Early season bronze…

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”…


4 Responses to “Early season bronze…”

  1. Way to go!!!! It’s on!!! and for the month of May it’s only going to get better. With this slug of rain, more bass will be moving up the tribs. Life as a bass fly guy is GOOD now!!

    • stflyfisher Says:

      Thanks Dave. I agree that it should be a great year for bass fishing on those lonely rivers. Although I love trout fishing, there’s something about having a river all to one’s self, especially when the “bronze is on”…

  2. Bob Stanton Says:

    Your post reminds me of a smallie I’d caught a couple of seasons ago while casting to rising trout. He wasn’t big (13 inches or so), but as I unhooked the dry fly from his lip, I saw something unusual in it’s gullet. I took my forceps, reached down to the hairy, fuzzy mass and pulled out a chunk of…well, something. I reached back in and got the rest of it. Hanging from my forceps was the remains of a partially decomposed baby bird that the glutton had swallowed when it had been unfortunate enough to fall into the water. How long it’d been there is anyone’s guess I suppose, but I’d reckon at least several days. This is one of the many things I love about fishing – it’s a little window into a world that you wouldn’t otherwise see. Take it easy on those bass, Bob!

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