Archive for November, 2015

Indian Summer

Posted in Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Writing with tags , , , on November 10, 2015 by stflyfisher

The Indian Summer of life should be a little sunny and a little sad, like the season, and infinite in wealth and depth of tone, but never hustled.

Henry Adams

Indian summer is a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather that sometimes occurs in autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. The US National Weather Service defines this as weather conditions that are sunny and clear with above normal temperatures, occurring late-September to mid-November, and particularly after a killing frost. Such were the conditions when I set out on what was to be my second kayak float of one of the Southern Tier’s great warmwater rivers. I had my eye on Columbus Day weekend for a while, and as it got closer, kept hoping the predicted indian Summer conditions would hold, and that the river would remain low and clear. Thankfully, it held…

I set out early with a plan to launch from the Apalachin DEC fishing access but my pick-up plans were still a little in the air. Last year’s trip had been a float of the river from the same starting point to Hickories Park in Owego, but I had found out the hard way that those last couple of miles below where I fished were nothing but slow moving river and a tough, long, and arduous paddle. So I decided to see if I could float roughly 3 miles down to the choice fishing areas and then paddle back. There were a few places where I would need to haul my kayak around faster riffles and runs, but generally I felt it could be doable.

I fished this same stretch last year and wondered if it would be as good as my last visit. That trip brought me to totally unexplored water and absolute solitude save a few recreational kayakers. The varied water in what I refer to as the “outback” made for great fly fishing and a surprise visit from a musky that inhaled a 10″ smallmouth I had on the line and, though it was not hooked, would not let go of his meal for a good 20 minutes.

The river had been through a spate of dry weather since mid-summer and the river was showing it with flows below the 1,000 CFS mark. Low water tends to concentrate the fish a bit which is a help on such a big river but it can also make for spooky fish when the water is crystal clear and the sun bright. With that in mind I focused on fishing the northern bank on the float down, hoping the shady areas would hold some bass.

The morning was chilly and foggy but it did not take long for the rising sun to burn through. I drifted past my honey hole, about a quarter mile below the bridge, figuring I could hit it on the way back if fishing wasn’t that good below. I focused my morning efforts on some shaded downfalls that had produced some nice bass on last year’s float, but this year, no one answered my casts. Perhaps the extra skinny water was the culprit, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the day.

I paddled on and fished the bend in the river where weeds were prevalent adjacent to deep water and where again, last year, I had caught some nice bass. I thought for sure there would be some bass willing to play here but again, it was “no joy”.

Beyond that spot is what I now call, “the promised land”. This stretch of the river is a lot like the St. Lawrence in terms of the bedrock and boulders that make up the river bottom and shoreline. The water is deep here, yet out of nowhere, boulders and rock outcroppings loom large in the current. It is perfect smallie habitat and the home of at least one big musky. So I fished it thoroughly, and finally was rewarded for my efforts.

Love the chocolate brown coloring of this smallmouth bass.

Love the chocolate brown coloring of this smallmouth bass.

Maybe it was fly size, maybe color, but changing up to a 5″ long white deceiver I had tied for saltwater striped bass and bluefish fishing changed my fortune. Tied to a stout leader and an intermediate sink tip fly line, I cast to the shallows and stripped the fly across and through the boulders and the deep run of the river. I immediately hooked up with bass after bass, over a dozen and two of them real gems – full bodied, broad-shouldered. One of those two had a large baitfish tail protruding from its gullet, it’s belly extended noticeably. But even 12″ chunks, as I refer to them, eagerly attacked this big white streamer. And halfway through, so did a large green torpedo…

I decided to

I decided to “go big early” and fished a white deceiver, like this one, and the smallmouth loved it…

For the third time, I encountered Mr. Musky. My two previous encounters were while “bait fishing”, that is, catching a 10 – 12″ smallie on a fly and suddenly feeling it get REAL heavy. Both encounters were amazing in that the big guy on the end hung on to the “bait” for 20 minutes before finally having had enough. They were never actually hooked. This third encounter was an aggressive follow, but only as I swept the fly up and parallel to the kayak, getting ready to backcast.

Indian summer and fall splendor on the Susquehanna...

Indian summer and fall splendor on the Susquehanna…

I paddled back upriver around 2 pm and fished the shade of the southern side of the river, picking up a few nice bass and missing some more. The wind had started to blow with the warming of the day. Leaves littered the river and of course the wind blew my kayak around a bit, but I enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon and the vibrant fall colors.

I gradually worked up the river, then hit another run and riffle and got a good workout pushing my little boat home. I had passed my home pool – a favorite wading spot and the home of my largest smallmouth bass – on the way down, but on the way back I decided to fish it a bit before continuing on to the takeout. The night before I had stopped here to gauge the fishing and was smitten. I caught a large fallfish, a nice walleye, a good northern with a fat belly, and two very nice smallmouth bass. And on this afternoon, my second cast and retrieve came to an abrupt stop…

I was fast to another quality smallmouth and this bass was a fighter. Once in hand and released, I fished the rest of the pool and missed a few fish. It was beginning to get late and I still had to paddle / wade and tow my boat another quarter mile, then pack it up and head home. So I left my honey hole and towed my kayak home.

Terrific way to end a beautiful day...

Terrific way to end a beautiful day…

The drive home was as pleasant as it gets. I had enjoyed a long day on a beautiful river with not another angler in sight and enjoyed only the company of a few bald eagles, osprey, mergansers, Canada geese, and mallards.

A soft warm breeze blew through my open windows as I smoked a cigar and drove through hills painted in hues of scarlet and gold. Winter was not far off, but for now I enjoyed one last dance with summer – and a flirt with fall. Long gone were wet wading days on the river, shirt-sleeved evening slogs on late summer evenings. I felt blessed and happy for having another year of fly fishing and for having one last shot at fish before the winter snows arrived. And I could almost hear fall’s siren call to fish of all kinds – the basses, pikes, salmonoids, and trout – hastening the feed for some in advance of winter, and sending others upriver to spawn and create another life-cycle all their own.



Posted in Fishing Conditions, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on November 6, 2015 by stflyfisher

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.

Henry David Thoreau

He stood at the head of the run, atop a flat rock, fighting a good steelhead that behaved at first but then decided the thing pulling on its jaw was really getting annoying. The fish screamed downstream, and the big man on the rock dipped his rod to the river as if bowing to this majestic force of nature and let the drag scream away. Anglers on either side of the run dutifully retrieved their lines with Salmon River etiquette. But the big angler on the rock stayed put on his fishing perch and decided to stand and fight rather than follow the fish down-river.

I watched the spectacle, line in hand and I was annoyed, to be quite honest. ‘Move down and get below him’, I thought. Who would dare fight a steelhead from upstream, especially when just below the run the river turned really fast. But this angler stayed put atop the big rock and let his fly line arc across the entire run. His fighting position was almost defiant to the bank-side anglers below, as if to say, ‘I’ve got a good fish on and you need to watch me fight him’.

The steelhead did what it was born to do. The tug of war went on and my aggravation increased. ‘Why doesn’t this guy just move down below the fish’, I kept wondering…

Then I witnessed something truly revolutionary. The big guy on the rock started to steadily reel the fish up. Though his rod was bent deeply into the butt, rod-tip just above the water, he slowly cranked in, gaining line as if retrieving a fly bogged up with a wad of stream bed clutter. This went on for what seemed forever, and granted, there was a little tug of war in the midst, but he eventually got the fish to the point where the leader was just beyond the rod tip. I thought to myself, “OK, now I can fish again”.

The steelhead charged downstream as if the fight had just begun. Big guy followed it this time as there was an angler with a net at the end of the run. I started fishing after he moved below me but a while later he came walking back up the wall path. As he passed me he said with complete sincerity, “thank you for your patience”. He had lost the fish but regained my favor.

I asked what type of fly he was using, and it wasn’t long before I began to get hook-ups. Most of these were short-lived affairs – some the result of a poorly set hook, others a tribute to the brute power of these fish – a mix of king salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead. At one point, a snag turned out to be a very big king whose explosive leaps left me with a slack line and straightened 2X heavy hook. But eventually I got one to stick. After some good runs, a few jumps, and lots of head-shaking, I worked the fish up-river to some slack water just below the big guy’s rock post.

“Do you want me to try and land him for you?”, big guy asked, in an accent from a far-off state. “Sure”, I said, and a friend was gained.


A gift from a newly-made friend

I introduced myself afterward, to which he stuck out a huge, caloused hand and shook mine with the grip of a lineman. “I’m Tawm”, he said, smiling big and wide. He was an imposing figure, but had a laid-back warmth that immediately made you feel good just to be in his presence. “You’re obviously not from around here”, I said. He grinned, “nawww, from Maine but born and raised in Bawston”…

I asked him about his unique fish-fighting technique and he smiled. “Oh, a friend showed me that – he calls it walking the dawg”. “It doesn’t work all the time”, he continued, “but it somehow just calms them down in a lot of cases. I won’t chase ’em if I can avoid it.”

I had more hook-ups, as did he, including a dandy of a steelhead to which he complimented me in simple Tawm terms: “Nice”.


Courtesy of Tawm’s “walking the dog”…

And I fought that steelhead just like Tom did, eventually ‘walking the dog’, right into a net.

We fished side-by-side the rest of the day, though I felt a bit overshadowed by this gentle giant of a man. Fair skinned with a fireman’s mustache and very much commanding the run, Tawm greeted almost every angler on the run as if they were at a high school reunion. Anglers far different than Tawm, with accents straight out of “Rocky” or “My Cousin Vinnie”, shook hands and hugged him like long lost brothers. He knew them by name, called out to them, verbally sparring, joking, and laughing.

At one point, even though the action was steady, Tawm rested his rod and drew out a big cigar. Sitting bank-side, he deftly smoked the stogie, occasionally looking skyward. “Sometimes it’s nice just to sit back and take it all in”, he mused. I looked at him and thought myself a bit of a fool for going at fly fishing so damned hard all the time. Indeed, I had started the morning at 6:30 am, not taken a break for any kind of food, or water and in my haste to ‘get a spot’, had left my own cigar in my car.

“You seem to know everyone here”, I said, as he puffed away. He was deep in thought, and maybe, it was the very thing I was asking about that was on his mind. “I’ve known some of these people for years”, he said. “The fishing here is so good, but that’s not the only reason I come.”

The sun soon dipped beneath the ridge behind us and left the sky. The run darkened with the coming of evening and anglers slowly left in piecemeal fashion, but not one of them without some word to Tawm, including some colorful expressions that reminded me of my Navy days. Then Tawm packed up, and walked by me on his way to his car. “I’m wore out, just plain wore out”, he said.

I soon left too, plodding up the steep stone stairs to the parking lot above, my upper back and arms sore from casting and tangling with lake-run fish. It would be a long drive home but a very good one – one of perspective that eventually makes for a better angler and deeper human being. And though I’m not so sure Tawm was the type of man that would read Thoreau, he certainly lived like he did, making memories of fly fishing big rivers, but most of all, the people in them.