Archive for the Fishing Reports Category

Thanksgiving reprise: Stripers and The Promised Land

Posted in Fishing Reports, Saltwater, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on December 28, 2017 by stflyfisher

We stood there in the cold dark of a pre-dawn November morning talking about the plan for the day of fishing. Lights sparkled about the village of Barnegat Light just across the harbor. Greg said we’d fish “the promised land”, an area off Seaside Heights where the ocean water was warmer, the bunker thick, and where the migrating striped bass were congregating for a Thanksgiving feast. Even humpback whales had been reported cashing in on the autumn harvest…

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A humback whale breaches with a mouthful of bunker. Fishhead Greg is seen in the background working the bunker pods for hungry bass from his 21′ Parker center console boat. This beautifully timed picture was taken by Kevin Fresno fishing aboard Reel Fantasea Fishing Charters with Captain Steve Purul.

Striped bass migrate south in the fall and early winter and on the way, feed voraciously on menhaden, otherwise known as “bunker”. Menhaden is a big baitfish – they can reach 15″ in length – a literal cowboy steak for hungry striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish.

Greg fired up “the FishHead”, his name for the 21 foot Parker center console outboard that he so loves for its shallow water capability and it’s ability to fish near shore waters. We pulled up our neck gaiters and buttoned down as we sped out the inlet, rounding the north jetty where Greg opened the throttle for the long ride north. We were not the only boats on the way either. Big and small, open and cabin, we raced across a flat sea just off Island Beach State Park to “the Promised Land.”

Once at the Promised Land, we began to actively scan the horizon for bird play or other signs of fish. In their absence, Greg was wrestling with what to do. He had already suffered the day before when his client refused to do anything but fly fish. In the end it’s all about the client’s needs, but it was killing Greg to watch his client blind cast the water while boats all around were catching stripers on the troll. I was fine with conventional gear and even trolling gear. I wanted a striper on the fly, but I also wanted to take fish by other means if that was all that was working.

I was, in fact, dreaming of conditions Greg had reported on November 12…

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What every saltwater fly fisher dreams about – the surface feed. Picture courtesy of Greg Cudnik, Fisherman’s Headquarters…

And of the fish he caught on the surface bite that morning while fishing alone…

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Greg Cudnik with a dandy…

We slowly cruised around the area Greg had fished the previous week. The fish finder would go from blank to occasionally showing a big blob and a few random markings. Greg explained that the blobs were schooled up bunker, but he wanted to see them more spread out horizontally. If they were spread out, jigging or using the snag and drop – a technique where large weighted treble hooks are used to first snag bunker and then let them drop in the water and hopefully into the large mouth of a hungry striper. Either method would have been a good way to hunt bass. But as the bait was balled up, trying to position the boat directly over them as they moved about would be difficult, at best and akin to chasing fish. Given this situation and the lack of surface activity, trolling was the only viable option.

And so we trolled. Greg likened trolling to watching paint dry. He masterfully set up a deep bunker spoon on wire line, a mid-depth umbrella rig with swim baits, and a shallow running rapala-like diving plug. We trolled at 3 mph, chatted, but also scanned the horizon. It wasn’t long before the bunker spoon rod took a deep bend, but then almost as quickly relaxed. We’d find out later it was a solid strike that broke the hook off the spoon! Then the shallow diving plug rod bent down, reel screaming. I let the fish run a bit, set the hook, and soon had a nice striper in the boat. This fish was pretty much right at the minimum length but Greg suggested we release it for something bigger.

A while later the umbrella rig rod went down. This fish would be a nice keeper – roughly 16 lbs.

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Even fish caught on the troll can make a happy angler… (Pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik)

We would end up catching another smaller bass on the umbrella rig and missed a few more.

Come mid-morning, the troll bite began to die down, so we cruised in search of bird play. We did find some and I broke out the fly rod and cast a bunker fly. While we did not see any surface action I did get a good whack at one point, but that was the extent of the open water fly fishing.

We then headed to the inlet and fished the North Jetty. I rigged up a 10 weight rod with a sink tip line and tied on a fly imitating a peanut bunker, a juvenile version of the bigger bunker that were just offshore. Greg positioned me perfectly for casting to the jetty. I was casting to the wash around the jetty, the seams off the current over the submerged part of the jetty, and even casting out in the deeper water away from the jetty, varying retrieves and sink time. Harbor seals were about the jetty – so neat to see these beautiful animals coming back along with so much other marine life.

At one point I had a good bump and it ended up being a very large Atlantic Herring. I have caught herring on the fly while fishing the bay and they put up a good fight. They can grow to over 18″ and this one was certainly up there in size. Having said that, it could also easily be taken by a large striped bass.

But no one, even the guys fishing live “spot” were catching anything. It seemed as if no one was home around the jetty. We moved on and tried a beautiful part of Barnegat Bay where a “river” ran through the sod islands off the bay side of Island Beach State Park, but again no luck. And so we called it a day. That evening I would dine on fresh striped bass in the company of family, while dreaming of stripers-to-be on the fly…

Over the rest of that weekend, I spent time with my father and went to visit my mother in Seacrest Village Nursing Home. My mother had suffered a broken hip as a result of a fall a month earlier and in combination with her worsening dementia and stroke-related speech problems, was not doing well.

On my last visit before heading home, my father and I sat by her bedside. She lay in the bed, murmuring at times. It was hard to know if she remembered me, but she remembered my Dad, if only by his name. Her bed was by the window and the sun streamed in brightly. Beyond the window was the parking lot and then the low bay marshland of Barnegat Bay.

My Dad and I talked and tried to engage my mother. She would look at us and smile at times. Her hands shook uncontrollably. She lay before us a mere shadow of the great woman, wife, and mother she had been in her 88 years. And then out of the silence of the room and the confusion dementia casts on days of old, came a moment of clarity. My mother raised her head off the pillow and turning to the light streaming in, said with joy in her voice, “oh, isn’t life good.”

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Beautiful Barnegat Bay salt marsh. Picture courtesy Greg Molyneux

I left for home the next day with thoughts of my mother weighing heavy on my mind and heart. How ironic, I thought, that a nursing home, where people come to live out the rest of their days, could be built on the great salt marshes of Barnegat Bay where so much life begins. The great striped bass migration started there with the spawn each spring as did the masses of bunker that fed them on their way to “the promised land”. The baymen lived because of the bay’s bounty and Tuckerton, Barnegat, West Creek and so many other bayside towns and villages sprung up around the tidal creeks and sod banks and thrived on the fish, shellfish, and sea ducks all brought about by the marsh. Yet there lay my mother, on the threshold of the life-giving bay, dying…

Two weeks after my visit, the cell phone rang very early on a Monday morning. I glanced at the phone and saw it was my sister. I knew before I even answered that my mother had passed. The most positive force in my life – my guiding light – that everlasting smile – all of that was gone now.

And so I returned again to the shore, to the bay and the marsh with so many tidal creeks running like little fingers into the land. I spent time helping family get ready for my mother’s final goodbye – calling hours, a Mass, and a farewell lunch after. The weather was beautiful, unusually warm, and though deep in grief and busy in the preparations, I could not help but wonder if the striped bass were still around. A peek at Greg’s blog showed that as deep in December as we were, bass were still being caught, and by a few lucky fly fishers, even. And though it had proven to be a much longer striper bite than originally anticipated, it did not surprise me. Mom, in her own way, had asked the bass to stay a bit longer, as if to show to me just how good life was, in the promised land…

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Thanks, Mom!

 

 

 

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The Last Good Country – Part 2 of 2

Posted in Fishing Reports, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , , on December 10, 2017 by stflyfisher

Part 1 of this post covered the first four days of my Bighorn River fly fishing trip in mid-September. My brother-in-law and I fished those days on our own, and did pretty well. With some initial successes under our belts, we couldn’t wait to spend some time with guides provided by Eastslope Outfitters.

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The Old Hookers Guesthouse – a true fly fisher’s home away from home…

We checked in to the Old Hookers Guesthouse on Tuesday afternoon. We each had our own well-appointed bedroom and bathroom and the run of the house. The house is a very roomy split level – the basement floor had a convenient walk-in to a rod/wader room and utility room, perfect for stringing and storing your fly rod, donning your wading gear, and grabbing a few for the road from the “beer fridge”. Adjacent to the utility room were two of the five bedrooms in the house and a very comfy family room. The conveniences provided at the guesthouse impressed me – cleaning supplies of all types, a stack of cloth patches for line cleaning, and even spare waders and boots, if needed. Upstairs was another family room with fireplace, large kitchen, and dining room, as well as 3 more bedrooms with private baths.

Kent, Jeff’s co-worker and part of the original “10 year group”, had joined us on Sunday afternoon and fished with us on Monday. Kent arrived minus a prized fly rod, lost somewhere in the luggage on the flight to Billings. He was able to replace it with a brand new Sage, on sale at the Billings Cabelas. On Tuesday, the rest of the group trickled in – this included Dave, another of Jeff’s coworkers, and Jace and his daughter. The group represented a diverse mix of angling experience, from beginner to advanced angler. Fortunately, Jim and Joyce’s team of guides handled the mix of experience exceptionally well.

After everyone settled in, our cook prepared hors d’oeuvres and the beer and wine began to flow. This was a nightly ritual. Jeff and I had considered fishing that first evening, but we knew we’d be up early, so we decided to relax with the rest of the group, enjoy dinner, clean our lines, and get to bed early. It was customary for Jim and Joyce to stop by every evening around “happy hour” and check in with guests – a very nice touch. Besides getting to know their guests, they also used that time to make arrangements for the next day, including pairing anglers with guides.

Wednesday started early with coffee and a light breakfast and it wasn’t long before the guides pulled up, drift boats in tow. For my first day, Jeff encouraged me to fish with Jim, aka “Stretch”, while Jeff went with guide Jason and fellow angler Dave. Kent accompanied me for the day. Jace and his daughter went with Tyson. The two wanted to fish together and Tyson ended up being a perfect match for the mix of their fly fishing abilities.

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Looking downriver at daybreak from Jim’s drift boat.

Jim does double-duty as Eastslope co-owner and guide. I was eager to fish with him: Jeff had nothing but raving reviews from previous years and claimed Jim could see fish where none seemed to exist. We launched that first morning from the 3 mile access and were soon drifting downriver while Jim talked about the plan for the morning.

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Jim, left, rigs Kent up with a tandem trico dry fly set-up.

Jim talked about the trico hatch and the area of the river we’d fish. He rowed us downriver past cattle, grazing on the aquatic grass, and white pelicans getting set for their own fishing. After a 30 minute drift, we anchored along the river bank and got out to wade and sight fish. Jim set Kent and I up with tandem trico dry flies. He preferred to fish the dropper on 6X tippet. In his opinion, this removed doubt as to whether 5X was too much and putting the fish off. He also used desiccant on the flies pretty regularly so they would float well. He started me fishing and then walked with Kent upriver to get him situated.

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Looking upriver on the Bighorn, with Kent fishing along the weed edges. Big pods of browns cruised upriver feeding in much the same way Jeff and I had observed on our first days on the river.

Eventually, Jim waded back down to me. He scanned the river for fish, his height and slightly stooped posture making him look like a big blue heron on the stalk. It wasn’t long before he sighted some browns slurping the steady downstream drift of trico spinners. He had me quietly move into position below them, then instructed me to put the flies just 6″ ahead of the fish at the tail of the pod. It was maddening seeing these fish feed with reckless abandon and at times almost bump my fly as they took the real thing. But both the odds and fishing Gods were in our favor: I watched my point fly disappear in a rise. “Set” was the word Jim loved to use to tell you when to set the hook on a take. And following his timing cue was a sure way to stick a brown.

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Kent points to a mat of spent trico spinners pooled up in the river edge weeds.

I landed two nice browns under Jim’s guidance and though I was pleased as punch at the early success, he wasn’t satisfied with the number of shots I was getting. The pods were very sporadic in his opinion, popping up, going for a few minutes and then vanishing, reappearing elsewhere. He told me to continue to look for rising fish while he headed downriver to scout out another area. I managed another hook-up before he called me from the high river bank to tell me to follow him downriver. He led me to a nice run below the broad tail-out where we’d previously fished. As we waded back upriver, I could see a large pod of fish – at least a dozen or two – gulping tricos along the weed edges. Jim had me work the lower fish first. The tandem rig did its job and we picked away at the pod, yielding many quality browns in the 16″ – 18″+ range. Partway through the morning, Jim had me change to a glass bead sunken spinner. This fly would sink and the lead trico emerger would act as an indicator when a trout picked up the sunken fly. It worked like a charm and I enjoyed a little dry fly indicator fishing.

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Jim gives my new Orvis Helios 2 6 weight fly rod a test cast. He loved it…

The hatch began to dwindle as morning faded. The pods of voracious browns were gone except for an occasional and sporadic riser. Jim suggested we move on down the river.

We strung up our streamer rods and began casting. Jim pointed out one area where a fellow guide had a client hook into an 8 pound brown – the biggest of the year it turned out – that they fought quite a ways down the river. But this big fish went to a “hacker” – a client with little fly fishing skill. Jim’s guide friend had wished it on someone like Kent or I. Beginner’s luck is apparently alive and well even on the Bighorn River!

Kent and I didn’t move a fish with streamers. We stopped bankside for lunch and enjoyed a delicious venison meatloaf sandwich, salad, chips – a gourmet river meal if there ever was one (word was Jim makes the lunches). After stuffing ourselves, we pushed off and drifted downriver, ready to give nymphing a shot.

Jim anchored his boat tight to a high bank and along a fast and deep run. He rigged Kent and I up for nymphing with an interesting sliding weight, similar to a steelhead slinky but much smaller and made with lead putty. The nymph rig was “tractor trailer” under an indicator. Initially Jim had planned on using scud patterns, but Kent wanted to try the split case PMD that had performed so well for me when I was fishing on my own.

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The split case PMD – a very effective Bighorn pattern…

I wondered whether the split case PMD would work wonders like it had originally for me. It didn’t take long before Kent was hooked up, validating the nymph’s effectiveness.  I started hooking up as well, including a really nice rainbow lost at the net.

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Kent, seen here, is nymphing the deep and fast run just downstream from where we anchored for lunch.

We ended the day fishing streamers to the takeout. Once again, the streamer bite was not there, but after a lot of fish in the net, it was nice to just cast away and enjoy a beautiful river. Jim proved to be a great guide – knowledgeable, wise in the ways of trout, patient, and fun. His forte is dry fly fishing, so if the hatches are on, he’s the guide you want for at least one day on the Bighorn.

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An abandoned farmhouse on the Bighorn River…

Jeff had fished with Jason that first day. Relatively new to the Eastslope stable of guides, Jason was also knowledgeable, professional, and very capable. Jeff had good fishing with Jason and my second day of guided fishing would certainly validate that.

Jason picked us up bright and early on Thursday and discussed his plan of attack as we drove to the river. We would fish the same red bluff area that he’d taken Jeff to the previous morning. The hatch had been good there and the fish were willing. After that we’d fish streamers.

We reached the red bluffs and anchored up. Jason sent Jeff upriver to a spot that had some fish already working. He then climbed the steep bank with me in tow. We walked a trail downriver to a spot where the feeding was on. We descended below these fish and carefully waded up river towards them.

Jason rigged me up a little differently than Jim had. In Jason’s world of dry fly fishing the Bighorn, there was no need to use less than 5X tippet and in some cases he preferred 4X or even 3X. An interesting aspect of fishing with multiple guides is that one gets exposure to a variety of fly fishing methods, techniques, and tactics. Some differ significantly in their approach and views, but all of that is good for the angler who will listen.

Jason used his own flies and I could immediately tell he was a skilled fly tier. We fished a tandem rig of trico spinners and emergers. He had me work the pod from the tail but once again, the fish I hooked did not seem to spook the other risers. Jeff and I fished the hatch well, netting numerous good fish, losing some as well. Jason taught me to pick up the slack after every cast and to stay relatively tight to the fly to ensure a good and quick hook-set. It turned out to be a stellar morning.

As the morning hatch petered out, we set out downriver and switched over to streamer fishing.

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Jeff hangs out in our drift boat while we break for a shoreside lunch.

Jason set me up with a sparkle minnow streamer (his own tie) as the lead fly.

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The Sparkle Minnow had amazing movement and flash.

He then tied off the first streamer an 18″ section of tippet to which he tied a smaller streamer called, of all things, “the grinch”…

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The Grinch – a streamer that might not steal Christmas but certainly will steal some trout…

Together, these two flies seemed like a perfect one-two punch; the sparkle minnow moving the fish and the grinch giving any hot trout a second chance if they missed the lead fly. Most fish were caught on the grinch but a few couldn’t resist the sparkle minnow streamer.

Jason was an excellent streamer guide, calling out where and how we should fish the river as we drifted. He’d say, “I want you to fish left here, give it a 5 second count”, “be ready to cast to the bank”, or “pick your flies up while we drift through this shallow riffle.” We fished the deep parts of the river using a sink-tip line, letting the flies sink up to a 10 second count depending on river depths. Jason also had us pounding the banks on a relatively short and fast cast. The visual of watching a nice brown peel off the bank to chase down a streamer made the repeated casting well worth it, even if they didn’t always take. Jason explained that when fishing the bank, you want to cast slightly behind the boat (upstream) so the fish has time to intercept the fly naturally and turn with the current rather than making the fish chase upstream. He also corrected my long strips, instructing me to work the fly in very very short staccato strips that better imitated baitfish movement. He explained the rationale very simply: how many baitfish can out-swim a big brown? By the end of our float, Jeff and I had done reasonably well but Jason felt the bite was off.

Thursday evening was windy with big gusts firing off the mountains and roaring across the river valley. Dust was blowing everywhere – a sure sign a front was coming through. Sure enough, as forecast, Friday dawned very cold and rainy – highs dropped from the 90’s to the low 40’s in just 2 days! Jim and Joyce’s advice to pack and be ready for almost any kind of weather was spot on.

Jason picked Jeff and I up early Friday morning at the lodge. As we drove out of Fort Smith he discussed his plan. He was concerned that the heavy overnight rains might begin to cloud up the water and that it would only get worse the farther downriver we fished, so rather than start at the 3 mile launch, he wanted to launch at the Yellowtail dam access, drift and strip streamers, then pull out at 3 mile and do another loop.

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The after-dam access. This is the highest up the river you can launch on the Bighorn.

We were fine with the plan. Once we launched we were immediately hit head-on with a stiff cold wind that came right up the river. Though Jeff and I had foul weather gear on and had layered up under our waders and rain gear, the rain wet any exposed skin and the cold winds soon numbed fingers and faces. Neck gaiters and wool hats helped, as did the heavier work of casting and stripping tandem streamer rigs on sink tip lines.

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Jeff cinches down while guide Jason re-ties a streamer. Jeff, from Northern Cal, was not so used to this type of fishing weather. For me, a north-easterner, it was not so bad. As the saying goes, “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing“…

Despite the weather, I enjoyed the streamer fishing. Jason set me up once again with the sparkle minnow streamer as the lead fly and the grinch riding tail gun.

We picked up some fish, mainly browns in the deep pools, and then came to a river braid that Jason felt might hold some good fish. This braid was often overlooked apparently. We anchored at the end of the island and wade-fished the braid. I could see some fish periodically rising to something very small but nymphing this stretch was not moving any fish. After a while I asked Jason if I could try throwing a streamer. He was all for it so I pulled out my Helios2 6 weight and gave it a shot.

I walked up to the top of the braid and made casts across and up, letting my streamer sink and swing down. Occasionally I short-stripped across, and sometimes I did this on the swing. Just below the head of the braid was a large log-jam and perfect cover for trout. I worked my streamer through this area and had a solid splashy take.

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The first of 6 trout from Jason’s river braid…

Repeated swings down the length of the braid and below where the water cut into a red clay bank brought many strikes – some short and some solid – for a total of 5 browns and 1 rainbow.

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This rainbow smashed the sparkle minnow on the swing.

We continued our drift, throwing streamers, and hit the 3 mile pull-out at noon. We were pretty wet and cold and per Jason’s suggestion, drove back to the lodge to eat our lunch in the comfort of the dry and heated rod and wader room.

Jeff was done with fishing at that point. His rain jacket had been not much more than a wearable sieve to keep the big raindrops out; he was soaked through from the driving rain. I was pretty dry and wanted to give the fishing another round.

And so we went – just Jason and I – back out into the gray cold rainy afternoon. It was the same drill; casting, stripping, casting again, but oh how good it was to get out one more time. I caught some nice browns and lost a really good rainbow that I considered a final “thanks” offering to the river.

We all left the lodge the next day for home. I was the only one heading eastbound – the rest traveled westbound by plane or car. By 2 o’clock that afternoon, I was wing-borne and climbing high over Montana. From my window seat I got one last look at the khaki high desert landscape marked by little veins of green and gold. Then we were in the clouds and the last good country was gone. But, like Hemingway’s own northern Michigan woods, I now realized that one never really loses such a place.

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Ernest Hemingway posing with a nice trout caught from the East Branch of the Fox River. This river was the river portrayed in his classic short story, “Big Two-Hearted River.”  And it was the very definition of Hemingway’s “last good country.”

My thoughts turned to fly fishing the Bighorn: the pods of rising browns, the trico hatches so thick they looked like rising smoke over the river, the sight of an indicator plunging down in fast water, the savage strike of a big trout intercepting a streamer on the swing, the company of friends, good food, a cigar and bourbon on the deck, the sun setting ablaze on high desert mountains, the good tired feeling after fishing hard all day, a worn-out casting arm, and the unfailing work of great guides. And I decided then, I’d return as long as I could to refresh my fly fishing soul in my last good country.

 

The Last Good Country – Part 1 of 2

Posted in Fishing Reports, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on November 4, 2017 by stflyfisher

It’s great northern air. Absolutely the best trout fishing in the country. No exaggeration. Fine country. Good color, good northern atmosphere, absolute freedom, no summer resort stuff and lots of paintable stuff.
—Ernest Hemingway to his friend Jim Gamble, 1919

I recently got a chance to escape the rat race and spend a glorious week on the Bighorn River in Montana. It’s the second time I’ve gone, and once again I am already missing it: the broad khaki river valley marked by clusters of green and gold cottonwood, the high desert mountains, and the red cliffs that bound the river. Of course there are many rivers in Montana and great trout fishing, but the Bighorn has found a place in my fly fishing soul; a soul that needs rekindling with future visits – hopefully lots of them.

This blog post is in two parts – Part 1 covering the first 4 days of the trip and Part 2 covering the remainder. The first part of the trip was unguided – the second part was done with a great outfitter and each day’s fishing was with a guide, fishing from a drift boat.

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As I have been drawn to the Bighorn, so was Ernest Hemingway to the woods, lakes, and rivers of Northern Michigan. His family purchased a cottage on Walloon Lake and summered there every year from the time of his birth. The place made an indelible impression on Hemingway: one that shaped him as a man and provided a well-spring for his work as a Nobel prize-winning writer. Hemingway referred to Walloon Lake and the surrounding area as “the last good country”; a place he held near to him even later in life as he spread his wings and set up shop in more distant locales like Key West, Bimini, Kenya, Idaho, and Cuba. One of Hemingway’s great short stories, “Big Two-Hearted River” takes place in Northern Michigan, and it is one all anglers should read.

I first fished the Bighorn back in 2007 with my brother-in-law, Jeff. On that trip, the two of us fished for 3 days with the same guide (who still guides there – Ryan Stefek), and we experienced incredible fishing, mainly through nymphing. I was somewhat new to the game of nymphing, armed only with the basics. I knew how to mend and at least attempt a drag-free drift. I learned a lot from our guide, among them how to keep flies clean, how to set on any hesitation of the indicator, and how to do the reach cast. As I recall we caught 20+ good quality browns and rainbows a day, with double hook-ups on the drift a somewhat regular occurrence. I landed a few big rainbows too, some in excess of 20″.

As good as the fishing was, I had returned since, but Jeff had, fishing with a regular group of anglers over the next 10 years. These anglers found Eastslope Outfitters, a husband-wife fishing and hunting business catering to anglers and hunters in the Bighorn valley. Jeff had invited me along many times but I declined for myriad reasons. That was a mistake.

I finally accepted yet another invitation way back in January of this year. Reservations were made for the mid-September trip that at the time seemed so distant. Time passed: the month of August was consumed with preparation – prepping new lines, assembling leaders, and lining up my rods. I brought with me a favorite nymphing rod – my 10’6″, 4 weight, Cortland Competition Nymph rod with a double taper 3 weight line. Added to the mix would be my Scott A2 9 foot 4 piece 5 weight for dry fly duty – this was the “veteran” rod that had served nymphing duty and a little dry fly duty on my previous trip. But suddenly I was confronted with a streamer rod void.

I own several great streamer rods but they are all 2 piece 7 weights. I needed a 4 piece 7 weight so I could pack all my rods in a duffel bag. I considered building a 4 piece 7 weight, but time just ran out on me. I looked over alternatives and read an interesting post on the Bighorn Angler website about their favorite gear. Tucked within the words of wisdom in the post was a blurb about the 9 foot 4 piece 6 weight Helios 2 being a really great streamer rod and a good back-up nymph rod. This rod is built for saltwater use as well and has a fighting butt. That made it even more appealing – a very light fast action (tip-flex) rod I could fish streamers with and use double duty for light saltwater use (a great rod for the ladies). And so I purchased one…

Trip preps were made in January but August came quickly. I began to get my gear in order in the weeks ahead of my flight. Lines were checked and cleaned, leaders were replaced, and a book on Bighorn River fly fishing was purchased and then read and studied. The book, Fly Fishing the Bighorn River, by Steve Galletta, proved an excellent guide to fishing the river. Jeff and I would be fishing the first 4 days on our own, and while Jeff was very knowledgeable of the dry fly game, I wanted to be ready to do some nymph and streamer fishing as well.

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Steve Galletta’s book on fly fishing the Bighorn proved well worth the read. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to fish this terrific fishery.

We arrived in Billings on Saturday and I was immediately surprised with two things – the high heat and the haze in the air as a result of forest fires. Our outfitter had warned to be prepared for anything, from high heat, to freezing and snowy conditions, and everything in between, and that advice would prove right on.

After picking up our rental car and stocking up on beer and liquor (Fort Smith is dry!), we drove the 1.5 hours to Fort Smith where Jeff had set up at a nice motel room. We checked in, picked up some dry flies at one of the fly shops, and headed out in hopes of cashing in on the evening black caddis hatch. We fished from the 3 mile pullout and while the black caddis seemed to be hatching just fine, the trout were either busy subsurface or not interested in this epic hatch. It would turn out that the black caddis dry fly action never really turned on. Locals, including guides and fly shop staff had no explanation for the lack of surface feed on this heavy hatch.

We returned to our motel room, drank beer, and readied for the trico hatch, an early morning hatch that could involve millions of these tiny mayflies and lots of trout hungry for them.

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Brother-in-law Jeff, relaxing on a hot evening after setting up for the morning trico hatch.

That first morning of fishing was every bit as good as I could have hoped it would be. Jeff and I arrived at the access point a little late compared to what we’d do the next few days, and combined with being a Sunday, the parking lot was already pretty busy for 6:30 am. We fished our 5 weight dry fly rods with a 9 foot 5X leader. Attached on the business end was a size 20 spent-wing trico followed by 12″ – 18″ of 5X tippet and a trico CD emerger.

The tandem rig worked well but visibility was difficult in the early morning darkness. We would later fish a dark trico CD emerger followed by a white winged trico emerger. The dark / black lead fly was often easier to see. Regardless, fishing a tandem rig increased the odds of watching the drift and obviously increased the odds of an eater.

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Jeff with a nice “trico” brown. Note his fly rod, one that’s been mentioned here before!

Jeff was off to the races the very second we were rigged up at the car and and it wasn’t long before we were huffing down a dusty trail that wound along the river. It was already on the warm side – in the 70’s – and we had decided to wet wade. We came around a bend in a river braid where the river had gouged out a nice deep bend pool. We were a good 6 feet above the water and looking down I could hardly believe my eyes.

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A nice male Bighorn brown caught on a #20 trico dry…

From my perch on the elevated bank, I could almost touch a pod of nice browns with my fly rod as they gorged on the spent tricos drifting down the river. We quickly and carefully descended on the feast and I hooked up but then lost a solid fish as it fought in the heavy current below. We moved upriver and began to cast to steady risers. The action lasted 2 hours, waning in the last 30 minutes. The sun climbed and the morning heat began to press down on us.

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Looking upriver at a tailout where browns and rainbows feasted on the early morning trico hatch. Note the big mats of aquatic grass – signs of the water’s fertility.

We enjoyed a late breakfast at “Trico’s”, appropriately named and then wandered the fly shops in “downtown” Fort Smith. I stocked up on some nymphs I had read about in Steve Galletta’s great book, namely the poodle sniffer and the split case PMD. Both nymphs would turn out to be outstanding patterns and helped me dredge up quite a few browns and rainbows in the hot afternoons. Both flies featured triggers – namely the green wire on the poodle sniffer and the bright yellow spot on the PMD.

Fished in a tandem rig below a few split shot and an indicator, these nymphs seemed to outfish the standard scud and sowbug patterns more typical of Bighorn nymphing. Black caddis were certainly around in the evenings, so I figured a pupa pattern would definitely be about in the afternoons, and PMD’s (pale morning duns) could be seen hatching in the afternoons.

On successive hot afternoons I had some nice sections of the river around the access all to myself, save a few drift boats passing through. I found a nice run on a river braid that featured some fast water entering into a deep hole with an undercut bank. This too was heavy water but not as fast as the main river section it fed.

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The upper end of the run. Farther upstream was very fast water.

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The lower end of the run where it enters the main river channel. Note the weedy frog water in the foreground.

Rigged with a split case PMD as my anchor fly and a poodle sniffer on the trailer, I worked my nymph rig through the fast water at the head of the run. I adjusted my indicator for the depth and it wasn’t long before the indicator plunged forward and a nice rainbow launched out of the water. As fast as it was on, it was off. What followed was steady action. I worked the run from head to toe and there was no shortage of affection from browns (the majority), rainbows, and one stocky whitefish…

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Bighorn brown…

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This rainbow could not resist the split case PMD…

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The only “whitey” of my trip. On my first trip on the Bighorn, my first fish was a whitefish. I remember our guide lamenting – a curse on the trip. In both cases, whitefish actually seemed to bring good luck for me, anyhow. And so I welcomed this one…

My first day of nymphing proved excellent – my second day was even better, with 15 trout landed and quite a few lost.

The dry fly fishing also got better. On the following mornings, Jeff and I were up earlier, walking to the river in the dark with the moon high above. Being prepared the night before and rising earlier meant choice fishing locations. Wading wet was delightful, and easier, but the first hour or so was pretty chilly. Most anglers who dressed in waders enjoyed the morning coolness but wilted as the sun climbed high in the morning sky. Daytime highs were hitting the upper 90’s!

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Jeff casting to early morning upstream risers. He loved the rod I built for his 60th and it showed in his tight-looped casting.

We had the dry fly fishing dialed in nicely by the second morning. Sometimes the trout would school up in big pods and just wander back and forth across the river, slowly pushing up river, snouts up. It was an amazing sight that made one’s hands shake and fumble with excitement when tying on a fly…

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Another beautifully marked Bighorn brown. 

The fish were not spooky when in “full feast mode”. With just a little stealth, one could easily approach behind a working pod. Most times, even hooking up did not put the pod down.

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Can you see the brown?

Jeff and I fished the river on our own until Tuesday – we then moved from our hotel room to the Eastslope Outfitters lodge. The last time I had fished the Bighorn with Jeff, we started off with guided fishing and ended up with a day or two fishing on our own. I felt good about our first few days of fishing success and now looked forward to fishing under the tutelage of Bighorn River experts.

Part 2 of 2 follows…

Fly fishing for albies with Fishhead Greg…

Posted in Fishing Reports, Flies - Local Favorites, Gear, Saltwater, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on October 29, 2017 by stflyfisher

Can you fish tomorrow morning?  It’s lights out albie fishing on the fly. 

email from Greg Cudnik, “Fishhead Greg”

The email was simple and to the point: did I want to go fly fishing for bait-busting albies? Is a frog’s ass watertight? Does a bear shit in the woods?

I had received Greg (aka “Fishhead Greg”) Cudnik’s email just before I left for the Jersey shore to see my parents. Greg owns Fisherman’s Headquarters on Long Beach Island (Ship Bottom, NJ), a well-known bait and tackle store and this year he got his Captain’s license, allowing him to take anglers on fishing charters.

Looking for a chance to capitalize on the fantastic fall fishing of the New Jersey shore, I checked in with him about a possible fly fishing charter. My first inquiry found him up in Montauk, chasing the legendary striper/bluefish/albie blitz. He said he would get back to me, but after hearing that, I figured he might be out of action for a while. Greg is, after all, a fishing addict as his fishing moniker attests. So I packed my salty fly gear nonetheless, figuring I could shore fish Barnegat Bay, the inlet, or the surf during my visit to my parents. And as it would turn out, that was a very good thing, for on the way down, shore-bound, I got his email – “lights out fly fishing for albies” – and it’s game on. I was anxious to fish for a species I’d long ago heard was tailor-made for salt water fly rodders…

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Call him what you want – little tunny, fat albert, albie, or more properly, false albacore – he’s fast, powerful, and will give your backing a good airing in seconds…

The false albacore goes by many names—little tunny, fat albert, albie—but whatever it may be called, this species is prized for its blistering runs and never-give-up fight. One of the smallest members of the Scombridae family, the false albacore is not a “true” tuna (genus Thunnus) but is more closely related to the mackerels. The species’ streamlined body, powerful tail, and pelagic lifestyle make it pound-for-pound one very powerful game fish, especially to light tackle enthusiasts like fly anglers. Classified as a pelagic, false albacore prefer relatively warm water and spend much of their lives in inshore waters, making them very accessible to anglers, especially in autumn. They can be found wherever baitfish congregate—in inlets, around jetties, and sandbars. Like other fish that feed in schools, false albacore will drive bait to the surface or into shore in order to concentrate the food. Albies lack a swim bladder so they must be in constant motion, which explains their phenomenal swimming speed and power.

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Captain Greg Cudnik with a “fat albert” on the fly (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik).

I met Greg at the marina before 6 am. It was still dark and the stars dotted the ink-black morning sky like so many glittering diamonds. I dressed in my foul weather gear and broke my rods and tackle out while Greg readied his 21 foot Parker center console for action. His boat proved to be a great sport fishing machine with an especially large and unobstructed bow that was perfect for fly casting.

Greg brought the 150 Yamaha to life and we slid out of the marina and cruised slowly towards Barnegat Inlet. In the darkness, I rigged my rods – a 9 foot 8 weight with an intermediate sinking tip and a 9 foot 9 weight with full intermediate line. The game plan was to fish the north jetty of the inlet while we waited for signs of bird play outside the inlet.

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An aerial view of Barnegat Inlet. The small town of Barnegat Light is to the bottom left in the picture above – the North Jetty is to the top right – with the bay entrance to the left and the ocean to the right.

Barnegat Inlet connects Barnegat Bay with the Atlantic Ocean. It separates Island Beach State Park and the Barnegat Peninsula from Long Beach Island. Watching over the inlet at the northern end of Long Beach Island is “Old Barney” the historic Barnegat Lighthouse.

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Old Barney, standing watch over Barnegat Inlet (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik).

The inlet gets its name from Dutch settlers who in 1614 named it “Barendegat,” or “Inlet of the Breakers”. The inlet can be extremely dangerous when ebbing or flooding tides run counter to high winds, building the heavy seas the Dutch must have observed before naming it.

Once we got out into the inlet, Greg nosed his boat within 30 feet of the end of the visible part of the north jetty. The rest of the jetty leading out to open ocean is submerged rock. The constant swirling and crashing of the sea over this section of the jetty creates a cauldron of froth that is known to attract stripers and blues all year. I fly fished at first, casting a streamer into the froth, allowing it to sink, then stripping it back, but no one seemed to be home. Greg had me switch up to a light saltwater spinning outfit using first an imitation eel and then a white bucktail with a hot orange plastic tail. After a number of casts I hooked up and landed a nice “cocktail” blue. Not long after, I felt a good bump and retrieved my bucktail with most of the tail bitten clean off. For the unknowing, bluefish and plastics don’t mix too well but as Greg added, at least we’d gotten rid of the skunk.

As the eastern sky began to glow orange, bird play started outside the inlet. At first, the numbers of birds were small and their concentrations, weak. Greg said the seabirds, including brown pelicans, were searching for bait. He continuously spied the horizon for denser groups of birds and sure enough, as the sun broke the horizon and the sky lightened with the new-found dawn, birds wheeled in bigger and tighter groups. Then they began diving, a sign that it was time to move in – but not recklessly. According to Greg, many anglers are apt to drive their boats right into birds and fish, not realizing how that can put the blitz down. We parked a bit outside the developing fray and Greg had me blind cast the area. The fishfinder was lit up with tons of bait.

I threw a “deadly dick” metal for a while – then Greg had me switch up to a white plastic. He had me experiment with retrieves, “burning it” at times, letting it pause, and even jigging it as I retrieved. I worked the water column as best I could and on one retrieve saw what looked like a boil not far off the stern. I continued my retrieve only to have an albie flash at it right at the boat, then take it solidly and dive. The drag on the spinning reel screamed and I was on. I was at once amazed at the sheer power and speed of these saltwater bullets. I’d gain a little on the fish only to have it take off on blistering run after run. Eventually, we had the fish boat-side, and Greg deftly tailed it…

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My first albie… (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik)

This first albie was followed not long after with another on the same soft plastic lure.

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Another nice albie on the spinning rod. About this time of the morning the fish began to feed on the surface (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik).

By this time the sun was up and the surface action began to improve. The albacore were driving bait up from the depths and slashing through the confused schools from all directions. Birds wheeled just feet above, hovered, and dove. With two albies tallied, Greg said it was time to break out my fly rod…

Greg had me tie on a unique fly that has been garnering a lot of attention in the northeast saltwater fly fishing world. The fly is the innovative design of local fly rodder and fly designer, Bob Popovichs. Greg felt the fly was a perfect imitation of the “white bait” the ablies were chasing.

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The “Fleye Foil” fly Greg had me use was a perfect match for “white bait” in the water. This fly looked great in the water, cast well, and never fouled (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik).

I tied this fly to 15 lb tippet off a 6 foot leader on my full intermediate 9 weight line. As the sun came up and the fishing exploded on the abundant bait, the wind began to blow and the sea took on a bit of a chop, but Greg did a terrific job positioning me for optimum casting, given the stiff breeze.

I experimented with retrieves and found that sometimes allowing the fly to sink a bit worked better than stripping fast through the blitz. This was harder than one might imagine. With fish blasting through the water, it was very tempting to strip fast. My first albie ate the fly with just one strip after the drop. The take was solid and fast and it was all I could do to clear the line and get the fish on the reel. Check out a short clip Greg took as I hooked up and began to fight the fish…

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The first of 3 ablies on the fly. I lost two more as well. The false albacore just might be the ultimate gamefish for the saltwater fly fisher (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik).

Two more albies followed and I also lost another two fish after brief hook-ups.

As late-morning approached, the blitz seemed to settle down. Fish would pop up here and there. When they did show up they were not around long. Boat traffic may have contributed to the slow-down. Indeed, we observed a lot of fishermen driving right into some blitzes. Most anglers were spin fishing – a much less taxing way of reaching pods of fish. Greg noted many of them were throwing metals far larger than the baitfish the albies were feeding on and the lack of hook-ups for these anglers backed his theory.

Research I’ve done on angling for false albacore indicates that fly fishing is often the “high hook” method of fishing for them. Albies, like most members of the tuna and mackerel family, have excellent eyesight. When they are focused on eating one food item, anything that isn’t the same size, color and profile will be totally ignored and only a near-perfect match will score a strike. This favors fly-fishermen, who can match the color and diminutive size of almost any baitfish.

While we fished, Greg did his best to avoid the “run and gun” game. He’s fished enough days where sitting and letting the fish come to you was far more effective than chasing. The key seemed to be locating the boat in an area of action and then waiting for the schools to pass by.

Anyone interested in this form of fly fishing should gear up with an 8 to 10 weight saltwater fly rod. I found my 9 weight to be perfect. The action of the rod should be medium-fast at minimum with fast being a better choice. While the fall can be warm and the sea almost calm at times, the opposite can be true as well, and this fishing is truly open water fishing. So a stiffer action helps combat windy conditions. Also keep in mind that while casting at long distances is not always the case, you will cast a lot. For anglers used to lighter freshwater

A saltwater-rated fly reel with a good disc drag is also needed as these fish will quickly peel line off well into the backing. Multiple reels spooled with floating, intermediate, intermediate sink tip, and sink tip fly lines will address a variety of fishing conditions. If I had to go with just one line, I’d go with a full intermediate line, preferably clear, as these lines will get the fly down beneath potentially choppy seas. You’ll also want a selection of tapered fluorocarbon leaders rated from 20 lbs down to 12 lbs. Tippet should range from 20 lbs down to 10 lbs. As previously mentioned, albies have excellent eyesight. They can be finicky. Bite guards are not necessary with albacore, however, bluefish can be mixed in with these fish at times, so you might want to have at least some heavier mono available (30 to 50 lbs) just in case.

Fly choice should match the hatch but a good selection of clousers, deceivers, and the foil flies mentioned earlier will typically do the trick. Colors should also match the prevailing bait but silver, white, pink, light tan and light olive will work well in most situations.

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The Alba-Clouser is an excellent example of a clouser tied specifically for false albacore. This pattern uses synthetic fibers for toughness and flash. Note the light pink and white blend and the sparse use of material. (pic courtesy of   saltwatersportsman.com).

While fishing from surf and jetty is one way of getting into albies, this fishing is best done from a small boat. Hiring a licensed captain is a great way to get the access to these incredible fish. If fishing from a small open boat, dress for the weather. A good set of fishing bibs, a foul weather jacket, and boots will help shield you from the effects of wind and water. Underneath, it’s best to layer up in fall. The weather can turn on a dime and the wind and water can make a mild day seem very cold. A hat with a good visor and sunglasses are also key with the sunglasses serving double duty: better vision into the water and eye protection from the sun and errant hooks! Lastly, anglers without sea legs might want to prepare for sea sickness ahead of time. Small boats will move quite a bit in a sea.

I’ll end this post with a tribute to Captain Greg Cudnik for doing a masterful job guiding me for some awesome albie fishing. Greg was thoroughly prepared, organized, and had a solid game plan for the day before we set out on the water. His fishing skill and knowledge was absolutely top-notch.

The mark of a great guide or captain is truly recognized at the end of a day fishing. For me, it was in that good tired feeling from fishing hard, the joy in attaining a fresh perspective on the amazing opportunities for fly fishing in the salt, the gaining of new-found knowledge, and lastly, the capture of so many memories of a deeply bent rods, screaming drags, and the still-present rocking motion from a day on the water. Above all though, it’s the renewed passion one gets to get out and do it again. See you on the water soon, Greg!

 

 

 

 

The week ahead in fly fishing: September 4, 2017

Posted in Carp, Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized with tags , , on September 4, 2017 by stflyfisher

Labor Day, the traditional gateway to Fall and the official “end of summer” is here. Like most of 2017, the weekend weather, with the exception of a gorgeous Labor Day, was odd with very cool temperatures and rain. But rivers and creeks are nonetheless starting to show their bones. Reports that the salmon are starting to enter the tribs continue to roll in – a good sign. And some trees are starting to display hints of fall foliage.

Fly Shop Talk: A tip I learned from Harry Murray, smallmouth bass expert from Virginia and owner of Murray’s Fly Shop, is to always assemble and rig your rod last when arriving at your fishing destination and do the reverse when packing up for the day. Don your waders, set up your vest, etc., before rigging your rod to fish. That assures the least amount of opportunity to break your rod by leaving it leaning up against an open car door, or worse yet, lying on the ground. Do the reverse when wrapping up your fishing by first breaking down your rod and storing it in its protective rod tube. Only after your rod is stored away should you attend to putting your other gear away.

Here’s the week ahead in fly fishing report:

Lake Ontario Tribs: The Douglaston Salmon Run is reporting that the salmon are coming into the Salmon River in greater numbers now. CFS dropped to 335 last night / 419 at Pineville and water temperature is up to 65 F. Fishing has been good to very good. Whitakers reports that the majority of anglers who fished the river reported getting into mostly kings with a few cohos in the mix. The best action has been in the lower end of the river with the majority of anglers fishing at the DSR. The lower end of the river has also been producing action in the Ballpark, Town pool, Staircase/Longbridge and Black Hole. First thing in the morning has produced the best fish movement, especially on bright sunny days, but yesterday we had heavy cloud cover along with rainy conditions so fish continued moving throughout the day.

Lakes: John Gaulke of Finger Lakes Angling Zone provides the following lake-by-lake report:

  • Cayuga Lake: Jigging success varies, ranging from slow to downright superb depending on the day and conditions. Occasional salmon, rainbow trout and brown trout are in the mix. Largemouth bass fishing is fair; pickerel action is good.
  • Owasco Lake: Smallmouth bass fishing should be fair to good here. Lake trout fishing should be picking up markedly here. Expect occasional bonus browns, rainbows and bass while jigging.
  • Skaneateles Lake: Smallmouth bass fishing is good. Lake trout jigging is fair. Plenty of large rockbass and some perch are around.
  • Seneca Lake: Fishing is fair for lakers – a couple fish is a good day. No recent reports from here.
  • Keuka Lake: Lake trout fishing should be fair to good here. Laker action generally picks up a lot here in October and onwards. Bass fishing has been good.
  • Otisco Lake: Bass fishing here has been good. Expect decent tiger musky action.

Catskill Rivers:  

The Catskill Rivers have been in good shape and fishing well thanks to rain and cool temps. Following are some local fly shop reports:

  • The West Branch Angler is reporting that the Catskill rivers are all in good shape and up a little since the rain started Saturday night but the bugs have been the same over the last few weeks. Stilesville on the upper West is now 378 cfs and 52 degrees and down at Hale Eddy we are looking at 507 an 50 degrees. The upper East Branch at Harvard is 170 cfs and 52 degrees and downriver below the Beaverkill at Fishs’ Eddy the flow is now 372 cfs and 57 degrees. The mainstem down at Lordville is currently 981 cfs and 58 degrees. The rain over the last 12 hours hasn’t really dirtied up any parts of the system yet but there has been a slight stain to the West Branch for a while due to the release. The bugs have been the same for a while now with Blue Winged Olives in the 18-24 range, a few Iso’s in size #12 and Cahills in the #14-16 range. Winged ants have been around too and are good flies to have for the next few weeks. The streamer bite today should be very good with the rain and low light, even though there’s not a lot of water or dirty water.
  • The Delaware River Club is reporting that the release from Cannonsville has been dropped to 400 cfs. The recording hasn’t been updated but we’ll go with that number. Water temperatures are not a problem after the last few nights and the rivers are okay for floating or wading at these levels. The wind was unkind for a good part of yesterday but did finally drop in the evening. Once it dropped the dry fly fishing picked up with olives, cahills, and Heptagenia coming off. We have been fishing olives from size 18 down to 26 so bring the whole box. Some fish aren’t picky while others get stuck on the tiny ones.
  • Ken Tutalo of Baxter House Fly Fishing Outfitters reports that over the last week the cooler weather has had a positive effect on all of our local rivers. At this time the conditions are in transition back to the temperature range where trout will become more aggressive in their feeding habits. This week there are far more options for us fly fishermen. The water of the Beaverkill, Willlowemoc, Lower East Branch and Main Stem are cooling quickly. They are all in a good range now for Trout to be active. Water temperatures may be a bit sensitive if we get a scorching sunny day but for the most part temps. are good. Over the last few days our guides have visited some stretches of river that they have not fished since spring. I have first hand reports now from all of the freestone rivers and here is what you can expect in the coming days. The best action is with nymphs in and around the fastest water. This is where a lot of fish spent the summer and they are still there. The Wild Rainbows will feed aggressively now right through late fall. Every year this time period offers about the best nymph action of the season. The dry fly activity will improve as the days turn colder. Right now the action is well worthwhile. The trico fishing is good every morning. The best areas for tricos are in pools with lots of weed beds in the water. The best locations also have low brush and grass along the banks. The late afternoon has been improving quickly. Some areas have been excellent but there is still some unpredictability in the late day activity. The unpredictability is regarding location. The insect activity is in pockets and an area can be bug soup wile 100 yards upstream or down is void. It pays to pick your evening spots based on insects in the air. If there are bugs there will be fish. In the areas that are hot you can expect to find Olives, Isonychia, Cahills, White Flies, Yellow Drakes, Midges, Caddisflies. There have been some intense spinner flights and all of my recent trips have found fish gorging just before dark time. Fishing Isonychia and Cahill patterns will get you some fish in the faster water. The best bet however is a #16 or #18 hackle spinner. If you are able to fish these on light leaders you will pick off about every riser you find regardless of water type.

Hatching:

Slate Drake #12-2xl – 12 – Isonychia bicolor
Sulphur – #16 – 20 – Ephemerella dorothea
Light Cahill – #14 – Ephemerella rotunda
Light Cahill – #14 – Ephemerella invaria
Little BWO – #22 – 26- Pseudocloeon sp.
Blue Wing Olives – #18 – Baetis sp.
Little Tan Sedge – #16 – 18 – Glossosoma sp.
Green Caddis – #16 – Ryacophilia sp.
Tan Caddis #16 – 18 – Hydropsyche spp.

Local creeks: Local creek flows are low and clear. The cooler weather has kept temps decent for fishing but it’s always good to “fish with your thermometer” when the water levels are low. It’s time now to put terrestrials in the vest if they aren’t there already. Grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and ants. Don’t forget inchworms also. While fishing with nymphs and dries will produce, look for terrestrials to become a main course item for trout as the hatches begin to dwindle. Hopper fishing can be great where creeks flow by open fields – especially when the wind is blowing.

Warmwater Rivers: The warmwater rivers have been fishing good to very good. River levels remain excellent for nice wading and good fly fishing. Clarity is excellent. The bass seem to have acclimated to the recent drop in water temps. The rivers are loaded with crayfish and minnows and the white fly hatch continues.

Topwater will continue to produce into fall as the bass begin to put on the feedbag. On a recent trip I fished a slow water area adjacent to a large weedbed and saw quite a bit of movement from bass chasing bait. A few casts with a popper resulted in a very nice bass. When bass are “lit up” you can usually expect aggressive takes on poppers and streamers, particularly when the light is low. During the day, fish big nymphs dead drift or swing large streamers. Experimenting with retrieves will increase your success – sometimes the bass want a slow swing, sometimes they’ll be more apt to jump a fly that has a lot of movement. Besides smallmouth bass, fallfish, channel cats, and walleye have all been on the hunt for a well-fished fly. Walleye, in particular, will begin to feed more aggressively as water temps drop. And remember, where you find one walleye there are usually more about.

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Ponds: Ponds remain a great place to fly fish right now, and with the water cooling, look for action to carry over into daylight more. Largemouth bass are in summer mode and are more than willing to take a fly. In the case of sunfish, any time of the day will work. Fishing the edges of weeds and around structure with wooly buggers, big nymphs, and streamers should remain effective, but topwater will also be effective especially in the early morning and towards evening.

Fly Fishing Events / Activities: Local fly fishing clubs will begin their fall programs over the next few weeks. Here’s what’s on tap for September thus far:

  • The Twin Tiers Five Rivers Chapter of FFI has announced their September meeting: We welcome you to join us on September 11th at 6:30pm, when Scott Feltrinelli will be visiting to talk about fishing the great lakes tributaries for salmon, steelhead and bass. Scott has over 27 years of fly fishing experience in both fresh and saltwater, and is the owner and guide of Ontario Fly Outfitters. Ontario Fly Outfitters is one of New York’s premiere fly fishing guide services specializing in providing a wide variety of fishing experiences for every level of fishing ability. He regularly targets the world class fishery we have within Western New York, on the tributaries of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie from the Salmon River to Steelhead Alley. Scott is an author/photographer for On The Fly Magazine, Cortland Line, Simms and LOOP Tackle Pro Staff. Scott’s talk will cover the techniques he uses to catch salmon, steelhead and bass in the Great Lakes tribs, as well as some of the streams he frequents. If you want to catch more steelhead or smallmouth bass this year in the great lakes tribs, you won’t want to miss this presentation. Unlike past presentations, we will not be starting with a fly tying demo. Instead, Scott’s presentation starts at 6:30 sharp, at the Big Flats Community Center, 476 Maple Street, Big Flats, NY 14814. Please note Sept’s date is shifted from our normal first Monday of the month timing due to Labor Day holiday.
  • The BC Flyfishers chapter of FFI has announced their first chapter meeting for the Fall. The speaker will be area angler, writer, and fly shop owner, Mike Hogue, who will present: “Biking, Solo Canoes and Float Tubes: Ways to Enhance Your Fly Fishing Experiences.” The meeting is scheduled for Thursday September 21, 2017, Endicott Public Library, 7:00 PM (informal tying demonstration at 6:30). Mike has done all the hard work by evaluating the best ways to combine exercise, fly fishing, and finding low pressure venues, all while enjoying nature’s scenery. Mike will share with us his hard learned fishing strategies and methods for rigging for mobility as well as some of his favorite “solo” fishing locations and experiences. His presentation will explain why he chooses a solo canoe over other watercraft options. He will discuss the vitally important issues of handling, durability, paddles, gear, rod holders, fly patch, gear bag, and will remind you to plan on flipping the watercraft when you devise your setup. He will talk about how to select gear and rig it up for fly fishing from small watercraft. Surprisingly, nothing has been written about this material and Mike’s information is unique. Mike will also be our pre-meeting fly tyer demonstrating an Old Adirondack pattern called The Devil Bug which will be featured in a future Fly Tyer magazine article. Mike is the owner of Badger Creek Fly Tying, a fly fishing shop in Freeville, NY, just outside of Ithaca. He has had articles published in numerous publications, and has served as VP of Conservation for the IFFF North East Council, as well as on the National Conservation Board.

The Week Ahead Weather: WBNG’s forecast is as follows:

 

 

We get a brief spell of dry weather before the rain and thunderstorms move in again. Labor Day will be a decent day with mostly sunny skies. We’ll have a breezy southwest wind with warm temperatures. As a cold front approaches, we’ll have showers in the forecast tonight.

We’ll have a better chance of rain and thunderstorms on Tuesday as the cold front comes through. We’ll have rain and thunderstorms, with the potential for strong storm. With an upper level trough setting up over the Great Lakes and Northeast, showers, along with cooler temperatures will be in the forecast for the remainder of the work week.

High pressure and nicer weather arrives for the weekend. We will be cooler with highs in the mid to upper 60s, we’ll have partly cloudy skies. Dry weather continues into Monday with mostly sunny skies and highs in the upper 60s to low 70s.

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Fishing with the ladies…

Posted in Fishing Reports, Saltwater, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on September 2, 2017 by stflyfisher

My connection with Destin, Florida is an interesting story, one to be revealed in a blog post at a later time. For now, let’s just say I have good reason to frequent this sunny Florida panhandle city – part of the beautiful “Emerald Coast”.

I recently wrapped up a week-long visit to Destin, complete with family and “plus ones” in tow. As busy and hectic as the vacation schedule was, I still had time to fish the early hours while the rest of the house snoozed away.

Destin sits on a long peninsula of land between the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay – a large saltwater bay, 129 square miles in size, that is fed by the gulf tides and estuary rivers to the north.

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An aerial view of Destin. Picture courtesy of flyfishaddiction.blogspot.com.

In addition to an abundance of places to fish in the salt, the area is dotted with ponds and lakes that hold largemouth bass and panfish. So depending on the weather and sea conditions, an angler has a choice of bay fishing, surf fishing, and pond/lake fishing. There’s rarely a time when a line has to sit dry for long.

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Miles and miles of white sandy beach await the early morning fly fisher…

For most of this visit I chose to fish the surf. I had previously fished Destin in the spring and fall, focusing on the bay. I’d heard summertime had a significant “trash fish” bite, but among that rubble was a gem of a fish that had a reputation as a great adversary on the long rod: the ladyfish…

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The ladyfish is a ray-finned fish also referred to as skipjacks, jack-rashes, or tenpounders. They are coastal-dwelling and found throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world but occasionally venture into more temperate waters. Ladyfish prey on smaller fish and shrimp. They can grow to over 3 feet in length and may reach 20 pounds in weight. More commonly, they are found to range from 12″ to over 20″. The body of the ladyfish is a tapered spindle shape with an oval cross-section. Their eyes are very large as are their mouths. Their incredible aerial acrobatics in combination with a hard mouth allows them to throw a poorly set hook quite easily. They are largely silver and white in color but their backs are a light olive to sand color with a beautiful band of pink where their color transitions to silver.

After arriving at our place and settling in, I rigged my 9 weight fly rod with a full intermediate line and took a quick golf cart ride to the beach. I walked east beyond the swimming area and began casting a size 2 chartreuse and white clouser minnow. It wasn’t long before I was hooked up and witnessing first-hand, the incredible high-jumps of the ladyfish.

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Ladyfish are known as the “poor man’s tarpon” due to their incessant aerobatics, as captured here in this picture courtesy of Doug Olander.

I fished the surf for several days and found varied fishing conditions for these surf-side torpedoes. One day the surf was flat as a mill-pond and I spent much of the day running up and down the beach chasing ladies crashing the beach. Their devastating attacks on glass minnows in the shallows reminded me of bluefish blitzes. On other days the surf was up and the ladies were still biting but were spread out and cruising resulting in a slow but steady bite. One hot afternoon I found them on almost every other cast, though they were not showing themselves as they were on the calmer days.

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I’ll estimate I caught at least a hundred ladyfish over a 4 day period and probably lost another 50 in the process. Ladyfish are built for blitzing bait – a long sleek body, deeply forked tail, big eyes, and a big mouth all make for one terrific gamefish for the saltwater angler.

One group of Mississippi fly fishermen respectfully refer to the ladyfish as the Mississippi tarbone and point out that local anglers can experience much of the thrill of catching tarpon and bonefish without having to leave Mississippi waters.

I found the “ladies” to feed very aggressively and take almost any fly I threw at them. While I didn’t try topwater, I’m sure a large popper thrown into their blitzes would have resulted in regular hook-ups. At times they would feed actively in large schools and could be seen porpoising as they chased bait in the shallows. The most effective flies were shiny, silver, or white. A white clouser with some flash combined with a fast retrieve that imparts plenty of action to the fly is all that is needed to catch these lightening bolts of the salt.

While sometimes difficult to hook, ladyfish will strike again and again on the retrieve. Their mouth is very abrasive; leaders should be checked frequently for fraying. On the advice of the local Orvis fly shop, I used a small bite guard of 30 lb mono as ladyfish are not at all leader shy. And I’d recommend not using expensive or intricate flies because they will get chewed up and stripped to a bare hook in no time! A 1/0 stainless hook tied with a lot of flash and some white hackle or deer hair will do the trick. Don’t spare the glue or epoxy! Simple and bullet-proof will work well.

The fish I caught ranged in size from 12″ to over 24″. Any ladyfish will fight hard but when they get over 18″ you will quickly be grinning ear to ear with their blistering runs and spastic leaps. I caught several larger ones that put a serious bend in my 9 weight and made long reel-screaming runs followed by tarpon-like leaps.

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A nice-sized ladyfish caught while wading. Photo by Captain Baz Yelverton.

I fished my 9 weight rod because one never knows what will show up in the surf, including redfish, jacks, and sharks, but I could have gone lighter. A 6 – 8 weight rod would work just as well and reduce arm fatigue from casting. A floating line can be used when the fish are in close but I prefer an intermediate or intermediate sink tip to get down in the water column. A simple 30/20 lb mono leader 5 to 8 feet in length is all that is needed on the business end. Flies do not need to be big, but I found that a larger hook helps increase hook-ups.

Ladyfish are sometimes cursed by anglers because they can aggressively interfere with fishing for other species. Redfish anglers, for example, will stalk a flat only to hook up with a ladyfish and spook every red on the flat. But I welcomed the opportunity to waltz with the “ladies”. I could count on them to join me on the floor with every cast. I could delight in their high leaps from the emerald waters of the Gulf straight up to the bright blue Florida sky. And I’ll certainly be back to ask for another dance with them come next summer.

The week ahead in fly fishing: August 28, 2017

Posted in Carp, Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on August 30, 2017 by stflyfisher

Put August in the books. Labor Day looms and it won’t be long before we are into Fall and arguably the best fishing of the year, assuming Mother Nature cooperates. Precipitation totals continue to climb for our area but at a slower rate. The warmwater rivers are finally down. The increased precip and cool temperatures have been great for trout fishing. Lastly, there are reports that the salmon are starting to enter the tribs.

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Air temps have been in the normal to cooler than normal over the last month.

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Fly Shop Talk: I’m currently reading the book My Life was This Big, by Lefy Kreh. It’s an interesting read and I’ll be doing a full book review on it when I am finished. One impression I have of Lefty from the book is that he certainly is an unconventional thinker and he applies that way of thinking to almost everything he does, fly fishing included. He believes that fly fishing is paralyzed by tradition, and gives numerous examples, but highlights the way anglers learn to fly cast – the 10 and 2 approach – arguing that for small stream casters it is appropriate but not for anglers fishing big water and windy conditions. Lefty is known for a much longer and more horizontal casting stroke. At 92, Lefty still give casting demonstrations!

Here’s the week ahead in fly fishing report:

Lake Ontario Tribs: To sum it up in a few words, the salmon are starting to trickle in. There are some salmon being landed – with many more brief hook-ups. This is encouraging to see even though the numbers are small so far. Look for things to pickup more after the water release next weekend. Every year is different but so far this looks like it should be a great river season.

Lakes: John Gaulke of Finger Lakes Angling Zone provides the following lake-by-lake report:

  • Cayuga Lake: Jigging remains good. Occasional salmon, rainbow trout and brown trout are in the mix. Largemouth bass fishing (with bonus pickerel) is fair to good here.
  • Owasco Lake: Smallmouth bass fishing should be fair to good here. Lake trout fishing should be picking up markedly here. Expect bonus browns, rainbows and bass.
  • Skaneateles Lake: Smallmouth bass fishing is good. Lake trout jigging is fair. Plenty of large rockbass and some perch are around.
  • Seneca Lake: Fishing is fair for lakers – a couple fish is a good day. No recent reports from here.
  • Keuka Lake: Lake trout fishing should be fair to good here. Bass fishing has been good.
  • Otisco Lake: No recent reports from here but with drier conditions the fishing should be good here for bass and tiger muskies.

Catskill Rivers:  

The Catskill Rivers have been in good shape and fishing well thanks to rain and cool temps. Following are some local fly shop reports:

  • The West Branch Angler is reporting that water levels, bugs and the fishing have been pretty consistent the last few weeks. Stilesville on the upper West Branch is running 526 cfs and down at Hale Eddy we have 637 cfs and 49 degrees, pretty good flows for late-August. The upper East at Harvard is now 268 cfs and 54 degrees and down at Fishs’ Eddy we have 437 cfs and 60 degrees. Down on the main Delaware we have 1,200 cfs and 62 degrees this morning. The mornings have been a good time to hit the water with some Tricos on the Main and East Branch with a few on the lower West Branch. As usual up here the Tricos can be hit or miss and a lot depends on the weather of the day and getting some spinners on the water. The Blue Winged Olives in #18-22 have been pretty reliable this year with some bugs usually showing up early afternoon on. Small Rusty Spinners for the Olives are essential flies to have this time of year. We’ve been seeing some pretty small winged ants in size 24 or smaller and are good flies to have, even if the fish seem to be feeding on mayflies. Terrestrials in general are always good to have this time of year. We have a little stain to the West Branch and it seems to be coming from the release/reservoir, which is usual this time of year, and is not a bad thing for the streamer fishing as we approach fall. It looks to be fairly cool all week with little rain.
  • The Delaware River Club is also reporting that the olives hatches have been good over the last few weeks. The fish are eating a lot of them just under the surface or in the film so watch the rise forms carefully. Otherwise nymphing or swinging wet flies will be your best shot. There are a lot of small olives on the rivers so keep that in mind while choosing the sizes of your wets and nymphs.
  • Ken Tutalo of Baxter House Fly Fishing Outfitters reports that the good fishing continues. With the regular rainfall and cooler weather mother nature has been taking care of our wild trout and insects. Just about every trip that went out this week was very good. All of our guests have had great action on nymphs regardless of the river section chosen. Right now the trout want to eat and if you get a nymph in front of them they will take it. During the last few days our guides have been spread out with boats on both the upper and lower sections of the West Branch and on the East Branch. The majority of the floats have been spent fishing nymph rigs and the fly rods have been bending. There was also a brief period this week where intense local showers caused turbidity. During this brief turbidity the streamer bite turned on pretty good. Guide Matt had an early day trip where they had steady action on streamer flies. The best news this week is that there were a few days where the fish rose pretty steady for a prolonged period. I put my guests into this action on both the East and West branches recently and the action was good for about the last 2 hours before dark. With the cooler afternoons the insect activity has been picking up. Most of the activity has been with olives. They are emerging well most days. There are also Trico’s, Sulfurs, Isonychia, Cahills, Midges and terrestrials in the drift. In addition to these insects there has been the occasional mix of Caddisflies and some brief sightings of giant yellow drakes in places. Overall however there is enough insects on the water to keep the trout interested. On my last float trip we had really steady catching with both Olive Cripples, Olive Klinkhammers and Rusty Spinners. From late afternoon until dark the fish have been looking up. Anglers will find the trout just about everywhere but there have been pods of juvenile and mid size browns feeding heavily in the bubble lines of the eddies and in the tailouts of pools where insects accumulate. These pod feeding trout have had tunnel vision and zero selectivity. When we have found this action it has been a fish on every cast. Anglers planning to fish in the coming days will now finally have some options. There is good Trico Action early day and streamers may tempt a few during this time period as well. The mid day period has been fishing well with nymphs. With the cooler weather anglers will now have some additional areas to nymph as the Beaverkill, Willow, Lower East and Main Stem are back into a decent temperature range. Anglers should start to look for risers in late afternoon. All of the main pools will now have action and in some places they have been going wild. From this point on we can expect the fishing to continue to slowly improve with every cool day. Now is a great time to plan a float trip on one of the Delaware Branches. The Smallmouth Bass action has been hot which is normal for July through mid September. Guide Zach has been putting some time chasing these gamefish. He has been fishing the Delaware below Callicoon regularly and with great success. The next few weeks are a great time to get out for smallies. They will start to feed heavily as the waters start to cool down. This cooling period also coincides with the migration of baby shad dropping back down the river. Every year this event causes heavy feeding blitzes in many of the eddies down river. We will continue to offer smallmouth bass trips through mid September.

Hatching:

Slate Drake #12-2xl – 12 – Isonychia bicolor
Sulphur – #16 – 20 – Ephemerella dorothea
Light Cahill – #14 – Ephemerella rotunda
Light Cahill – #14 – Ephemerella invaria
Little BWO – #22 – 26- Pseudocloeon sp.
Blue Wing Olives – #18 – Baetis sp.
Little Tan Sedge – #16 – 18 – Glossosoma sp.
Green Caddis – #16 – Ryacophilia sp.
Tan Caddis #16 – 18 – Hydropsyche spp.

Local creeks: Local creek flows are dropping to summer lows, though storms will continue to periodically revive them. It’s time now to put terrestrials in the vest if they aren’t there already. Grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and ants. Don’t forget inchworms also. While fishing with nymphs and dries will produce, look for terrestrials to become a main course item for trout as the hatches begin to dwindle. Hopper fishing can be great where creeks flow by open fields – especially when the wind is blowing.

Warmwater Rivers: The warmwater rivers have indeed been acting strange, mainly due to the weather. While all of our local rivers are good for nice wading and good fly fishing, water temps are down due to the cooler than normal air temps and recent rains. My personal opinion is that this sudden change in water temp may have put down the bass temporarily. The fishing should come back.

All of the local rivers are in superb shape with excellent clarity. The rivers are loaded with crayfish and minnows and the white fly hatch is most liely now in its later stages. This hatch usually stretches out over 6 weeks beginning in late July and lasting well into August.

Right now topwater should produce as should fishing big nymphs dead drift or swinging large streamers. Focus efforts on low-light conditions or fish the shady areas of the rivers for the best action. Remember to experiment – sometimes the bass want a slow swing, sometimes they’ll be more apt to jump a fly that has a lot of movement. Besides smallmouth bass, fallfish, channel cats, and walleye have all been on the hunt for a well-fished fly.

Ponds: Ponds remain a great place to fly fish right now. Largemouth bass are in summer mode and are more than willing to take a fly. As the water heats up and the sun is bright, it’s now time to shift fishing to early or late, but in the case of sunfish, any time of the day will work. Fishing the edges of weeds and around structure with wooly buggers, big nymphs, and streamers should remain effective, but topwater will also be effective especially in the early morning and towards evening.

Fly Fishing Events / Activities: It won’t be long until local fly fishing clubs begin their fall programs. September is usually the start of monthly meetings.

  • The Twin Tiers Five Rivers Chapter of FFI has announced their September meeting: We welcome you to join us on September 11th at 6:30pm, when Scott Feltrinelli will be visiting to talk about fishing the great lakes tributaries for salmon, steelhead and bass. Scott has over 27 years of fly fishing experience in both fresh and saltwater, and is the owner and guide of Ontario Fly Outfitters. Ontario Fly Outfitters is one of New York’s premiere fly fishing guide services specializing in providing a wide variety of fishing experiences for every level of fishing ability. He regularly targets the world class fishery we have within Western New York, on the tributaries of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie from the Salmon River to Steelhead Alley. Scott is an author/photographer for On The Fly Magazine, Cortland Line, Simms and LOOP Tackle Pro Staff. Scott’s talk will cover the techniques he uses to catch salmon, steelhead and bass in the Great Lakes tribs, as well as some of the streams he frequents. If you want to catch more steelhead or smallmouth bass this year in the great lakes tribs, you won’t want to miss this presentation. Unlike past presentations, we will not be starting with a fly tying demo. Instead, Scott’s presentation starts at 6:30 sharp, at the Big Flats Community Center, 476 Maple Street, Big Flats, NY 14814. Please note Sept’s date is shifted from our normal first Monday of the month timing due to Labor Day holiday.

The Week Ahead Weather: WBNG’s forecast is as follows:

Our weather remains a large body of high pressure over the St. Lawrence River. This will give us mostly sunny skies and mild temperatures. We will put a few more clouds in the forecast for Tuesday, but our string of beautiful weather will continue.

We’ll watch a storm working its way up the Atlantic Coast on Wednesday. This will give us more of a glancing blow. We’ll have clouds with a slight chance of scattered showers.

A cold front will move through Thursday giving us mostly cloudy skies with showers and thunderstorms. A quick shot of cool air will follow on Friday with highs in the 60s. We’ll see mostly sunny skies on Friday and into Saturday.

A warm front will approach on Sunday giving us clouds and showers. Temperatures will rebound into the 70s Sunday and Monday with partly cloudy skies on Monday.

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