Archive for September, 2009

The Week Ahead…

Posted in Fishing Conditions on September 30, 2009 by stflyfisher

The weather is turning on us once again.  It all started this past Saturday afternoon, and it’s been no good ever since.  Rain, cold, wind, hail, and more rain.  With evening low temperatures in the upper 30’s to low 40’s, we could even see the sky spit out some of the white stuff.  Perhaps all of this is in answer to Charlie Collins, who proclaimed that another week of colder temps would really get the bass feeding.  Let’s hope that’s the reason…

That big "H" is putting the chill on...

That big "H" is putting the chill on...

While the chill might be a good thing, the rain has hurt the river levels that were looking oh-so-sweet the past few weeks.  The lower Susquehanna is still murky, but cresting.  The upper Susquehanna, Tioughnioga, and Chenango are on the way down.  The Chemung, and Staff hydrologist Dan would back this, appears to be leading the pack…

The lower Susquehanna is cresting, assuming the rains abate...

The lower Susquehanna is cresting, assuming the rains abate...

The local 10 day forecast is full of gloom and doom, with the probability of rain reaching a high of 80%.  After that, the weather turns for the better, but doesn’t hit its stride until Sunday and lasts through Wednesday.  Flyfishing for bass might not be a go unless you’re fishing the upper river systems, or of course, the lakes.  The Catskill rivers could be another option.

We’ll take another look on Friday.  In the mean time, make sure you renew your license and start breaking out the fly tying gear.

Tight lines…

Ripples…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 29, 2009 by stflyfisher

The blog’s name grabbed my attention, standing out amongst a blogroll of 20 names.  “Zonker’s Fishing Blog” it read; something about “zonker” appealed to me, maybe because the zonker is such a deadly streamer and the name is, well, fishing-cool.

The almighty zonker...

The almighty zonker...

So I clicked the blog link and got hit between the eyes with something one does not expect to read in the fly fishing blogosphere:

An Update to Keep My Blog from Being Deleted (Tuesday March 10, 2009)

“At least I assume that if you don’t post for awhile you might just be dropped from the free blogspots. Anyway, sadly this isn’t a fishing post. I’m still dealing with “that awful disease,” cancer. The kidney cancer has metastasized to my lungs and now my brain. They tell me that the lungs are still treatable and the brain is operable, so I’m not checking out just yet as far as I know. Hospital time and then home recovery just really slows down the fishing aspirations. Nice to go back in free moments and review the trips though. In that sense the blog has been worthwhile to me even if there isn’t much action right now. Maybe my one or two total readers might find something worthwhile here, too.  Don’t want to sound too morbid though. I am a dedicated Christian and am confident in the future, no matter what it brings”.

And one post back:

Long Absence (Thursday, December 11, 2008)

“It seems like a long time since I’ve added to my blog. In early September I was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer which had metastasized to my lungs. On September 19th I went under the knife for a full left radical nephrectomy. I’m still quite sore from the surgery but am gaining strength daily. A CT scan earlier this week showed that the spots in my lungs seem to be stable at the moment – and quite small. I don’t know what the future holds but I may be on some kind of chemo at some point. Until then I hope to get some fishing done whenever possible. Perhaps I’ll get a few posts up”.

The post prior to this one was made in June, 2008.  It featured some nice-sized carp taken from area ponds.  Further back were more posts, mainly about carp fishing but with some on steelhead, trout, and an innovative float rig, all well-written with good photos.

“Zonker” was Dave in real life, a man passionate about flyfishing, a husband, father, and grandfather.  Reading the comments made on his blog, I learned he passed away not long after making his last post, the aftermath of the surgery for the tumors on his brain.  I shut the computer down after reading that, feeling helpless, hollow and empty.

Our lives are pebbles cast in a pond.  The ripples reach shores near and far.  The near shores are those we know – the distant shores are the lives never known, but touched nonetheless, and forever changed.

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”  John Donne

Tight lines…

Weekend Short Report – Update

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing with tags , , , , on September 27, 2009 by stflyfisher

I went fishing fairly early yesterday morning at my favorite Susquehanna River access in Apalachin.  As I rigged up, a forest green late-model Dodge Ram pickup pulled in with boat in tow.  The driver positioned his pick-up perfectly in line with the ramp, parked, and began to load the boat with his gear.

I headed down to the ramp to enter the river and stopped to see what this angler was up to.  “Fishing for walleye?” I asked.  “No, smallmouth.” was the reply.  There was something familiar about this guy.  His head was shaved and his tan and working clothes suggested he worked outdoors.  He was neat and orderly – laying out his rods just so.  “You tie your own flies?”, he asked, most likely noting several that I had on my vest drying patch.  “No”, I said.  Then he mentioned that he made a living raising hackle chickens for the fly tying industry.  That’s all I needed to hear to realize I was talking to none other than Charlie Collins, the owner of Collins Hackle Farm.  I had once heard him speak and show his quality hackle at an Al Hazzard Chapter TU meeting.  Here’s a little background info from the internet on Charlie, and his business:

Collins Hackle Farm. Charlie Collins started breeding hackle chickens in 1980, using stock from Andy Miner, Harry Darbee, and Dick Bitner. Collins’s main genetic emphasis is in breeding birds with thin, flexible quills that wrap true and don’t split or twist. “If you can’t wrap the feather, all the other hackle traits are worthless,” he says. “No trait is more important than quill quality.”

Collins has a relatively small operation, hatching from 4,000 to 8,000 chicks annually at his farm in Pine City, New York. He breeds for neck qualities exclusively and doesn’t sell his saddles individually–he includes them with his necks. For about $50, you can purchase a top-grade neck and saddle directly from Charlie. He has a wide array of natural colors passed down from the Miner stock (Bitner raised grizzly almost exclusively) and is especially proud of his colored barred stock, which many tiers admire because of its buggy appearance and stiffness.

Collins’ avows his approach is nonscientific compared to a large-scale producer such as Whiting or Metz. He approaches his hackle herding in the old-school manner, producing feathers that are very desireable for traditional Catskill tiers. He has walked the fine line between advancing hackle quality and retaining some of the feather characteristics that appeal to traditional Catskill tiers who don’t necessarily want densely hackled flies.

While large-scale growers such as Whiting and Metz micro-monitor each chicken’s environment, interestingly, Collins takes an almost exact opposite approach. Collins feels that his hearty strain of mountain-bred bird is not only truer to the backyard breeders of the Catskill era, but also makes for a healthy, strong, and relatively disease-free flock.

We chatted a while about smallmouth bass, how game they were, and how the best time of the year to catch a trophy, was upon us.  Charlie said we needed just a little more of a drop in water temp to really get things going.  “I’m getting some good fish, but they’re here and there, mixed with small ones”.  “Once the colors turn, it will get really good”, he added, with a big grin on his face.

I mentioned to Charlie that I had a blog and I would be glad to list his website on the blog, but he was quick to point out he only does business by phone and mail.  “I’m just too busy to run a website”, he said.  So here’s some contact info for those of you who are fly tyers:

Collins Hackle Farm
436 Kinner Hill Road
Pine City, NY 14871

Phone 607-734-1765

I left Charlie to getting his boat in the water and I started wading down the river, with some of his words still in my head: “I mean look at this – a beautiful fall morning and you and I are the only ones on this entire section of a great smallmouth river – I mean it just doesn’t get any better than this”.  Indeed, he was right…

Looking upriver, with Charlie getting his boat in the water...

Looking upriver, with Charlie getting his boat in the water...

I fished my favorite section of the river – a hole that Charlie was familiar with and one where he had hooked a big muskie last year.  I noted that the river was up some and had a little murk to it. It was eerily quiet early in the morning, but eventually the bass started popping bait.  I fished several streamers on a sink tip line without success.  I experimented with colors and still nothing.  Every time I was in the midst of changing flies, the bass would erupt.  I’d then cover the area without a hint of a take.  Frustrating…

Looking upstream at the hole, while a doe watches me carefully...

Looking upstream at the hole, while a doe watches me from the bank...

I moved downriver to try some bank water and then moved back to fish the hole again.  Clouds invaded the bluebird sky and with the clouds came the wind.  Leaves fell to the water and the air temperature dropped.  I watched the resident osprey soar with the wind like a sailplane, surveying the river all the while, but apparently fishless like me.  The bass were still chasing bait sporadically and eventually I had a decent “chunk” blow up on a pencil popper I worked across the pool.

The wind kept blowing harder.  The water frothed up in whitecaps and casting got harder.  I gave up the ghost after a few hours, thankful I had not been skunked.

The beginning of fall on the Susquehanna...

The beginning of fall on the Susquehanna...

As I waded back to the access, the sky to the east and south was dark and brooding.  Rain was on the way.  I left the river hopeful for a little more fall.  Charlie’s grin from our morning chat was still fresh on my mind.

Weekend Short Report

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Saltwater, Uncategorized on September 26, 2009 by stflyfisher

Just got back from the lower Susquehanna and thought I’d post a short report for the weekend.  The smallmouth bass fishing is great right now.  The river is in good shape and water temps are in the mid 60’s.  I caught some quality bass, and one nice one; 8 in total and all of them well fed.  There was a hatch of big mayflies coming off towards evening, and in some cases the bass were rising to them.  There was also a lot of bait busting going on – hit and miss, as usual.  Streamers will continue to work well as the bass are really keyed in on feeding up for the winter, but tonight I also caught some fish on a popper.  And this final comment is for “jigging Jim”, a coworker who believes the ONLY fish worth catching are walleye and yellow perch: I actually caught a small walleye, possibly the first walleye ever taken in such a way, on a Murray’s #6 Blue Shenandoah Popper in the tail of a pool where the water starts getting shallow and fast.  Go figure!  I’m waiting for the IGFA to contact me to enter this one in the record books…

The weekend was looking good only a day or so ago, but to my horror, that rain thing is in the forecast again – a half inch of the stuff is predicted for Sunday…

Let's hope that high pressure system stalls the front...

Let's hope that high pressure system stalls the front...

For those anglers in the Southern Tier of New York, get out and take advantage of the good fishing now – Sunday may set us back a bit…

Tight lines…

Kelly’s Excellent Canoe Adventure

Posted in Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing with tags , , , , , on September 22, 2009 by stflyfisher

Early in the year, before the Southern Tier turned green with spring, STFF Swimming Coach and Head Canoeist Kelly and I planted the seed of an epic canoe adventure.  We studied charts, strategized put-ins and take-outs, and reconnoitered the verdant valley and old hills surrounding the great Susquehanna River.  Then we inked our plan…

The weather threw us a curveball all summer-long, but the prayer for good weather interceded, and the rest, as they say, is history.  On Sunday September 20th, at approximately 8 am, we launched.

The ice-breaking Grumman 17 - nothing could stop us now...

The ice-breaking Grumman 17 - unstoppable & bulletproof...

I must admit, I had some second thoughts early that morning as I stared bleary-eyed at a thermometer that read 39 degrees F.  “Oh, it will warm up”, I reminded myself; the forecast was for a high in the mid-70’s.  What I forgot about was this odd meteorological event known as radiation fog, where the earth and water radiate their heat on chilly fall evenings, the warm radiated air cools, and fog forms.  The Susquehanna valley was so thick with it I was afraid we’d need a foghorn and running lights for our float trip.  It took hours to burn off and kept the morning hours cool, dark and damp to the point where Kelly and I did not have to communicate the universal ” WTF”; you can fill in the blanks…

Undaunted, we pushed forward into the fog, with none other than yours truly in the bow of the Grumman 17 “war canoe”, armed with my Scott 7 weight loaded with a Murray’s Blue Shenandoah popper, #6.  Kelly paddled and immediately demonstrated his skill by positioning the canoe for my casts to the bank water.  About the time we hit the confluence of the Owego Creek and the Suskie, I had hooked a decent bass and LDR’d him.  A little while later I practically pulled the popper out of  the mouth of a bass on a splashy take.

It was difficult anticipating the type of water ahead with the fog so soupy-thick.  We no doubt missed some good holes along the way.  Before long we could hear the roar of cars travelling I-86 West.  We floated by a very deep eddy that Staff Hydrologist Dan said was a good place to fish for channel cats and then we hit the broad run Dan and I had fished early Friday evening and after that, the rapid and pool I had eyed but couldn’t reach.  I was a little disappointed that no bass answered my dinner bell as I fished the pool, especially after I had switched to my fave sink tip line and black #6 Murray’s Mad Tom.

Below the rapid was a deep pool, possibly a half mile in length.  Here, along the rocky shoreline, I picked up my first decent bass, several smaller bass, and eventually a nice walleye, brilliantly mottled in green and gold.  As we slowly worked the river edge, a small skiff with outboard silently emerged out of the fog like some ghost pirate ship.  Two locals in camo were slowly trolling up the river for walleye.  They acknowledged so, but had no ‘eyes’ to show for it – nothing but a 15 pound carp.

The river meandered along – big, beamy, and deep – and then shallowed out where the river valley widens and where cornfields bordering both sides have probably been tilled for a century or so on the fertile river bottom.  Out of the pastoral calm all hell broke loose – shotguns roaring in multiple blasts.  Kelly and I flattened in the canoe, thanking Grumman for something that could take a hit or two and wondering what the hell the Taliban were doing up this way.  Goose hunters they were; we could hear them from their cornfield blind chatting after the aerial bombardment, then calling more geese in.

The fog finally started to lift and Kelly broke out the Rolling Rock ponies to calm our combat jitters.  “From the glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe” he nobly quoted, to which I reminded him that this was now an Anheuser Busch product brewed in Newark, New Jersey.  Still, the golden lager had a clean crisp taste and went well with the ham and swiss sandwiches I packed.

Just below the combat zone there was another river-wide riffle followed by a deep and swirling eddy.  Big silver maples shaded some of the pool and a nice bass made a big splashy rise.  We paddled over and with one cast I  was hooked up.

A nice bass that splashed once too often...

A nice bass that splashed once too often...

This bigger bass surprised me, not fighting hard at all until it realized the thing tugging on its jaw wasn’t giving up and then ripping line off in numerous surges as I worked it near the boat.  A  quick picture ashore was followed by a gentle release.  At that point we realized we still had a way to go to get to the Nichols takeout so Kelly could be home for a 1 pm swim coach meeting.  We quaffed another round of ponies, and got the paddling on.

The river continued pretty much the same – broad, flat and deep, with some shallows here and there.  Eventually we passed another riffle where the river poured down into an eddy and funneled along a shaded river bank.  I stuck to fishing the mad tom and picked up some more quality bass.  We passed an old fisherman releasing a bass he caught on a spinnerbait.  He greeted us and passed on that he had just lost a 6 – 7 pounder – the biggest of his life – in that shady run.

Soon we could see the Nichols takeout, boats coming and going – people out enjoying the fine morning.  We hauled out under bluebird skies at 11:30.

Kelly, holding the catch of the day...

Oarsman Kelly, holding the catch of the day...

We arrived back in Owego in time for Kelly’s meeting, and I was off and homeward bound.  The day was still young, and sunny, and wonderfully warm after such a cool morning, and in the back of my mind was the fact that smallies are cold-blooded and the afternoon warmth would energize them and the daylight fading would signal them to put on the feedbag, AND, on the way home I’d be driving by the honeyhole, and well, what the heck…

By 1:30 pm I was butt-deep in my favorite hole on the river.  On the third or fourth cast just below a weed line I hooked up solid.

Susquehanna smallie...

Big Susquehanna smallie...

The fish launched out of the water, dug deep and bulldogged for the current.  I knew if it got into the fast water it was gone, so I tightened down on the drag and slowly worked it back into the pool.  The fish jumped 4 times – standard smallie fare – but then pulled a totally new trick when it tail-walked horizontally, as if it was swimming over the water’s surface!

I fished a while longer and for once, in the clear sunlight, saw the reason these fish have been hanging in the deep current below the weeds: black-nosed dace were everywhere, congregating around the weeds.  I’m certain that any that strayed too far were jumped by the bass.

My efforts produced 2 more bass, and with that I decided to call it a day.  Wading back upriver I watched an osprey soar high above, peering down.  I thought of all the fish this raptor could see from that height – fish that in some cases may never see another fisherman in a river this big – a river whose pools, eddies, riffles and runs could never be thoroughly fished in a day, week or month in a canoe, let alone a lifetime…

Tight lines…

Downriver from Owego

Posted in Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing on September 19, 2009 by stflyfisher

Editor’s Note:  Unfortunately, I lost the pictures for this post in the process of downloading them to my computer.  What I don’t understand is how this could result in losing the pictures from my picture card as well.  Anyone with knowledge of the whereabouts of these pictures should report this information to the STFF Security Chief (that’s me, the editor, until a suitable candidate is found).  My apologies for a picture-less post…

Yesterday afternoon STFF Staff Hydrologist Dan made good on his promise to fish with me at a favorite spot on the Susquehanna, a spot he and another fishing buddy fished a number of times over the past few years.  The area we fished is just below the riverside village of Owego.  The name of this quaint village is a colonial bastardization of “Ahwaga”, the name the Iroquois gave to this place.  Ahwaga translates to “where the valley widens”, a most appropriate name.

Dan and I parked at a rest stop off Rt 17 just below the Owego exit and accessed the river through an infamous “hole in the fence”.  I could see by the wear in the steep path down to the river that this spot was frequented often.  We descended to the river and started by fishing a broad area at the base of the access point, a section of the river characterized by good current and difficult wading due to numerous boulders and a large cobble bottom.  The wind wasn’t helping our cause, howling up the river and in some cases causing whitecaps to form, but it wasn’t long before we started picking up a few bass – small but fat and feisty.  This part of the river is big and featureless at first glance.  It pays to fish with someone who knows the river; in my case I was relying on Dan.

The area we fished dumps into a long deep pool and at the end of that pool, the river doglegs to the right slightly.  Dan promised this was good riffle water, and after making the long walk downriver, I found he was grossly understating his claim.  There were not one, but three good riffles; a riffle on the left side that runs down a steep rocky bank, a riffle in the center, and a faster rapid that forms a deep eddy on the right side.  We fished the left side first and connected with bass pretty quickly. These bass were more of the same from before, with a few fallfish thrown in.

As the afternoon turned to early evening, the overcast sky opened up, the air warmed a little with the sun, and the wind began to drop.  A front had obviously blown through, as predicted by the weather forecasters.  We continued to fish the dogleg – all but the right side rapid which was not accessible by wading unless one got out of the river upstream and walked the bank down (I’ll save that water for tomorrow’s Owego to Nichols “bass express” canoe trip).  The fishing action seemed to cool down and as the sun started to drop, I headed upstream to the tail of the long pool to see if I could find some bass.  Dan stayed fishing the middle riffle, which caused me to suspect he was on to something.

A fairly reliable fishing pattern is to fish the tails of deep pools towards evening.  Bass are light-shy, but when the sun starts to drop, they will often drop back to the shallow pool ends to feast.  Many times you can catch these fish with a surface streamer, popper, or even by waking a big, well-greased fly, steelhead style.  I set up to do this, and was rewarded with another “chunk”, but that was about it.  It was getting late, and dark, and there was a bit of a hike to go to get to the access point.

As we climbed out of the river, Dan mentioned he had managed to raise a big guy in the middle riffle (confirming my earlier suspicions).  He was fishing a lead-eye “bugger” directly downstream when the fish apparently hit his fly with gusto – as in rod-jerking gusto.  He said he had it on a while and then, as if it had enough of playing around, and as smallies often do, it jumped high and spit the fly.  The smile on Dan’s face – the words describing the hook-up – that was enough to cap a fine evening on the river.

Stay tuned for more on this section of the river, and hopefully some long overdue pictures.

Tight lines…

What’s Ahead for the Weekend

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing on September 17, 2009 by stflyfisher

After Staff Hydrologist Dan bailed out on some after-work fishing plans due to last-minute work and family commitments (the nerve of the guy!), I headed down to the Susquehanna anyhow and enjoyed a couple hours of decent fishing.  The river is cooling down – now at 62 degrees F – due to the downright chilly evenings we’ve been having.  The water clarity is excellent and the flows just right, AND, the bass are hungry!

Looking ahead, we’re seeing a little rain in the forecast…

Go ahead, give us your best shot...

Go ahead, give us your best shot...

but with our amazing dry spell of late, thanks to the prayer for good weather, that shouldn’t change the river conditions one bit.  And speaking of “the prayer”, not only has it helped us to dry out, but it sent the rain west to help out STFF friend Scott, of Cutthroat Stalker (http://scarles.org/blog/).  Scott reports the trout in his neck of the woods are a little too thirsty these days.  Check out his blog if you want to enjoy some fine writing, great pictures, and interesting posts.

As we head towards the end of the month, don’t forget to renew your New York state fishing license, and be ready to fork over $29 this year (up from $19) thanks to our recent economic woes.  If you fish marine coastal waters and certain tributaries, you’ll need to open the wallet again to purchase a separate recreational marine license ( another $10).  Check out the New York state DEC website for more info (http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/6091.html).

Finally, looks like STFF Swimming Coach and Head Canoeist, Kelly, is ready to take none other than the STFF CEO himself on an excellent adventure fly fishing trip to untouched smallie water on the Susquehanna below the pretty riverside village of Owego.  Departure is scheduled for early Saturday morning – how “early” is still under negotiation.

Stay tuned, and tight lines…