Archive for February, 2013

Jack Perch and ‘The Greatest Generation’…

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2013 by stflyfisher

It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.
Rather we should thank God that such men lived.
George S. Patton, Jr.

Yellow perch are a blue collar species of fish, and I write that with praise. They show up for work in their green-barred overalls trimmed in bright yellow as if they’re ready to watch a Green Bay Packers game.

Jack perch - the kind of yellow perch Richard liked...

Jack perch – the kind of yellow perch Richard liked…

They are the quintessential working man’s fish species; reliable as a quartz clock, massing in large schools, and endearing bait and lure anglers alike for their willingness to strike nearly anything that happens to scoot by their snouts. What they lack in size they most certainly make up for with a feisty attitude on the hook, and even better, their ability to grace the plates of anglers looking for deliciously mild fish. In some northern locales they are regular menu fare. I enjoyed some of them myself this summer while fishing with a good high school friend in the Thousand Islands.

I’d tangled with yellow perch in my spin angling days, but I’d never heard of ‘jack perch’ until I met John, a coworker and good friend. John’s father, Richard, a life-long Buffalo resident, fished for them in the Niagara River. Turns out, the jack perch is a bigger badder yellow perch, meaning that Richard preferred his perch on the big side.

John and I worked together a number of years, then went our separate ways to the call of different jobs, different careers. As is often the case these days, one must leave home to keep employed, and that’s just what John did, leaving New York to continue employment in Florida. We have kept in touch to this day, and until recently, I’d always ask about his father, Richard, and his pursuit of jack perch.

As he got into his 90’s, Richard’s health declined. John would tell me how he didn’t fish any more, but he’d still park by the river and watch others fish. And then came emails reporting hospitalization – good days and bad days – and finally, Richard’s passing.

In the aftermath, John shared a picture of his dad with a stringer of perch. He looked the part – a true fisherman – not all ‘tweedy’ as they say in some fly fishing circles. Plain and simple as the fish he pursued.

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But there was more I never knew about the man who loved jack perch. He learned the building trades as a young man and then in 1942, answered the call to war and enlisted in the Army Air Force. He joined what I believe to be a version of the Navy Seabees – a combat engineering and construction unit that built the airbases from which the United States waged war – the 818th Engineer Battalion (Aviation), or EAB.

detail_PP383GLJohn shared a copy of his father’s discharge papers, and quite frankly, I was blown away by what I read. Under a section entitled ‘Battles and Campaigns’, was listed; Ardennes, Central Europe, Normandy, Northern France, and Rhineland. For those not schooled in military history, his unit participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the campaigns to take back Northern France, the Battle of the Bulge (Hitler’s last attempt to break through the Allied assault in what was considered the impenetrable Ardennes Forest), and the final assault of Germany. Indeed, according to what I read on one website on the 818th EAB…

This battalion landed on Utah beach on June 30th, and followed advancing armies through France to Luxembourg and to the Nancy area, engaging in the construction of 18 airfields. In the “Bulge” area, the unit was forced to mine and guard their installations. Y-46 at Aachen was one of the first fields in Germany, and the 818th built 12 S and E strips east of the Rhine.

During 3 precious years of his youth, Richard no doubt grew up quickly. He fought in the most historic battles of World War II, participating in the great struggle to defeat a tyrant who nearly enslaved the world. In doing so he witnessed the absolute best and worst of mankind.  Then he was honorably discharged and returned to Buffalo where he married and raised a family, worked, went to church, watched Buffalo sports teams, and, … fished for jack perch. Richard was 95 years old when his heart finally gave out and another member of ‘The Greatest Generation’ left us for the final call. I know he is bank-side once again, watching a bobber float down flowing waters, surrounded by those who left this good earth before him.

Fly Fishing Goals and World’s Most Interesting Man…

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on February 8, 2013 by stflyfisher

My grandfather on my father’s side was a most interesting man, but not “most interesting” in the zany way a successful Dos Equis beer ad has been running recently…

My grandfather had less hair, but the skin tone is right on…

He wasn’t known for bowling overhand, sky-diving in a kayak, or shooing a pet mountain lion from his kitchen counter, but he was most interesting in his mannerisms and the way obscure factoids on his life would pop up in conversation. There are pictures of him, for example, on his “ersten tag” (first day) in Kindergarten – in Germany that is. Mind you, he lived in Staten Island, NY, the only child in a rather wealthy family. There are pictures of him in full Ivy League raccoon coat regalia, and pictures of him standing most majestically atop some hill in Mexico, his side arm prominently displayed (he apparently had spent time with a rich Uncle in Mexico at a silver mine back in the Pancho Villa days)….

Pancho Villa – one most interesting man crosses another…

…and pictures of him in front of his freshman alma mater, RPI. He was apparently kicked out of school for being more partial to parties and other such collegiate fun than his studies.

He was a quiet man, but his mind was anything but quiet. He was both curious and fascinated by absolutely everything and when I would visit with him in his golden years, he’d frequently remark, “explain to me Robert, how do they do that?…”

One of his great quotes, in response to anything that required his time and attention, was; “I’m studying it…” Though he was definitely in the running for patron saint of procrastination, the old man was very smart and a relentless student of life which kept his mind as sharp as a razor until his dying day at the age of 95.

As covered in a post last year, I decided to re-write my fly fishing goals. My intentions were good, and sadly, I can’t even use my grandfather’s procrastination veil as an excuse. I never did publish them last year, no less re-write them, as a matter of fact. So, as promised most recently, I’ll give it another go, here:

1) Catch a lake trout on the fly – lake run or from the lake.

2) Catch one of the following saltwater game-fish on the fly: a bluefish, striped bass, or weakfish.

3) Begin fly tying – focus on perfecting three patterns, with a goal to catch fish with these patterns.

4) Float fish the Susquehanna; Campville to Owego. There’s some good water back there.

5) Practice and improve my casting distance and accuracy.  Learn to single haul and double haul.

6) Fish with friends – enjoy their company and learn new skills and places to fish.

7) Learn to tie one new fishing knot.

8) Fish for steelhead. Did it once in 2012 – do it more in 2013.

9) Fish Handsome Brook. Fish it a full day, good and hard with a lunch break at Gilligan’s Island (best burgers and ice cream around!).

10) Night fish for trout. Always wanted to do this!

Life is short. A day not fished is a day never to be fished. If I can accomplish 6 to 7 of these goals, it will be a good year, indeed. Here’s to 2013, tight lines, bent rods, and plenty of head shakes…

 

Looking back on 2012

Posted in Fishing Reports, Saltwater, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , on February 2, 2013 by stflyfisher

By most accounts, 2012 was a strange year for fly fishing in the Southern Tier of NY. Local anglers I’ve talked to didn’t know what to make of the wild seasonal swings, and fishing seemed to be mixed, at least according to my journal, with phenomenal days followed by not so good outings during other parts of the year.

Thanks to a warm spell in late winter / early spring, fly fishers enjoyed great fly fishing for trout. Instead of a bone-chilling opener, anglers basked in relative warmth and fished near gin-clear water conditions. Even the pre-opening fishing on waters that were open, like parts of Cayuta Creek, shown below, was excellent.

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Some anglers reported early season dry fly fishing – as early as March 7th – which is unheard of in these parts. Note the water level and clarity of the West Branch of the Tioughnioga (below) in late April! I didn’t have my fly rod when I took this picture but brown trout were actively rising to caddis, leaving me drooling…

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While the trout angling got even better in April, another surprise opportunity was the smallmouth bass fishing in local rivers and streams. Rivers were at low levels thanks to the lack of snowpack. Normally, bass fishing on the larger rivers is not possible until late spring at the very best. I kept eying the “big four” in our area – the Tioughnioga, Chenango, Chemung, and Susquehanna – and watching the USGS water gauge. Even the main branch of the Susquehanna looked enticingly fishable as shown in this picture taken in late April. As a reference, the point to the left in this picture would normally be covered by 6 feet of water at this time of the year…

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After reading a post by fellow fly fishing blogger, Dave Pelachik, I decided to give the Susky a try and boy was I glad I did, as detailed in a post I did soon after my trip. My only regret is not spending that entire day on the river…

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Fly fishing in general was outstanding on the Catskill Rivers. The tailwaters were able to maintain flows throughout the season: the freestone Willowemoc and Beaverkill were not quite so lucky. In any case, the only ‘off’ part of the spring was the effect the weather had on the hatches. They were in some cases very strong and early and in others, such as the March Brown hatch, reported to be non-existent. But the trout were hungry. One observation I noted in my fishing is that I did not see the same proportion of rainbows to browns that I normally do, but the browns were certainly in very good health.

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While the smallmouth season started out with a bang for me, late summer fishing was for some reason a bust, at least on the Susquehanna where I fish it. It got downright befuddling at times, to the point where I began to hunt the smaller Tioughnioga and upper Chenango. Interestingly, these rivers fished better than the main branch of the Susky. Noticeably absent during much of my fishing on the Susquehanna were the younger year class bass, which normally prove to be a nuisance.  These fish were present on the smaller rivers but their absence in the bigger water is a mystery to me.

The West Branch of the Delaware continued to fish well into June…

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While summer fishing was slow in some ways, the largemouth bass on the pond out back of our house were ever willing to slam anything tossed their way. And the white fly hatch in early August on the Susquehanna was epic, but didn’t seem to bring out the bass for me, at least.

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Saltwater fishing was also a mix. I fly fished Meyer’s Hole near Barnegat Light, NJ on the July 4th holiday, and was fortunate to run into schools of very willing shad that clobbered my clouser streamer to the point where it was nothing more than a jig with no tail feathers. These mini tarpon were a blast, leaping on every hook-up. These were 1 to 3 lb fish, but mingling among them were houndfish, a gar-like fish that on two occasions attacked my clouser streamer and ripped line as they streaked across the surface of the water like an airborne torpedo. My houndfish were not quite the size of the monster shown below (but they were a good 3 feet in length), but these are respectable game fish, and keep your hands away from the business end!

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The party boat fishing was also a mixed bag. I went with my cousin Mark over that same July 4th weekend and we caught ‘cocktail’ blues on jigs. We won the pool, believe it or not, with a blue just shy of 2 lbs. We split the winngins at $65 a piece. Go figure…

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Later in the year in September I fly fished the bay again with nothing to show for it – then headed out on the Miss Barnegat Light for blues and did nicely, again using jigs. These were 6 to 14 lb fish – the kind that leave your arms sore and put a big smile on your face. Anglers drifting chunk bait in the slick did better than us jiggers. The fish seemed a tad picky – unusual for the ever-hungry bluefish.

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Bass fishing in late summer seemed to pick up for me. On one morning I did very well fishing the tail of a pool in the Susquehanna. I had noticed the distinctive water disturbance left by bass chasing baitfish and positioned myself to swing a white Murray’s streamer across the tailout. These fish were very aggressive and were marauding the very shallow parts of the tailout. I landed 4 very nice bass and lost 2 more before the action slowed. One fought like a snag the first few seconds, then had his way in the strong current before I lost him.

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The Finger Lakes trib runs never happened unfortunately. I was ready and willing, but the rain just never came strong enough to trigger staging fish to move up the creeks. Oddly, rain did hit the Catskills late one week in October and I knew it would be the perfect set-up for streamer fishing for pre-spawn browns with attitude. I hit the West Branch of the Delaware with the river settling but still nice and murky. The streamer fishing could not have been better. 8 browns, colored up, the males with kypes and besting 18″ came to hand, with as many or more electrifying short takes including one practically a rod’s length away from me.

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Striper fishing in the fall was an absolute bust thanks to Hurricane Sandy. I took a trip Thanksgiving weekend with my son, Chris, and no one on the boat caught a fish. I also caught a skunk on the Salmon River in November. The salmon were done then, and steelhead were caught, but not by this angler. Sometimes a river demands its dues before it graces your net.

It was certainly an odd year for me, book-ended by absolutely bests (early smallmouth and fall browns) and filled with some days when an angler should have stayed home and got some things done. What’s most important though is the learning and the loving of the outdoors. One often forgets a day not fished is one less day fishing.

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