Archive for November, 2009

A STFF Thanksgiving…

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on November 25, 2009 by stflyfisher

Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones, like Jeff, a recent visitor to this blog, who, in the company of another angling friend, celebrates the start of Thanksgiving Day on Fall Creek every year.  Most of us with families, and especially those who have angling-averse families, must resign ourselves to the traditional family get-together; watching football, drinking, and eventually sitting down at table adorned with turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, gravy, more drink, pumpkin pie, and more drink.  It’s not all bad, mind you.  It’s just that the holiday is all about giving thanks, and what better way to give thanks than to catch and release a few.  Symbolism is great…

Thanksgiving at STFF headquarters. Note the happy faces, the gala atmosphere...

No matter, my destiny this year, as in all years past, is chewing on a drumstick while visions dance in my head of jigging for stripers and blues on the DorisMae’s Thanksgiving trip off Barnegat Light.

Now mama always said, if you’re handed lemons, make lemonade, and so I decided to assign a little research regarding this historic event to the ever-scholarly STFF staff in hopes that their findings might support a change in the family tradition – a change that might even extend to a cultural renaissance of this feasting holiday.  What follows is sure to enlighten thee…

First off, a little background for those non-history types.  The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620 – towards the end of the striper run, oh by the way.  Apparently the Pilgrims were not too skilled with jig or fly, because their first winter was terrible.  They lost 46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower.  The next year, however, smiled on the survivors, as the harvest of 1621 was bountiful.  The colonists, along with 91 Wampanoag Indians (credited with saving them from complete disaster), decided to celebrate their good fortune with a feast.

Some broiled bluefish, Squanto?

And what did that feast include?  Well, our research shows many variations in the menu, but by most accounts, one controversial item that may have been missing was, of all things, turkey.  Turkey were present in the wild at the time of the first Thanksgiving, but the word “turkey” was used by the Pilgrims to mean any sort of wild fowl.   Good ole’ gun-toting Governor William Bradford apparently sent four men “fowling”, so more than likely, any “turkey” in the center of the table were wild sea ducks or geese.  Also missing from the feast was the potato, considered poisonous by many Europeans at the time, and dairy products, since there were no domestic cattle available.

From other accounts and records of daily life in Plymouth, we know that rabbit, chicken, squashes, beans, chestnuts, hickory nuts, onions, leeks, dried fruits, maple syrup and honey, radishes, cabbage, carrots, eggs, and possibly goat cheese were available, although not necessarily all used in the same meal. The corn was most likely in the form of meal rather than on the cob, and pumpkin would have been served in the form of a pumpkin pudding or stew, and not in a crust.

Most noticeably “on the list” were some items few Americans would ever consider to be Thanksgiving table fare.  Governor Bradford lists bass, cod, and “other fish of which they took good store”, these fish being herring, bluefish, and lots of eels. Clams, lobsters (without the drawn butter), mussels, and oysters were undoubtedly part of dinner, too.

All they need is a little cocktail sauce...

So seafood, yes, seafood, made up a good part of the original Thanksgiving meal.  And how might that seafood come to our modern-day Thanksgiving table?  You guessed it; flyfishers and hardware fishers alike could go out and catch, and maybe this one time not release, their favorite piscatorial delight for part of the feast.  Imagine the pomp and circumstance as the weary fishermen return in the early afternoon and spread their bounty across the table for all to marvel over.  This addition to Thanksgiving would strengthen the tradition, put smiles on the multitudes, and kill TV ratings around all the damn football games that play that day.

I therefore propose that the readership spread the word.  This isn’t your grandfather’s Thanksgiving anymore – go forth and fish up some fare, and put a little Thanksgiving in Thanksgiving…

To all, a safe, belly-expanding, and joyous holiday…

Tight lines…


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The Finger Lake Tribs are Up!

Posted in Fishing Conditions with tags , , , on November 20, 2009 by stflyfisher

Finally, a good drenching rain…

Fall Creek is no longer falling...

Fall Creek had dwindled down to what seemed a comparative trickle.  There’s no USGS chart for Salmon Creek, but I suspect that it was in the same shape.  Last night’s rains might have been just the ticket to trigger fresh browns and landlocks, staging in the lake, to move up the tribs.  Air temps will be cooler the next few days too.  Could be a nice weekend!  Get out and enjoy…

Tight lines…

Ida – Not Ideal

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 13, 2009 by stflyfisher

Here at STFF headquarters, the plans for a great bluefish / striper weekend were well underway.  The forecast for the Barnegat Light, NJ, area was ideal, up until Wednesday evening.  Granted, this trip is a bit of a departure from my normal fly fishing fare.  I’m not accomplished enough in the salt, nor do I own a boat, to really “assault the salt” with feathers.  Instead, I generally fall back on the mono with jigs or bait.  Ardent fly fishers – give me a few more seasons, and the hardware will go…

Anywhoooooo, I was pumped for a long weekend, until I decided to check the weather Wednesday night, just before I began gearing up.  What I found got me down, big time…

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Enough to make you bite the cyanide capsule...

Horrified, I called STFF field headquarters in Barnegat, NJ and learned it was all true.  The Grandpadre – my Dad – said the winds were very strong out of the northeast – 25 to 35 mph – and gusting to 60 mph.  A classic Nor’easter spells really rough seas and bad fishing.  After swigging at my martini on the rocks, I gained my composure, and announced the trip was dead.  Grandpadre did not disagree…

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Today's confirmation...

I checked again today, and the weather continues to deteriorate.  Thanks to Ida, and a stubborn high pressure system, the mid-Atlantic is taking a pounding.  The party boats in Barnegat Light are surely not venturing out and who knows how long this will impact the great fall migration of hungry stripers and blues…

I guess I’ll need to look north – to the tribs.  The flows on Fall Creek are mighty thin, and the temps have been so-so.  Not sure what will develop for the weekend, but I’ll keep my eye out…

Tight lines…

Taunted by Waters…

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , , , on November 11, 2009 by stflyfisher

Most fly fishermen who watched the movie, “A River Runs Through It”, or better still, who read the novella of the same title, know the intriguing sentence that ends the story; I am haunted by waters.”

That sentence came to mind several months ago when the Madre announced that we’d be attending our niece’s baptism in Pittsburgh on the very weekend of the much celebrated, always anticipated, blues / striper fishing trip out of Barnegat Light, NJ. For reference, this blog had not yet breathed words into the blogosphere when the first trip took place, but it was a BEAUTY – one of the best days of saltwater fishing I’ve ever experienced, to wit; over 20 bluefish in the 10 – 14 lb. range, including a few real gators, and numerous stripers, one of which was the pool-winning fish of a lifetime…

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I'm in the back row, under "For info" on the sign...

Shrugging those fond memories, I tried to act enthusiastically supportive about the weekend plans, but as reality set in, made the mistake of letting my true underlying feelings fly from my mouth like bats out of a cave:  “But that’s my striper trip weekend!”  The conversation went way downhill from there…

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The route through flyfishing heaven...

Roll time forward to this past unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday, and Madre, Padre, and Sadre #2 are happily driving along Rt 14 through the “pennsyltucky” countryside, following STFF Staff Hydrologist Dan’s directions and a fine travel guide of notes he provided for the trip that read like the National Park pamphlet you’d pick up at Gettysburg or Yellowstone: “You’ll travel on Rt 14 south of Canton through the towns of Roaring Branch, Ralston, Bodines, and Trout Run, paralleling the famous freestone trout stream named Lycoming Creek…”

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Looking upstream to a nice riffle on Lycoming Creek in Ralston...

Naturally, I had negotiated conditions for this trip.  I’d be allowed a few photo-op stops along the way, one such stop being Ralston.  Two springs ago Dan and I fished a pleasant riffle on that section of Lycoming Creek and had caught a number of nice rainbow trout, when amidst the creek-side tranquility of that cool spring day, an older lady sporting rubber hip boots and plaid lumberjack shirt and wielding a spinning rod that could have been used for surfcasting, waded bow-legged down below us.  With a Camel dangling from her yap, she most politely and eloquently asked; “they ‘bitin’?”.  Needless to say, we moved not long after she made her first cast with a bait rig that consisted of a bank sinker and a gob of nightcrawlers that could choke a 14″ trout…

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Ralston's world-famous historical marker...

Photo’s complete, we drove on down Rt 14, past Bodines and Trout Run, yours truly at the helm, driving with one eye searching that beautiful roadside creek.  Eventually we entered Williamsport and from there headed west, past the thriving metropolis of Jersey Shore – famous birthplace of, you guessed it, our very own STFF Staff Hydrologist Dan.

Not long after driving by Jersey Shore, Dan’s travel notes alerted us that we’d be over-passing the longest “creek” in the world – Pine Creek – pronounced “pine crick” in those parts – a major trib to the West Branch of the Susquehanna.  I was expecting some middling water, rife with riffles and brush-lined pools, but in fact, this “crick” is a wide river – a clone of the upper Susquehanna.  Dan noted this section is full of smallmouth, and that farther upstream the creek turns very trouty, looking more like a great western trout river than a central Pennsylvania limestone stream.

We soon entered the hallowed Nittany Valley, famous, in Dan’s words, for its class “A” wild trout waters.  Here we’d find the state’s two most noteworthy coldwater fisheries; Fishing Creek and Spring Creek.  Dan suggested a stop in the town of Bellefonte, and waxed poetic in his little guide; “If you get a chance, stop in Bellefonte and park downtown, walk by Spring Creek and witness mammoth rainbows feeding leisurely on sowbugs and midges.”

I was able to convince the Madre to make the detour – a minor diversion in our 6 hour trip – and have to agree with Dan that Bellefonte is, indeed, well worth a look-see…

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Rainbow city...

The town, architecturally speaking, was beautiful, but my eyes were drawn to Spring Creek – an absolute urban fly fishing paradise…

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Those long dark shapes below the ducks are not weeds...

Rainbow trout were everywhere, holding in the current, along with a few huge Palomino trout.  For those not familiar with this “swimming billboard” of fish, the Palomino is a golden-orange rainbow trout raised under artificial fish culture conditions and stocked as a state novelty.  The golden rainbow was developed from one fish, a single female trout with a genetic mutation that gave her a mixed golden and normal rainbow trout coloration.  She was found in a West Virginia hatchery in 1954, and through selective breeding with regularly-marked rainbow trout, a golden rainbow trout was developed.

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That long orange-yellow shape is a Palomino trout - advertising itself...

Moving along the creek wall, I quickly observed that mallards and black ducks would immediately position themselves below anyone standing along the creek, anticipating a feeding.  The trout would then hold just under and below the ducks, knowing what was coming.  Armed with handfuls of trout pellets, Sadre #2 and I had a ball “feeding the fishes”, in godfather-speak…

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Padre and Sadre #2 - sight feeding...

The throwing of pellets was great fun.  Those big Spring Creek rainbows knew the game and in some cases beat the ducks to the bait, streaking downstream to intercept the drift.

After a nice afternoon lunch break in Bellefonte, we got back on the road, passing Beaver Stadium which was already swelling with fans for a Ohio State – Penn State football game.  We sped westward, beyond trout country, to our destination just east of Pittsburgh.  The air continued to warm, the sun shined bright, and I thought of all the fishing I was missing.

I survived the family gathering of in-laws and out-laws.  In all actuality, our stay went far batter than I imagined.  But driving home on Sunday evening, I listened to the splat of mayflies and caddis at every river and creek crossing.  Worse still, upon arriving home, I made the mistake of jumping on the internet and learned that the striper opener on the Miss Barnegat Light was an apparent slaughter.  I am taunted by waters…

Falling for Fall Creek…

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Trout Fishing with tags , , , on November 3, 2009 by stflyfisher

When it comes to fishing new water, I’m a believer in humbly paying my dues.  I grossly lower my expectations and fish with head bowed low, hoping the fly fishing gods take notice.  These first trips are more “recon” than fishing – an attempt to learn the water with eyes wide open.

Some of my loyal readership know I’ve been itching to take a trip to Fall Creek.  I had heard the fishing can be great in the fall, when lake-sized browns and landlocked salmon feel the ancestral urge to spawn, but I had also heard it was a place requiring tribute (read, many fish-less casts) before one could “bring home the Cayuga Lake bacon”.

Those who angle the tribs in the fall know that a big push of cold water is all it takes to signal the lake’s trout and salmon to make their annual spawning runs, so last week’s heavy rains and cool weather were just what I was waiting for…

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The kind of chart for trib fishers love...

After spending a good chunk of Saturday “leaf-plowing”, I decided to give Fall Creek a try early Sunday morning.   I set up my gear the night before, turned back my Seiko Monster for Daylight Savings Time, and hit the sack.  I was up and on my way at “0” dark-thirty Sunday morning; it was still dark when I pulled into a local McDonald’s / Express Stop for an Egg McMuffin and a fill-up of petrol.  By the time I crossed the river bridge in Owego, it was just light enough to see a high and muddy Susquehanna, a river far different from the one I fished as summer transitioned to fall.  The trip up route 96B to Ithaca was relaxing – the Catatonk Valley’s mix of heavily forested hills, serpentine brooks, and bucolic farms made for a nice drive.

I arrived at the parking area off Lake Street and quickly rigged my rod and donned my gear to the roaring music of Ithaca Falls, the largest of the Finger Lakes falls at 150 feet in height and 175 feet in width.  It was a short hike down to the creek and the gorge pool…

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Looking upstream from the tail of the gorge pool to the falls...

I fished the gorge pool using a sink tip line, a 1X tippet, and a weighted purple streamer.  As the sun rose and lit the morning, fishermen began to arrive in numbers I was not used to after fishing the Susquehanna in late summer / early fall.  I watched one angler below me expertly flipping a long orange bobber with what looked like a fly rod.  I spoke with him out of curiosity as he moved by me on his way upstream and found he was fishing a centerpin rig.  He had hooked a few small fish but was still in search of bigger fish, like the 27″ male landlocked salmon he reportedly caught on just such a rig the previous year.  For those not familiar with centerpin fishing, it’s a deadly way to fish a bait, typically an egg sack or worm, using a bobber for a drag-free drift.

I decided it was “recon” time after working the gorge pool and watching fishermen stack up above me.  I slowly waded downstream, swinging my streamer – an easy and enjoyable way to fly fish on such a beautiful fall morning.  Below the gorge pool was some fast deep water, and further below these runs the river broadened, slowed, and ran largely featureless, save a few deep pockets in isolated spots.  I fished all the water the same – exploring this delightful Finger Lake tributary one cast at a time.

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The N. Cayuga Street and Rt 13/34 bridges, looking downstream...

I could see bridges below me and figured I’d fish downstream to them and then get out and hike upstream to fish the falls pool before heading home.  But as I closed the distance to the bridge pool, two things convinced me that this spot was worth a longer stay: 1) a fat and feisty rainbow nailed my streamer on a swing through a riffle, and 2) I almost stepped on a small landlocked salmon, holding mid-stream, as I got in position just above the bridge.

I changed my fly to an olive bead-head soft hackle wooly bugger, having read that olive was a good color for landlocked salmon.  I swung my streamer across and down, periodically wiggling my rod tip to give the fly some life.  The water appeared to deepen just above the bridge, and it was there, that a man scanning the water from the bridge above, spied two large shapes holding in the current.  “There”, he said, pointing just downstream and across from me.  “I’m not sure whether they’re browns or salmon, but they’re big fish”, he said.  “If I were you I’d move upstream a little and swing your fly just above that deep water”.  I thanked him for his advice, and did as he said.  A few casts across and down and my fly stopped dead as it swung.

I set the hook into solid head-shaking, and below me I could see the white of a big jaw, whipping angrily back and forth.  I stripped in my slack line and put the fish on the reel.  The fish, a nice landlocked salmon, held in the current, solid as a planer board trolling a spoon.

So unprepared was I for this early success, that my thoughts immediately turned to where the hell I’d land this fish.  I had no net, and the channelized banks on either side of the creek were fairly steep, so beaching was out of the question.  I let the fish hold upstream of me until I could find an area of slower water and, after two thrashing jumps, dragged him with side pressure to a slow water eddy along the bank.  I’d like to say I executed the perfect Lee Wulff atlantic salmon tailing, but in reality, I slipped as I moved shoreward, ending up flat on my back in the water with rod held high.  My salmon slipped under a tree branch hanging in the water, but I did manage to tail him.  A nearby angler helped me unhook my fish as I held him, and moments later was kind enough to photograph the evidence for posterity purposes…

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Well worth a dunking...

The kype on this male was, well, garish, to say the least.  The kype is to salmon, like antlers to a buck, formed when the testosterone starts flowing for taking care of the competition.  This bad-ass had marks from scraps he had already undertaken in the quest for some lucky salmon maiden.  I released him back to the creek and watched him effortlessly swim away.

I had read the temp of the creek to be 46 – 48 degrees, so it wasn’t long before I was shivering cold.  I got out of the river, shed my soaking shirt layers, and walked back to my car in my t-shirt and waders, like some bass-fishing river rat on a summer’s day, an odd sight for the many anglers dressed in heavy wading jackets and topped with ski hats.

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Fall Creek in late fall...

I left Fall Creek with mixed feelings.  I was delighted to land a truly magnificent fish – the original upstate version of the atlantic salmon that none other than Lee Wulff proclaimed to be the king of gamefish.  On the other hand, no angler likes beginner’s luck.  It often spells doom for subsequent outings until the fly fishing gods deem said angler is finally due again.  Better to get the lay of the water and work into good fishing than to start off with a bang and go fishless.

Racing back home with my car’s heater on high to fight the chill, I couldn’t help but stop to take this photo from a high point at the south end of Cayuga Lake…

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"Far above Cayuga's waters, with its waves of blue..."

Beginner’s luck or not, I’d be back to this special place, where salmon once ran so thick, native Indians speared them by the hundreds on their fall spawning runs.  To hold the progeny of evolution just once was well worth the risk of never holding it again…

Tight lines…