Archive for September, 2010

Just one last cast…

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing with tags , , on September 22, 2010 by stflyfisher

We’ve all thought, said, or murmured the phrase a million times: “just one more cast”. This mantra of anglers comes at the eleventh hour of a day on the water when we know we have to get back home for myriad reasons and the fishing has not been great, but we can still feel some luck out there. So we make that last cast and most times the results are no different than the 100 casts before, but every once in a while we are pleasantly surprised…

Such was the case for me this past Sunday evening. I only had time for 2 hours for fishing, so I hit a local favorite pool on the Susquehanna River for smallmouth bass. I rigged up with a sink-tip line and 1X leader and tied on a Murray’s Dying Minnow streamer. Casting at the tail of the pool and then across the riffle adjacent to it produced 2 decent bass and some fallfish, but with the cool water and tons of baitfish about, I was hoping for the type of action I’d recently enjoyed on the Chenango River.

I experimented with different patterns of streamers and fished some other sections of the river to no avail. Before hiking back to the car I returned to the pool tail-out for one last cast and was rewarded with a solid thump – the kind that catches you off-guard and puts a “yeah!” in the air. After setting the hook, a bass thrashed to the surface. At first it felt like a smallish fish. It dove and held briefly in the current but then about-faced downstream with supercharged vigor for a fish its size. I put the fish on the reel, thinking I might have underestimated this bass. With fly rod bowed nicely, I thought, “maybe this was one of those bass that suddenly grows in size when it feels the hook?”

I applied some drag, put the brakes to the downstream charge, and steered the fish with sideways pressure out of the riffle and into a patch of slower water, but even out of the current this “bass” was acting, well, very “un-bassy”. Missing were the acrobatics, the darting and diving, and the bulldogging for deeper water. The fight was plain old “down and dirty” – almost walleye-like – and I started second-guessing what might be at the end of my line. More pressure to raise the fish met more throbbing resistance. Finally, a very long green form emerged, like a submarine surfacing for air…

Musky bait on the fly...

The fish came up, porpoised and dove again, and as it did I saw the telltale markings of a musky, and that put a “holy crap” in the air, stirred renewed enthusiasm in my heart and put prayers on my lips of “dear Jesus, if only he’ll hold”. Alas, just as fast as I thought and prayed he was gone, the heavy bend to the rod lightened, and a very tired and limp smallmouth of about 12 inches came to hand. This poor guy had taken my fly with gusto, only to be taken himself with tooth and fang. Talk about a bad day: caught on both ends, no less! I took a quick picture but the pic does not do justice to what the jaws of our local underwater version of cujo can do to scaled and muscled flesh. Barely visible in the pic is a slash mark behind the pectoral fin that sliced open the bass halfway up his side. Other tooth marks were there as well – like bullet holes in the side of Bonnie and Clyde’s getaway car. This poor guy looked like he’d been dipped into a garbage disposal.

Remarkably, the bass was still alive, so I tried to revive him in the current a good while. Before long he was shaking his head and I let him swim off, a piscatorial version of Rocky back for another round. Friends of PETA might chide me for my act of mercy, but I thought any bass that could survive such an attack deserves a chance. Of course if he did not fully regain strength, there was that musky waiting back in the pool and a bald eagle and osprey that regularly patrolled the river.

After that last cast I left the river with a new-found longing for a fly box arsenal of long leggy-looking musky flies…

This is no wooly bugger...

I thought about that new 9 foot 8 weight JP Ross rod I’ve been reserving for the upcoming Finger Lake trib runs, the heavy mono I have for a tooth-proof leader and a long-handled boat net I use in the salt. Then the lyrics of the Jimi Hendrix song, “Foxy Lady”, blasted away in my head…

“I’m coming to get you….”

Tight lines…

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Mojo found…

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Writing with tags , , , on September 12, 2010 by stflyfisher

In “The Spy Who Shagged Me”, Austin Powers wakes up one day to discover he’s “lost his mojo”. Devastated, he goes about doing whatever he can to retrieve the magic stuff that makes him a man of extreme attraction to beautiful women world-wide.

If Austin can lose it, so can you...

I suppose anglers have their own version of losing their mojo as it relates to piscatorial pursuits. There are some fly fisherman out there who seem to bubble over with the stuff, have the masculine chin of Dudley Doright, and knowingly or not, seem to veritably rub it in no matter what they do on the water as we lesser types flail away. Most of us mortals do come up short, sometimes for brief periods – but sometimes for longer than admissible.

Such has been my case this summer. Whereas the Susquehanna has behaved itself well, the hunting has not been good. I plied my favorite pools and riffles with little to show for it. At first I considered it bad luck and then maybe poor timing. Every technique I tried, including dead drift nymphing, failed to get more than a few smallmouth wannabe’s. Ultimately I gave just gave it a rest for a while, attributing my string of poor results to the weather, which was supposedly the hottest on record (figures from the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University show 28 cities from Washington, D.C., to Caribou, Maine, set record highs for average temperature from March through August) and one that had warmed the river to feel like a bath-tub. Beneath that official Southern Tier Flyfisher statement, however, lurked the possibility that I truly had lost my mojo…

Come September and the world once again seems to be one groovy place, baby. Two recent trips to the often-overlooked Chenango River have proved quite successful, the first a week ago in the late afternoon and another trip just yesterday.

This swift run is at the head of a long, deep, and smallmouth-infested pool...

Both trips started almost immediately with hookups on the much maligned fallfish.

Fallfish often serve as a marker species for smallmouth...

Fallfish are wrongly referred to as “chubs” by many who come across them on the river. They aggressively strike nymphs, streamers and even dry flies and while they are no smallmouth bass, the bigger ones will put a good bow in a 7 weight fly rod. The New York state record (and potential world record) fallfish, weighing in at 3 lbs., 9 ounces, was caught in our very own Susquehanna River near Owego last year.

Eventually I got into smallmouth, and the headshakes, jumps, and sheer bulldoggedness of their fight put a big smile on my face. The pool I fished was deep with good current, so I fished a sink tip line and caught many fish on a crayfish pattern, courtesy of Murray’s Fly Shop. The bass seemed to hit on just slight and occasional stripping of the fly and almost a crawl across the bottom.

Singer's Crayfish - smallies love 'em...

On my first outing the bass were very aggressive and for a while it seemed I was into a deepwater feeding frenzy. I later noticed inch-long dark brown nymphs in the mouths of some of them, a discovery which backs up the fact that smallmouth bass can be taken on big nymphs and even dry flies when the time is right.

Other patterns also produced: Murray’s Mad Tom as well as another favorite, Whitlock’s Near ‘Nuff Sculpin.

Chenango River smallmouth bass...

Yesterday’s trip produced fewer bass but bigger ones, including a real gem that I lost after a while and most likely due to a poor hook-set. A highlight of the trip was fighting a nice bass while a bigger cousin cruised alongside to see what the fuss was all about. I’d never witnessed this in any of my river fishing though I’d seen it on various televised fishing shows.

Now is the time when smallmouth start to feed aggressively. Cooler nights and the resultant lower water temps seem to signal the bass that it’s time to feed up and get their own “mojo” on…

The Chenango River, looking upstream...

Tight lines and happy hunting…

Fishermen…

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing on September 8, 2010 by stflyfisher

I managed a few hours on the West Branch of the Delaware recently since the local warmwater river haunts were still somewhat high and discolored from a previous spate of rain. While the West was flowing at nice levels, it too had a bit of a stain to it. To those who plan on fishing the tailwaters in late summer / early autumn, be aware that as the weather cools, turnover begins taking place in lakes and reservoirs. Dropping air temps cool the surface water which turns more dense and sinks. The sinking colder water displaces the underlying warmer water, causing an upwelling effect. This cycling continues until water temps reach equilibrium. Any time turnover is occurring, the tailwater drainage picks up color. And as I drove home from fishing on Saturday, the upper section of the West indeed, was very stained, much more so than it was at Ball’s Eddy. When these conditions prevail it is best to fish the lower West for clearer water, and the farther downstream the better.

We fishermen are an odd lot; anyone who plies the waters on this good earth in search of fish is indeed one who remains a little set off from the mainstream. And the ways we ply our trade vary widely: I may be over-simplifying, but on one extreme are bait fishermen – “fundamentalists” – and, dare I say, at the other are the purists, those who seek to elevate the techniques of angling, such as casting, for perfection’s sake.

I set about Saturday morning to nymph a long run that always seems to yield nice trout. I cursed the stain in the water as I fished into mid-morning; the wading levels were ideal and around 9:30 clouds of blue wing olives began lifting off with the strong breeze that moved up-river.

Another fisherman soon joined me. He was an older gentleman, clad in olive drab waders and vest, topped with an old camo hat. He waded into the river slowly and confidently like a king grizzly arriving to partake in a fresh salmon run. He had a bait canister hanging low from his neck and was using a fairly stout spinning rod. Every so often I would turn around and watch this river rat as he worked the water below me – deftly and deliberately following his bait with his rod high in the air. Occasionally he would lift up almost imperceptibly as if he was allowing his bait to swim just above the every rock of the river bed itself.

After a short while I could tell he was into a nice fish – a brown, no doubt – and he played it with this same slow and steady style, carefully working it shoreward. I watched with dread expecting he’d kill the fish, unceremoniously string it up, and then return to his baitfishing ways, but I was relieved when I saw him do the exact opposite; releasing the fish with the same care he seemed to apply to everything he did. So good was he, in fact, that he never touched the fish in unhooking him – and the fish seemed to realize the gentleness of his soul, because it barely thrashed as he held its head slightly out of water and with one flick of his wrist, dropped it back to let it fight again…

The goodly bait fisherman at work...

The old gentleman continued his crawl downstream and caught another nice brown in due time. I could smell a smokey cherry fragrance of pipe tobacco on the air and noticed a cloud of smoke about him as he fished. I let him be after a little more fishing of my own at the head of the pool. The river was not prejudiced in its reward as I caught two feisty rainbows before deciding to call it a morning.

Heading back to the parking access I stopped briefly to watch a dry-fly purist in action. This younger man perched in a fine drift boat, anchored at the tail of the pool above the run I had just fished. His gaze was fixed on the glassy water below him, rod extended and cocked for action. I soon saw what he was after: trout were sipping the water below him at irregular intervals. I watched him awhile but suspected that in the bright light of late morning in such shallow clear water, his chances of hooking up were slim-to-none. I left him too, not wanting to distract him from his match-of-wits game…

I reached my car and began the process of breaking my equipment down and shedding my waders. The parking lot was filling up with anglers setting out for the day, most with drift boats in tow. But one angler was not at all anxious to fish and I immediately recognized him and his blue Jeep from many past outings.

The caster at work...

This older gentleman always parked in the same location, had the back-end of his vehicle open, and would either be carefully practicing fly casting or sitting in a chair by his Jeep taking a rest. He was a very competent caster based on the loops I saw him throw. Perhaps he does this to improve or maybe he does it just to dust off “his wings” prior to the evening hatch but whatever the case, he represents someone dedicated to his craft.

Sometimes you go fishing and catch fish. You come home feeling good and tired and happy, full of fish stories, and a little more schooled about your quarry. Other times, for me at least, you come home a bit wiser about the ways of fishermen. You learn from them in interesting ways and in so doing, realize that just maybe you are a better fisherman because of them…