The End of Summer
According to the calendar, fall does not start until September 21st, the day in the year referred to as the autumnal equinox, or the time when daylight and darkness are again equal in duration. Of course, if you asked STFF Chief Astronomer Jay, one eager to advise on the ways of the universe, he’d tell you the autumnal equinox occurs on September 22nd this year, at 21:18 to be exact. But most people say goodbye to summer at the close of Labor Day weekend. Those who own cottages get ready to close them up and those who don’t own summer places are glad they don’t have that drudgery to worry about!
Since the southern tier never really had summer, it wasn’t hard to welcome in the fall on this Labor Day weekend, and I welcomed it the way any fly fisherman would; by fishing the hell out of the day.
This fall festivus started with the usual stop at the West Windsor McDonalds for an egg McMuffin, followed by a stop at the STFF Field Operation Headquarters – The West Branch Angler (WBA) – for a few nymphs and word on the fishing. As I crossed the bridges at Deposit and then Hale Eddy, I must admit that I was a little concerned with the milky green color of the water. The WBA added to my concern when they mentioned that “the crap” was still flowing.
Already somewhat committed to the West Branch, I decided to fish Ball’s Eddy with the sage advice of the WBA ringing in my ears: “just make sure you clean your fly”. But as I waded out to the “rainbow den” – that most beautiful of fast water hideouts – it was obvious that “the crap” wasn’t nearly as bad as my previous venture.
I fished everything I had in my arsenal; caddis larva and pupa nymphs, BWO nymphs and emergers, bead head pheasant tail nymphs – you name it. I experimented with weight, given that the flows were still up there. I finally fished an ISO emerger as my tail fly in the really fast water and coaxed a small rainbow to come out and play. This silver bullet jumped clear of the water numerous times like it had a firecracker up its butt. Whether or not the cloudiness of the water was a damper on the fishing I’ll never know, but it sure didn’t seem like the usual Westie to me…
I still had smallmouth bass on my mind after losing that very nice fish on the Chemung on Saturday evening, and I’d planned ahead for just such a contingency, packing the car with my smallmouth gear. Heading home, I just had to check out the upper Susquehanna at Windsor. I was glad I did.
The river looked damned good – flowing a little faster than I”d like, but nice and clear and a cool 65 degrees F. I fished my usual first spot – a wonderful riffle that dumps into a very deep pool and picked up a few small bass. I was fishing my 7 weight with sink tip line and a tan #6 Whitlock’s Near Nuff Sculpin.
I continued my downstream wade – casting down and across, working the fly with short strips as it swung. I began getting into better bass and fallfish the farther I waded from my entry point in accordance with STFF Hydrologist Dan’s “Law of Human Laziness” which states that fishing improves in direct proportion to the difficulty in reaching the location fished.
The upper Susquehanna is a very complex piece of water in comparison to any of the other rivers I fish. At Windsor, the river scours farmland plains and there’s quite a bit of erosion; hence the numerous river braids, side channels, and deep pockets of water. A serious warning to anyone wading this section of the river; be VERY careful. I have found myself wading relatively shallow areas only to practically drop into a deep pothole with no warning. I would not recommend fishing this stretch at night – wear polarized sunglasses and keep your eye on the water depth at all times.
Downstream of the first riffle, the river broadens, slows and deepens, and then divides again. I took the right channel down, planning on fishing back upstream on the other side of the divide. Below this divide, the river twists and turns like a trout creek. I caught one small stocky bass after another and the quality was improving. The river channel then broadened and deepened further. I fished my fly slowly in the deep water and caught a few more bass along with what would have been a very nice bass. As in the case of my Chemung River outing, this fish practically tore the rod out of my hand on one run, making me think I had hooked a big carp. But then the fish surfaced showing its beautiful light brown mottled flank, and soon after spit the fly.
The long slow pool produced more fish – small bass and fallfish – with a few nice ones mixed in. My sculpin streamer was certainly getting a good chewing. I finished my downstream wade with the sight of two immature eagles flying high above the river.
Wading back upstream after rounding the end of the river divide, I caught some more bass and, of all things, found clams.
Years ago, I’d occasionally see clam shells in the big Susquehanna and thought it odd for people to have a clam bake so far out on the river. Then on one trip to the upper Susquehanna I saw what appeared to be whole clams partially buried in the river bed. I picked one up and sure enough, it was the real thing. So this trip was not too different, except for the fact that there seemed to be many more of them: in some areas of the river I could count ten of them within my field of view, and some of these were the size of big surf clams.
With the river flowing at a good rate, the wade upstream was quite the workout. Fortunately, the overcast skies and cool rushing river water kept me comfortable. I got to the car and broke down my rod and stowed my gear. The evening was quiet except for the chirping of crickets and the sounds of the river running by. Looking to the hills surrounding the river valley, the impending change of season was easy to recognize. Isolated maples were showing some color – bright wisps of flame amidst the dark green hillsides. Other trees, most noticeably ash, locust, and sumac were also starting to turn. I left the river in a good state of mind and hopeful for the fall.