Archive for April, 2012

Early season bronze…

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Uncategorized on April 26, 2012 by stflyfisher

I had an inkling, way back in January, that this might be a bad year for trout and a great year for smallmouth bass fly fishing. Last year was quite the opposite…

September 2011: Susquehanna River Flooding

The epic flood of 2011: the Susquehanna River ravages bank-side trees.

…plenty of cold water all year for trout, and way too much water for smallmouth bass fishing, causing an almost non-existent fall bass blitz. Anglers, especially the troutey types, have long suspected that without our typical snow-pack, the early season would be sweet-then-bitter; that is, relatively low flows and clear water, abnormally great early season fishing with phenomenal bug activity, followed by VERY low water, high temps, and trout-threatening conditions – and not bittersweet as it normally should be with mostly unfishable high water, followed by great late spring and summer flows, cool water, and normal hatches.

So it’s no surprise that, until most recently, I’ve been witnessing the East Branch of Owego Creek dwindle to what appears now to be early summer flows. Likewise, until recently, I’d cross the Main Street bridge from Endicott into Vestal and look for the telltale riffles that are my indicator that the river is ready for fly fishing. Normally I don’t wet a line in the Susky until July, at the earliest.

I’ll credit local fly angler Dave Pelachik for giving me the nudge to do something about what turned out to be the smallmouth bass fly fishing perfect storm. After reading of Dave’s success with early season smallmouth, I couldn’t help but think that the same thing could be happening on my beloved Susquehanna. The trib that Dave fished and the Susquehanna River are two completely differently acting bodies of water, but I started wondering if Dave’s trib success could be a leading indicator for my own on the Susquehanna.

A drive by my favorite spot on the Susquehanna on Saturday, April 14th, was the impetus to action. Driving north with my wife for a bit of wine tasting in the Finger Lakes, I did an “eyes right” on the spot as we sped by on Route 17 and boy, did it look good. As a result, I was up very early the following morning. I questioned whether I might be better off fishing the smaller rivers like the Tioughnioga or Chenango, but in the end, the pull of the big river and the possibility of big fish was too great. I succumbed to it and arrived at the DEC access at 7 a.m., and by 7:30, had the great pool in sight.

I focused my efforts on a long riffle that sweeps down into a deep chute of water. This riffle water borders a large pool that is fed by two river braids. I fished a conehead olive wooly bugger on a sink tip line, casting across and upstream in the riffle and letting my streamer swing. On my second cast I was rewarded with a heavy surge on the line followed by very solid thumps as a smallmouth turned broadside to the current. The bass fought like every bass does – dogged, determined, and never-giving in, all the way to hand…

Early season bronze...

That first bass, as with all first-of-the-year bronze, reminded me why I come back and fish our great rivers. Not long after releasing this heavy-bellied bass, I was into another quality bass with a totally different camo scheme…

Another fine bass with very different underwater camo...

Over the next few hours, the fishing just got better. I was in the zone, in tune with the fish it seemed, or just lottery-lucky to have found the right day, the right hour, and the right place.

Some of the bass were jumpers; others slugged it out beneath and on the surface. Colors varied just as much, but all were obviously on the feed. At one point, I hooked a nice bass and long distance released it, resulting in my fly rocketing back behind me. I promptly picked up the fly with a forward cast, only to feel resistance as if I’d snagged something. Spinning around, I found myself fast to another bass, but only briefly because of an obviously flawed hook-set!

After thoroughly fishing the riffle, I moved on to fish the adjacent pool. I worked the still water and the deep run from the bigger of the river braids and picked up a few more bass on an olive and gold zonker. I crossed the entry of the braid, worked it from the other side of the river, and the fishing really turned on. One of the bass I caught had a large minnow in its gut – another had the tips of two crayfish claws protruding from its  gullet. Every fish was beer-bellied, some almost grotesquely so. I could only assume the bigger ones were female bass ripe with eggs.

An olive conehead wooly bugger rang the dinner bell for this smallmouth...

In the midst of it all, I picked up two small walleyes and two nice-sized fallfish. Fallfish are feisty and readily take a streamer or nymph and what they lose in terms of jumping ability they make up for in flashy fighting. One of them came to hand with two others following it – something I’ve seen smallies do, but never fallfish. In several parts of this fishery I had found their huge “pebble pile” nests.

Of all the days I’ve spent on the river, this one was the best. I lost count of the bass, but had to have landed at least 20 – all quality fish – and lost half as many again. The hours I fished seemed to scream by, and soon the bewitching hour of 11 a.m was close at hand. I packed up, steeped in regret, and walked upriver to the DEC access. All the while, an imaginary angler taunted me with sage words of wisdom: “never leave fish”…

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Serendipity on Cayuta Creek

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on April 12, 2012 by stflyfisher

I’m a believer in serendipity, which I quote, as follows, from Wikipedia:

Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.

Just so happens I found it along Cayuta Creek, a favorite trout fishery of mine and one that has been profiled here before. I had stopped by on a recent Friday evening for a bit of after-work fly fishing and as usual, the “little gem” did not disappoint…

One of many Cayuta browns that couldn't resist a picket pin streamer...

Fishing one particular stretch that evening, I quickly got into quite a few brown trout – a mix of stocked fish and holdovers. My peaceful 2 hour interlude was interrupted only once by a spin fisherman whose pick-up came to an abrupt stop, with a roar of its exhaust, near where I was fishing. He climbed out of his burly red truck, rappelled down the creek bank, simply outfitted with spinning rod, sunglasses and cigarette, and briefly stopped to ask how I’d done. He then walked downstream, casting his spinner from the bank in rapid-fire fashion. After just a half-dozen casts, he dashed upstream and out of sight.

I found the trout willing to dance with a Picket Pin streamer that had been sent a few weeks earlier, gratis, courtesy of Dave Pelachik of JJ’s Jigs. All it took to produce that magical buttery brown flash of a trout from the greenish depths of the pool was a cast across and upstream followed by a mend to get the fly deep and a few short strips on the swing. There were more short takes than I could count, but for a good while, this tactic produced a number of stockies along with several nice fish. Later, clouds of midges or tiny olives – I’m not sure which –  started hatching, with a few caddis interspersed, and the game changed. On went a Picket Pin wet and Godfather (pheasant tail) emerger. One out of every three or four casts was followed by classic staccato grabs on the swing that every wet fly fisherman dreams of in the depths of winter.

The fishing that evening was so enjoyable, I couldn’t resist another shot the following day. With my wife up in Rochester tending to my collegiate daughter, I figure I’d enjoy another day of the relative solitude that pre-opener fishing brings. I drove west from my home that Saturday and then north in the mid-morning overcast, belly full with the contents of the oh-so-good / oh-so-unhealthy Sausage Egg McMuffin I’d picked up along the way. It was another cool and damp day with spritzes of rain thrown in for good measure.

Driving along the length of Cayuta Creek, I saw only a few cars parked bank-side. But once I reached the special regs section above Van Etten, I noticed a somewhat familiar car in the exact spot I had parked the evening before. The tall gangly figure walking upstream along the road quickly confirmed my suspicions; it was none other than my long-lost fishing pal and former coworker, Dan…

I caught up to him in my car, practically squeezed him off the road, and extended a hearty hello. After parking, Dan patiently waited while I strung up – something I pointed out to him with emphasis since most times he’d be thigh deep in the creek before I’d barely donned my waders.

We fished the same run I’d fished the night before, then walked upstream to a favorite riffle below the bridge pool and fished the creek back down to where we parked, all the while catching up on goings on, re-telling old war stories, and enjoying the willing participation of the creek’s enthusiastic browns. I asked Dan why he hadn’t sent more flies to me, good tyer that he is, and he countered back about not getting him a ticket to the Al Hazzard TU banquet. Through it all, we both seemed at a loss to pinpoint exactly how long it had been since we last shared a day on the water.

Looking downstream on the "Little Gem".

I came that day not looking for anything but some quiet time fly fishing a special little creek, but as happens every once in a while in life, I found something else. As we worked one particularly deep hole, Dan mentioned the sudden passing of some former coworkers, and I could tell it was really bothering him. Interestingly, I too had just gotten word of a colleague from my past who had died at a still relatively young age. We talked about it and continued to fish, but maybe in the silence of each cast, we pondered our own tentative place on this good earth. Our banter picked up after that, as did the sharing of more good memories and the promise of more time on the water in each others company.

We fished every part of the creek on our way to where we parked. After climbing out of the creek and breaking down my gear at the car, all I could think of was a passage from T.S. Elliot’s poem, Little Gidding:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

It’s one thing to call up a friend and arrange a day of fly fishing, but quite another to arrive at the same place and pick up as if it had been thoroughly planned in advance. Serendipity is a good friend, indeed, and one I will cherish as long as I can wade a beautiful piece of water and cast a fly…