Kelly’s Excellent Canoe Adventure
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…