Archive for May, 2014

Earn this…

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing on May 25, 2014 by stflyfisher

Most of my blog audience are undoubtedly familiar with the movie, Saving Private Ryan. The movie’s blockbuster sales and ratings seemed to indicate how good it was, but the A minus grade given by one audience of American WWII veterans who participated in the D-Day invasion is even more telling as to its realism.

While there are several themes playing in the movie, a haunting line towards its end – perhaps the thesis of the movie – is what was on my mind as I nymphed a stretch of Balls Eddy on a beautiful Memorial Day last year.

The West Branch above Balls Eddy...

The West Branch at Balls Eddy…

This tradition of fishing has been something I’ve been doing for a number of years. There’s an old cemetery adjacent to the Balls Eddy fishing access and it is at that cemetery where I first witnessed a solemn and heartbreaking tribute to those who paid the ultimate price. The place is a simple rectangle of fertile river bottom, walled in fieldstone. There are a few trees there and the graves are adorned with flags, the lawn neatly cut. It is a peaceful place. On this past Memorial Day, the sky was blue, the birds sang sweetly, and the river ran by in hues of blue.

Hallowed ground...

Hallowed ground…

I was on the river and fishing by 8:30 a.m., and at exactly 9:05, heard the volley of shots that marked the day. They crackled through the river valley, then came round again in echo until the sound of the rushing water of the riffle finally silenced them. A few drifts of my nymph rig through the ‘rainbow’s den’, as I call it, resulted in my indicator plunging down in the fast water, the hook set, and a rainbow trout that leaped repeatedly and then made spastic runs in the heavy current. The flash of this fish, its strength, its athleticism made me feel good. After landing it and releasing it, I sat down, watched the river, and remembered the movie.

At the end of Saving Private Ryan, the elderly Ryan is seen visiting the grave of Captain Miller, the Army Ranger officer who led the mission to bring the young Private home after so many of his brothers had been killed in combat. Ryan pays tribute to Captain Miller with the following:

“My family is with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel coming back here. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. And I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”

Earlier in the movie, with Captain Miller slowly dying from wounds received while defending a critical bridge crossing, Ryan hears his last words:

James… earn this. Earn it.

"James, earn it, earn this"

“James, earn this, earn it”

As I listened to the rush of the river and the wind in the trees, I slowly came to the realization that Memorial Day is more than just honoring the casualties of war. It’s really more remembering the dead by celebrating life, and celebrating life in a way that honors those words so simply spoken by Captain Miller. In this country, we are free to choose how to live our lives. That freedom was bought with blood, their blood. In getting up early and going fly fishing – in doing good things – in living life the best we can, we earn it, and by doing that we remember them. And, as my grandmother once told me, no one ever dies if they are remembered.

Balls Eddy

In remembrance…

Pond surprise: Grassie on the fly…

Posted in Carp, Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 19, 2014 by stflyfisher

Just a quick saunter behind my house lies a pond. I’ve profiled it here before. Easily viewed from our deck, it’s about 1.5 acres in size, shaped like a kidney bean with one half much larger than the other, and with a small overgrown island dotting its middle.

The view from my backyard deck...

The view from my backyard deck…

It’s an old pond by most accounts. One third of it has good depth – well over 10 feet – and because of this it is one pond that seemed to survive the fish kills reported this spring by many pond owners in the Southern Tier – the presumed result of a very frigid winter and low oxygen. The rest of the pond, however, is fairly shallow with depths of 2 to 4 feet.

Fall on Grippen Pond.

The pond, looking west over the shallows…

I stocked the pond with bass after we purchased our home. Over two summers, I dutifully caught and carefully introduced “breeder” bass as well as stockie size bass, along with lots of fathead minnows. The pond was already teeming with small, and seemingly stunted, sunfish.

These days I cruise the pond in a small kayak. In early spring, a wooly bugger stripped slowly over bottom will always catch bass along with an occasional hand-sized sunfish. Once temps warm up, however, the pond slowly grows “hair”. Duck weed crowds the banks, cattails sprout up, and all sorts of water veggies fill the shallows. It’s not long before a popper is the only way to fish. As summer heats up, the bass lay in the weedy shallows, and each evening, the pond awakens with the sound of bass crashing prey.

The bass are getting some size to them these days…

A great gamefish for the flyfisher...

A great gamefish for the flyfisher…

…and I’ve caught a number of big sunfish on bass-sized wooly buggers and poppers. Some of these brilliantly colored “pumpkinseeds” have mouths big enough to lip.

But there’s another fish in town. Our neighbor, and pond owner, had introduced a dozen grass carp a few years ago as a way, futile though it seems to be, to combat heavy aquatic weed infestation. These fish have grown big in the rich and weedy waters of the pond…

Grippen pond at dusk.  Not safe for swimmers...

Grippen pond at dusk in August. A weedy paradise…

Grass carp grow rapidly and that seems to be the case with the fish in the pond. I’ve watched them swim gracefully about, have seen them feeding at the surface, and have spooked them while quietly stalking bass in the shallows. Spooking a big grass carp is akin to throwing a hand grenade in the water. Their power, like big river carp, is impressive to say the least. And I’ve read a bit about them – that while they are mainly herbivores, they can apparently be caught on some baits and flies. Some innovative fly tyers have even developed flies that mimic aquatic vegetation.

A very life-like grass carp fly...

A very life-like grass carp fly…

I’ve thought about tying up something along these lines and sight fishing them. But starting late spring, my quarry is largemouth bass. I love their bad-ass ways. What better way to spend a pleasant Saturday evening…

This past Saturday evening I decided to hit the pond in usual style. I fished a chartreuse colored popper – a classic bass pattern with a lot of hackle and long yellow legs. It’s cup-faced for noise with a good sized hook (#2) and I fished it all of the bassie places. My first fish was a huge sunfish, ablaze with pumpkinseed colors, its belly big. I released it quickly, thinking it might be a pre-spawn female. I then went on to catch a number of bass. Most of their takes were explosive, as were their leaps for freedom. And then I had a take I just didn’t understand.

In between “chugs” – popper sitting – wake rings subsiding – it just seemed to disappear in the water. I lifted my rod and connected to something solid and heavy, accompanied by a good bit of thrashing. Then I saw a blackish back, silvery sides, and a broad tail and knew this was no bass.

I got my line on the reel and waited for the run. It didn’t happen at first. The fish thrashed about, shook it’s head, apparently comprehending the resistance this bug was giving it. Then it took off, my 9 foot rod bucking, reel screaming. It made a few nice runs like that, zigged and zagged under my kayak, towed me all about the pond. As it finally tired I began to think, there’s no way I can land this fish in the kayak. So I played it some more and slowly back-paddled to a shallow bank, where I beached it.

Grassie with a chartreuse lollipop...

Grassie with a chartreuse lollipop…

I was pretty impressed with this grass carp. They are far more pleasing to the eye than their golden cousin and their mouths are a lot more, well, fish-like. This one had quite the gut too, though I’ve seen a few in the pond that are even bigger.

Fishing friend Eric once confided that he never fly fishes for carp intentionally, but has no problem crossing one. That has been my experience as well. I’ve landed only a few big golden bones on the local rivers while fishing for smallmouth, and have straightened my leader on far too many that almost got away with my fly line. Maybe one day I will get so addicted that I’ll drop everything to intentionally fish for them. For now, however, it’s almost better just running into them by accident. After all, there’s that first moment of “what the hell is this”, followed by, “it’s big whatever it is”, followed by, “better get it on the reel”, followed by, “hang on”… And who’d a thunk – a carp on a popper! A fly fishing first, perhaps?

Nothing better than a Saturday evening on a pond...

Nothing better than a Saturday evening on a pond…