I had that feeling yesterday morning – that gut feeling that tells you “today could be the day”. Granted, the forecast didn’t look good,with heavy rain to the tune of 1/2″ expected. And then there was always the possibility that work would delay me, that some Friday afternoon manufacturing crisis might arise and hold me prisoner into the evening.
I went to work after posting about the bad weather forecast. Meetings and conference calls filled the morning, so much so that it was noon before I was able to check on the weather. I expected the worst, but instead saw it had rained only slightly. The parking lot was damp at best. The sky remained lightly overcast. Maybe once again the prayer for good weather (https://stflyfisher.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/prayer-for-good-weather/) was working. Maybe this was the day to hit the Susquehanna – the big river that has eluded me all year.
The rain began pelting the southern tier just after lunch, but the showers were scattered, intermixed with longer periods of light overcast. Work kept me away from the windows of our building until about 4 pm, when I began to get the itch. It got hard to focus. I found myself stuck in my office with someone whose conversation sounded like the parent scolding Charlie Brown – all I could hear was wah wawa, wah, wa-wah wah wa. It was time to go…
By 5:11 pm I was on the road headed for the river access, and by 5:40 pm, I had waded downstream to a spot that features a great convergence of waters; a broad river riffle, two river braid creeks, a broad bay with weed lines, two rock mounds creating a deep run, and below the rock mounds, a long pool with good current.
I had my 7 weight rod rigged with sink tip line and an olive #6 Whitlock’s Near Nuff Sculpin. The sky was solid overcast and starting to darken the day. And the river was a nice 70 degrees F, still higher than where I like to see it but with decent clarity.
I started fishing the broad riffle in the main part of the river. In the early mornings and late evenings I’ve seen smallmouth erupt in this fast water like bluefish on the blitz, terrorizing baitfish and sending them fleeing for their very lives in all directions. The bass tend to hunt in wolf packs, hitting a panicked school of baitfish in what appears to be a coordinated attack. Sometimes the action is so intense that the big bass porpoise completely out of the water as they thrash the school. It is a sight that can leave even the calmest of fishermen with trembling hands and a racing heart.
I cast upstream and let my fly swing down, jigging it erratically with my line hand to make it look like a wounded, disoriented sculpin swept along with the current. I then let it swing out and stripped it across in short bursts. I did this for about five minutes when from behind me in the relatively still water of the bay, I heard crashing and slashing of the water. Turning, I saw bass busting bait.
It always happens this way, it seems; bass hitting on top and I’m rigged for subsurface fishing with a lead-eye streamer no less. I know from experience that these blitzes don’t last long, so I just turned and cast toward the commotion. My first cast went unanswered – my second cast hit the mark. One strip is all it took to feel a heavy head-shaking connection followed by the immediate somersault of a big bass clear of the water. It ran, sulked, jumped again, and headed for the heavy current I had just been fishing. We tussled some more and then the line simply went weightless; the fly had pulled and my heart sank.
I cast again amidst the crashing bass. Half a strip and I was on again. This bass was another nice one, not as big as the first, but quite respectable. He, too, turned into a long distance release. Another cast or two and I was again tied to a bass. I’m always amazed at how strong these fish are, especially, the big guys, and this one gave me a run for my money, down and dirty, with no acrobatics. When I finally lipped him, I decided to haul him ashore to get a quick picture.
I returned to the riffle break beside the pool. There was more hit and run surface action and on my first cast I hooked up with what was another quality smallmouth.
Just as quickly as it had started, the pool went quiet, still as a mill pond. I switched out my sculpin for a #6 Murray’s Dying Minnow streamer. This fly casts like a dream and with it, I could reach out further without spooking any bass in the pool. I cast up into the current and worked the fly slowly along the river braid creek where it entered the pool. I worked the entire length of the current seam back down into the deeper water, and there the fly stopped, mid-swing. This bass fought deep and hard up and down the pool, making one last run for the current, where I stopped it short and brought it to hand.
I switched back to the lead-eye sculpin and picked up 2 more bass, and believe it or not, 3 walleyes, the last one being a nice 17 – 18″ fish.
With the dying light and a long wade to the access ahead of me, I decided to call it quits. And as if the heavens were nodding with my decision, the sky opened up with a soft steady rain. The sounds of the night, the cool rain pattering on my jacket, the warm river swirling around me as I pushed against the current, that good tired feeling after some great fishing; all of these things made for a wonderful welcome to fall.