Youth…

Youth has no age.

Pablo Picasso

I arrived at the post office parking lot in Lisle and parked my car as I normally do, off to the very far corner of the lot facing the flood dike, a mountainous wall of green. Beyond the big berm that protected the village lay the river, flowing timelessly, emptying itself to bigger rivers downstream, it’s brother the Chenango, and its bigger brother, the mighty Susquehanna. Soon enough a mini-van pulled up alongside and 3 happy kids burst out the doors. I greeted them and asked the first, Ben, the boy twin of 15, if he knew what river we were fishing. His response was immediate, “the Tioughnioga”, pronouncing it correctly to my surprise. Then I asked him to spell it, which he did almost as easily. I was impressed…

It took a while to string up the 4 rods; one each for Ben, Corrine (twin sister to Ben), Bodie, younger brother, and Mike, father and coworker. I searched a streamer / nymph fly box and tied on what I thought might work for the smallmouth bass and fallfish that called the river home. I chose a variety of nymphs and streamers, including the Carey Special, tied by fly fishing friend Eric Tomosky.

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One version of a Carey Special. Picture courtesy of fellow fly fishing blogger, PlanetTrout.

Soon we were off on our way to the river, crossing the flood plain, then climbing up the tall dike bank and stopping at its top to survey the river below, moving clear and happy. Mike’s kids then scrambled down the grassy bank, with Mike and I following them to the  river’s edge.

The river edge was a high clay bank, a man’s height to the water, steep and abrupt as if it was guarding the river from easy access. The bank was the result of years of spring floods cutting the mud and clay of the flood plain. Those floods had scoured and cut the bottom to its bedrock over time, creating a long deep pool. As we spied its depths, we could see big carp cruising up river, then sliding back into the murky depths of the pool, like they were playing a game in the current. Here and there, smallmouth bass, walleye, and fallfish swam about, and for all of these fish it was tempting to cast to them but experience had taught me to skip the fishing there for now. The area was completely void of trees and was open to the bright sun, making all the pool’s residents very wary, and rightfully so with eagles and ospreys around. The setting sun would beckon us back when the time had come.

Just below the bridge the pool tailed out and ended with the start of a riffle. We crossed there to fish from the far bank where it was shallow and forgiving to hapless waders such as kids may be. On the way down-river the kids busied themselves with the life of the river. Ben immediately caught a crawfish with his bare hands and examining it, patiently unpricked the crustacean’s hold on his fingers with the patience of Job and without so much as an “ouch.” The little crawdad was a mix of colors – dark olive and faint orange. As we waded across the rock-strewn shallows, they scattered by the dozen like cockroaches do to a newly lit light.

The riffle we crossed fed into a run that cut against the opposite bank. This piece of water had always been rich with small bass, fallfish, and walleye. When I first fished it, I became almost agitated by the plenty of small fish. It was one of those places that screamed bigger fish but several years of summer and fall fishing had never produced anything larger than 10″, so I deemed this spot beginner’s water, but never ceased to fish it quickly and thoroughly on the way to the deep pool below it.

We waded in at the head of the run, spread out, and began casting. I left my rod at the bank and moved around Mike and his kids, giving pointers, untangling lines on occasion, trying to be a good “guide” and hoping my advice might produce some fish. For whatever reason, the smallmouth bass were on vacation that day but fallfish and small walleyes filled the void. Mike caught a few, then Corinne caught one but Bodie and Ben were fish-less.

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Mike and his kids lined up fishing the Tioughnioga.

While Corrine and Bodie were enthusiastic, it was Ben who stood out as one who really enjoys fly fishing. I watched him cast apart from the others. His casting stroke showed promise. He’d look up as he cast, even watching his back-cast. His determination was admirable, especially with a fly rod and line that was, in my opinion, holding him back from improving. At one point I tried casting his rod and found it flat. The line itself seemed like level line and the rod was slow and awkward. At that point I picked up my own rod and asked him if he wanted to try fishing the deeper pool below.

We waded down below the rest of the group, moving down the river a few steps at a time, casting with each few steps. I would cast and hand Ben my rod, instructing him how to strip the fly, how to point the rod tip low at the fly, and how to keep in contact with the fly. He picked this up quickly. We waded down into the deep pool where the week before, as well as many times before that, I had caught large channel cats.

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I had wished Ben could have felt the tug of a nice channel cat on the fly rod…

I wanted badly for him to feel the solid stop of the fly on the strip, or better yet, a jolting take, and then the good hard “tug of war” that catfish play so well, but it was not to be that evening.

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The deep hole where I have caught many channel cats on the fly. This is leech water too!

As the sun set, I decided it was time to make a move upriver to the deep pool above the bridge where earlier, we had watched large carp, smallmouth bass, and walleye flirt in the current. I moved up there with Ben in tow. Corrine and Bodie followed, with Mike in the rear. Fishing from the far shore did not produce anything, so we waded back down at the tail of the pool, crossed, and walked back up the steep bank where we could have a better look at what was going on.

The fish were still there. At least a dozen big carp were milling about, some displaying feeding postures as they ransacked the bottom with their rubbery mouths. The smallmouth were there too, often times trailing the feeding carp waiting for a morsel the carp’s bottom carousing might stir up to drift downriver, hapless and helpless – an easy meal. And we could see fallfish and walleye as well. So we began to cast.

Mike started picking up small walleye here and there. They seemed to like the movement of the large black hackle on his Carey Special. I surmised it looked leechy in the water, and no walleye can pass up the seductive dance of a swimming leech. Ben, Bodie, and Corrine all tried, but with time Bodie and Corrine seemed to have had enough, and wandered off back to the car to change out of their wet clothes. Ben was relentless and his fervor grew more intense with every walleye Mike caught. Mike would hand his own rod to Ben but the magic seemed to vanish, only to come back when Mike cast again.

I was casting for a shot at the carp. Again, if I could entice a take, I wanted to give Ben a chance to feel the power of these fish. I cast and cast, trying best to lead the feeders but sometimes forgetting to take into account the drop of the steep bank. Eventually I got better and at last got a nice follow from a carp. It pursued my crayfish imitation with serious interest, but I ran out of water. I let the fly go to the bottom and the carp nosed down at it but just short of sucking it up, turned away. Smart fish, they are.

We continued fishing as dusk came. Corrine and Bodie returned from the car, Corrine pointing to a fat leech on her leg. I laughed as Mike continued to fish. I had warned him days before our trip that without waders, one could pick a leech up in the muddier parts of the river. He later explained the kids were used to them from their vacations at big backwoods lake in Maine. Indeed, Corrine seemed unfazed as Mike tried to remove it. It was firmly attached and I slipped my hemostats under the head and finally yanked it off without so much as a word from Corrine, tough girl that she was.

We decided to give up the ghost as the light faded. Back at the cars we said our goodbyes. The kids were in Mike’s minivan as fast as they had bust out of it earlier that evening.

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Looking downriver on the Tioughnioga as dusk approaches. The native American Indians that called the Southern Tier home named it to mean “meeting of waters”. Difficult to pronounce, the name is as beautiful as the river and its surroundings.

Driving home, I paralleled the Tioughnioga through the village of Whitney point, passed the Chenango in Binghamton and then crossed the Susquehanna as I sped along Rt 17. My mind relived the hours past – walking down to the river bank with the anticipation of a kid on Christmas, seeing the great carp as they held in the current of the river, watching young Ben eyeing his back-cast and beginning to form loops, drinking up the enthusiasm Mike’s kids brought to the river. I realized then how important it is to fish with kids, even if just once in a while. For heading home that night, I was young again…

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