the idea.
So what the heck is a post on the drudgery and emotional turmoil entailed in dropping one’s dadre off at college doing in a blog on flyfishing in the southern tier? Well now, there are always alterior motives, angles, and creative opportunities. In the STFF universe, there’s ALWAYS a connection to flyfishing somewhere, you see.
Disguised as a new found interest in the little bucolic town in which said dadre’s college is found, I set upon an internet quest for anything that might resemble a fly shop. By finding such a place, I could scope out the fishing AND have myself a little refuge for any weekend visits. To my delight I found quite the place just a short walk from the ivy halls of the college. “Up the Creek” was the name of the store. It had a decent web site that sported such brands as Sage, Filson, Ross, Tibor and Winston. These, I might add, are the brands of the well-heeled, which immediately made me think that some of the dadre’s own professors might very well be fishing the equipment I only dreamed to own. Then, of course, I began to bristle at the thought of the tuition I was paying out, which, even after scholarships (thankyou dadre!), amounted to the equivalent of any of the following:
1 Orvis Penn’s Creek Full Flex bamboo fly rod per month
1+ Orvis Helios fly rod per month
1 Scott SC Bamboo fly rod every 2 months
2 Sage ZXL fly rods per month
College ain’t cheap – but I digress…
So after the dropping off, the room outfitting, the orientation, the convocation, and the final goodbyes, the madre and padre set off to find “Up the Creek”. I promised the madre it would be just a quick little stop. Prophetic words indeed…
We drove off the campus and onto Main Street, lined with its quaint shoppes (you don’t find “shops” in quaint towns), flower baskets hanging from gas lanterns, chalk boards displaying the various delicacies being served in the bistros, and while madre drove, padre scanned the street for #28. I was looking for a big trout fish decoy or huge wooly bugger hanging from a storefront – a big window draped in bamboo – but there was no such thing. #28 was a shoppe, all right – one of these hoitee-toitee gift places. Not a fly, fly rod, fly reel, or vest in sight. Hmmmmm…
I looked around some more with madre in tow and I swear I saw a slight smile on her face, most likely the result of my looming misfortune. We walked around back of the store and a sales lady came out the side door of a real estate office. “Excuse me”, I said, “I’m looking for a fly shop called “Up the Creek” – it’s supposed to be at #28 Main Street”. “Well” said the lady, “that store’s been up the creek for the last 6 months, I’m afraid”.
The next day, home from the college drop-off and back at work, I told my tale of woe to the STFF staff. Hydrologist Dan laughed at my misfortune, but offered up some saving grace of his own. “There’s some great fishing up in Rochester – big browns in the tribs in the fall”, he said. “We could go fishing on the tribs, then meet your daughter at her college and take her out for dinner”. I thought about that and thought about that and suddenly life was getting very good again – fishing the tribs, visiting the dadre. Huge brown trout tailwalked in my head. 6 and 7 weight rods bowed to the possibilities. And the madre HAD to bless each trip under the law of obligation to family duty! I wasn’t up the creek after all…
By all accounts, last year was a great year of fishing. My logbook lists just shy of 50 trips, excluding many half hour jaunts on the pond to unwind after work. So during my early spring gear tune-up and overhaul, it didn’t surprise me that my boots were in pretty sad shape.
I contemplated, dare I say, putting them out to pasture. After all, I’d owned them since I started fly fishing some 10 years ago. I bought them mainly for bass fishing in the rivers – a relatively inexpensive but classic design – and Hodgeman’s no less – still made in America back then. They’d served their master well, and the mantra of this throw-away society hummed away in my head as I looked them over. Those glossy catalogs of the big brand fly fishing purveyors sell a compelling story – faster, lighter, better, tougher…
The fly rod may be the heart and soul of a fly fisherman, but its his boots – the workhorse – that get him where he needs to be. They take the most abuse – the lion’s share of wear and tear of all a flyfisher carries. They are rarely in the picture of the beaming fisherman holding up the fruit of the day’s trip. And at the end of the day the weary fisherman unceremoniously sheds them, and stows them out of the light, beneath his waders, the Rodney Dangerfields of the angler’s gear – not getting a whole lot of respect. But like the weathered hands of a farmer, a well-used pair of boots has a story. To anyone who sees them, they speak experience afield. And they get better with age – fit better and somehow feel better. So for these reasons, and the outright economic prudishness these times demand, I reconsidered the death sentence I was about to hand down…
There’s an old shoe repair store on the mostly bypassed main street of my town. The stores that surround it are largely what you’d call micro businesses. Some storefronts are shuttered looking for new owners, the victims of the big box retailers that now line the parkway to the east. This little place sits among them – a classic sign marking its existence. It is busier than one may think.
So I went there one day on lunch break, boots in one hand, new Hodgeman’s felts in the other. Inside, the place breathed leather, shoe polish, and glue. Behind the counter was a doorway, a window into the lonely world of the cobbler. And in its bowels were shoe anvils, all types of tools – awls, picks, and mallets – and racks of laces, shoemakers stitching, and leather. To the left of the counter were the fruits of true craftsmanship – neatly set in racks, tags hanging with names of owners. Every shoe, boot, belt, and handbag was polished. I began to feel good.
The cobbler soon emerged from the back, clad in a heavy leather apron, workshirt, and brimmed hat. His whole appearance, including the neatly trimmed beard covering his jaw, spelled Amish and his hands testified to his work ethic – rough, caloused, and black with polish. His demeanor was pleasant. He studied my boots, turning them in his big hands – pulling the tongue back, examining the sides.
That they needed to be re-soled was apparent. The felt was worn thin and in some places de-laminated from the boot bottoms. But it’s what I didn’t tell him that he seemed to focus on. “I can re-glue the inside sole”, he said. He continued examining my boots, noting how the stitching on the outer sides was frayed and in some cases parted. “I’ll re-stitch these here”, he added. We settled the particulars – I could pick them up in a week. He marked a tag with my name and phone number and set them in his pile of accumulating work. He asked where I fished and I told him. The Susquehanna he was not too familiar with – he had canoed a few local lakes, but not the rivers of the Southern Tier. So, for the next half hour I told him about the fishing – the big smallmouth bass, walleyes, channel cats, carp, and musky that could be caught, and then about the wildlife that could be seen – mergansers that flew like missiles up the river and the osprey that dove straight into the river like a rock dropped from the clouds and the eagles that cast big shadows where they flew, and the great blue herons that at a distance in the early morning mist looked like hunched old fisherman working a pool. All these things I had seen because of my boots.
A week later I returned – a sunny spring day full of promise. I picked up my boots, newly clad with bright white felts, neater in appearance, restitched, all put together, and ready for work. The fee was so nominal I can’t recall it now, but for the memories they’d bring me, I should have paid a hell of a lot more.
Early today at STFF Headquarters, many staff members could be found sulking, murmuring in secluded corners, gnashing their teeth, tearing their robes, and shaking their heads ruefully. “The Chemung looks like weak coffee”, quipped Staff Hydrologist Dan, who looked more dejected about the fishing conditions than normal. Even the ever-chipper Staff Hydrologist and custom cabinet maker, Chip (no pun intended), could’nt deviate from the truth about the Tioughnioga. “Its running like the Chocolate River in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory”, he sighed over the phone. His recommendation was Round Pond – up in “them thar hills” north of Whitney Point – where toe-headed boys occupy all the bridges and the sounds of strummin’ banjos seem to surround you like stereo. Hmmmm….
So on the way home today, sun shining, birds singing, and high with that boy-I’m-itchin-to-go-fishin feeling surging through me, I decided to end it all with a good look at the Susquehanna…
As Doctor Evil would say – “Rrrrrrriiiiiiiggghhhttttttt”…
Even the downstream view from the bridge casts doubt on the Fall fishing forecast.
I suppose one could opt for headwaters – really really upstream headwaters – or take a stab at some of the trout creeks that would normally be flowing at a mere trickle this time of the year. The West Branch is reported to be fishable, if you happen to have a Hyde Drift Boat parked next to your SUV. Lawn casting is another option, but tonight I think I’ll just chill out with a great friend…
STFF Staff Hydrologist Dan called this past Saturday, as promised, and confirmed that the Chemung was in good shape. But the siren call of Sunday’s NASCAR road race at nearby Watkins Glen was a little stronger than the prospect of an evening jaunt on the Chemung with the southern tier flyfisher. Dan graciously bowed out, leaving me to weigh my options. I considered fishing the Tioughnioga, but the thought of not testing the Chemung River was eating at me, so the Chemung won out.
I was on the water by 5 pm, and the river was looking quite handsome. The flow was nice – the water was just slightly stained. I walked down to the fast water below the bridge and noticed a lot of big sculpin darting about frantically in the shallows. That convinced me that an olive Whitlock’s Near Nuff Sculpin would match the hatch. I tied the fly on a 5 foot leader with 2X tippet and used my sink tip line to fish the fly deep.
The water below the bridge was running pretty fast. I waded in at the head of the riffle and began quartering my casts downstream, giving the sculpin time to sink in the current, and then slowly stripping it back. After only two casts I had a solid take. The fish initially held deep in the current, gave me a few good head shakes and then bolted downstream. Based on the intial run, this could have been a nice bass, but when the fish kept sulking in the current, I knew it had to be something else. Gradually I worked the fish into the slower pool water and was pleased to see a nice walleye, complete with teeth only an orthodontist could love. A coworker by the moniker “Jigging Jim”, an Oneida Lake regular and possible future staff member for the STFF, would have been proud.
After releasing the walleye, I waded down the pool, working my fly slow and deep. I didn’t get too much time to fish that beautiful stretch of water alone, however. A group of young teens armed with zebco fishing outfits spilled out onto the boat ramp upstream near the bridge and made a beeline for my pool. I felt some tensing of the jaw – gritting of the teeth as I tend to get a little territorial when fishing. When alien company calls, I get irritated, much like a big brown bear when another bear approaches a pool where the salmon are stacked up. Eventually I settle down, rationalizing that; 1) I don’t own the river, and 2) that most people don’t know any better when it comes to fishing etiquette, particularly fly fishing etiquette. I’ve often observed that even when casting, people file right behind me, or worse yet, just stand behind me, as if they were immune to the sting of a flying hook.
It didn’t take long for the boisterous group to capture spots above and below me. A young woman, perhaps a mother, watched the pincer movement from afar like some Wehrmacht field commander at war. I decided to get out of the water and walk downriver to solitude, wondering what kind of water awaited me.
Now, another word about my favorite hydrologist, Dan. He’s not the type who gives a lot of detail when it comes to fishing. He’s the guy defense attorneys love and prosecutors hate. He’s a big believer in fishing as far off the beaten path as possible, and I’m in that camp too, but after much questioning in advance of this trip, I just couldn’t seem to get good “intel” out of him on the type of water that lay downstream of the access. So I waded on and found the water pretty flat and dull and slow and deep – looking very, well, walleye-eee – making me wonder whether there was any smallmouth water to be had in this stretch of the Chemung.
Eventually I found a spot downstream with some current. I could see very large rocks here and there – possibly a place where smallmouth might hold – and I decided to give it a try. The water was shallower here, so I switched out my lead-eye sculpin for an unweighted Murray’s #6 Dying Minnow pattern. I cast out across, let the fly swing a bit, and then worked it back in short strips. Part way through the swing on one cast the fly stopped dead. I set the hook and immediately felt a good headshake. The fish held solid in the current, then moved upriver some, shook its head again, and then set off across the river with what I’d call DEE-termination. I cranked down on the drag as much as I dared and started to think I’d hooked a big carp. The run was not fast – just steady and powerful – finally stopping just before the backing started exiting my spool. The fish sulked again, and then turned downstream with the current on another run. I quickly sloshed downstream below him – and there we tussled another five minutes. Gradually, the fish gave ground, slogging deep, twisting and turning, and eventually I beached the fish – a big channel cat – gun-blued back, olive-gold flanks, and whiskers as thick as a pencil sticking some 4 – 5″ off either side of its mouth. Channel cats are certainly not pretty and fast like trout, nor do they jump and dig like a bass, but they are amazingly strong. I’ve caught them before on a fly, this being my fourth in as many years, always down and deep while using a sink tip line and a big buggy fly.
I was pretty pumped by this time, thinking this could be the making of a Chemung River Slam. All I needed was a nice smallmouth to complete the evening – and it was only 6 pm. With darkness approaching, the fishing could only get better, especially if I could find the tail of a good pool, where smallmouth would be setting up for the evening.
I walked downstream some more, arriving at a big riffle – the kind I’m used to on the Chenango, the Susquehanna, and to a lesser extent, the Tioughnioga.
I switched to a floating line at this point, tied on a #6 Shenk’s White Streamer, and started working it across the riffle. I hooked up with small bass almost immediately – jumping, “electrified” bass – but, nonetheless, not the quality I was hoping to catch. It was a steady pick through the riffle, with a few stragglers whacking my fly as I swung it at the tail. I switched to a popper when I saw a few white flies coming off, but there were no takers. As darkness set in, I decided I’d better hoof it back upstream. I got back to the car at 8 :15 pm, broke down my rod, stowed my gear, and lit up a cigar for the drive home. It was a good smoke, and a good way to celebrate an evening on the Chemung – a hopeful first of many more to come.
Fishing conditions on the warmwater rivers in the southern tier are mixed. The bigger waters like the Susquehanna are still high and discolored – all are coming down but we may need another week of clearing and lowering. The upper sections of the Susquehanna in Windsor might be OK this weekend.
I got confirmation from STFF’s Staff Hydrologist (and custom cabinet maker) Chip, that the Tioughnioga was looking quite good as of yesterday (the charts confirm his bridge-side observations). I’d avoid the Chenango River, although the upper reaches may be good, but I’m talking upper upper reaches from Greene and north to Norwich.
The West Branch is still flowing in the “don’t wade it – float it” thousands – 2000 CFS but dropping. The Beaverkill and Willowemoc are the best bets if you’re in the mood for trout. These two classic rivers are clear and wadeable.
STFF Staff Hydrologist Dan meekly reported yesterday that the Chemung was looking good. He’s still a little gun-shy after my last jaunt out there – the infamous “what the hell” episode where I drove 40 minutes and Dan drove 2 minutes to find the Chemung in dirty shape. Dan’s due to call me today and confirm, and if his report is good, I’ll be headed West to fish the evening for smallmouth bass. Be on the lookout for a post if it’s a good trip. If it’s a bad trip, be on the lookout for a post of a different kind.
As I write this I’m suddenly realizing that the infamous white fly hatch we get on the big rivers may have already passed us in the recent deluge(s) amd high river conditions. Then again, who knows with the way the rivers and weather have been. If you’re out on one of the rivers, be aware that we might still be in the zone. These hatches can be phenomenally heavy and make for great fishing. Check out this link to see what I’m talking about: