Archive for the Saltwater Category

Good Gear – The Seiko Monster 2

Posted in Gear, Saltwater, Uncategorized, Watches with tags , , on March 22, 2018 by stflyfisher

I’ve revealed my dark side here before. Besides my penchant for everything fly fishing, including good outdoor clothing, I’m a watchie. My collection of watches is right up there with the number of fly rods I own.

Loyal and steadfast readers of this blog will likely remember a post I did on the Seiko Monster and the Monster’s little brother, the Seiko 5. I concluded in the post on the Seiko Monster that the Monster is a great fly fishing watch, and my experiences afield, astream, and in the salt continue to validate my initial take on this watch.

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Yours truly with a nice steelhead caught some years back. Note the Orange Seiko Monster with rubber dive strap on my right hand.

Most recently, however, I caught the phrase “Seiko Monster 2” out there in the blogosphere. I investigated and was delighted to find that Seiko had improved what I had already considered a horological masterpiece.

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The Seiko Monster 2 continues the Monster tradition with its legendary water-tightness of 200 meters thanks to the same screw-down crown. It also retains the essentials of the original with an excellent bracelet, case and bezel, and only slight changes to the dial. The dial’s hour markers are shaped like shark teeth with the Monster 2 instead of the mostly rectangular shapes and the inner sixty minute markings are no longer displayed making for a cleaner, less cluttered look. But it’s what beats buried deep in that stout stainless steel casing that makes the Monster 2 an even better watch: the new 24-jewel Seiko caliber 4R36 automatic movement.

An improvement over the original Monster’s 7S26 movement is that the new Monster’s 4R36 movement can be hacked and hand wound. Hacking is handy for synchronizing the watch with another timepiece; just unscrew the crown, pull it out to the 2nd position and the second hand will stop while you set the time. Hand winding lets you power up the watch manually after it has sat unworn for a few days. The 4R36’s 24 jewel movement runs at 21,600 vph with a power reserve of 41 hours.The new movement is also more accurate than the caliber 7S26 used in the original Monster.

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The heart of the Monster 2 – the 4R36 24 jewel movement…

The powerful Seiko LumiBrite luminescent material is of course still used in the Monster 2 and it retains the same brilliant glowing properties that made the original Monster such a huge worldwide phenomenon with watch enthusiasts and scuba divers. It is a very slightly different shade of blue-green this time but is still an awesome sight in the dark after charging it with a bright light source. You will also notice a new nicely machined crown that is a bit easier to grip than the previous version.

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The lume on the Seiko Monster 2 is impressive and comes in handy for fly fishers who like either of the darker ends of the fishing day…

The new Monster comes in a total of five versions spanning a standard black dial (SRP307K1), orange dial (SRP309K1), black case with an orange/brown sunburst dial (SRP311K1), black dial with red markers (SRP313K1), and lastly with a black bezel and chapter ring over an orange dial (SRP315K1). All models continue to feature a unidirectional countdown bezel, screw-down crown and a Seiko-traditional day/date display.

I agree with one watch review that noted that while the included Seiko rubber strap is fine, it tends to be a little long. I’ve always found the rubber strap to be very durable and comfortable and of course better for fly fishing in that there’s no flash. Having said that, the stainless steel bracelet is beautiful and rock solid. Models SRP307K1, SRP309K1, and SRP311K1 come standard with the bracelet. There is even a blacked-out version available which would be more suitable to fishing conditions where stealth is important.

And so, if there was ever a time to own a Seiko Monster, now is that time. With the new Monster 2 in the market, prices of the original monster may soften a bit, for one. That means the uninitiated watchies out there can get a great fly fishing watch and still fly under the girlfriend’s or wife’s finance filter (as in, “you spent that much on a watch?”!). And if you really want to own the more improved version, you’ll have more choice in the Seiko Monster 2 in terms of colors and you’ll end up with an even better fly fishing watch that should perform for decades to come…

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I’ve worn my original Seiko Monster while fishing under a range of demanding conditions. Whenever and wherever I fish, my Monster is there. It has never failed me and this includes the very rough and tumble world of party boat fishing for yellowfin tuna.

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Looking back: Fly fishing in 2017 – adapt, improvise, overcome…

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Rod Building, Saltwater, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , , on January 5, 2018 by stflyfisher

2017 will go down in the annals of the Southern Tier Fly fisher as very unique year in a myriad of ways. Some fishing for me was off compared to typical years but I am grateful that for every ying, there was a yang. The United Sates Marine Corps trains its Marines to “adapt, improvise, overcome”, under challenging conditions and so it was with fly fishing in 2017. Where I could not fish one venue due to conditions, I was able to roll with circumstances and create fly fishing success in other areas. I believe this is a key trait of good fly anglers: the ability to accept what Mother Nature hands us and still make lemonade out of lemons…

Before looking back at fly fishing, let’s review the weather history for the year, as so much of fishing often depends on the weather and climate. The following climate summary chart says a lot about the year, and in particular, that it was a very wet one…

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Daily temps were overall on par with historic norms, but precipitation was certainly anything but normal…

Weather highlights for the year were:

Record snowfall

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Binghamton NY achieved the status as snowiest city in New York after Stella left a whopping 35″ of snow on March 14th, the most snowfall Binghamton has ever received in 24 hours.

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Yours truly digging out during Winter Storm Stella…

High precipitation

The big snow-pack left by a snowy winter in combination with some significant rain in spring/summer made for some high water levels in area creeks, streams and rivers. In particular, the Susquehanna watershed took longer than usual to dry out, leaving the warmwater rivers high and largely unwadeable through mid-summer. My own records show I didn’t really start fly fishing for smallmouth bass until early August.

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Water flows on the Susquehanna in Vestal averaged in the 8 – 10K CFS range through early August, putting off fly fishing by wading. Once the Susquehanna watershed did dry out, the river dropped significantly.

But all the water made it a good year for trout, after last year’s long summer drought.

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Flows on the West Branch of the Delaware River were on average very healthy for 2017, but there were still some big swings due to continued water flow mismanagement on the part of the DRBC.

A cooler late spring and summer…

Temperatures varied around historical norms for most of the year, but there was one significant trend of average to cooler than average temperatures from mid-May through early September. It was a cool summer and there’s no doubt that was good for the coldwater fishery.

Fly fishing in 2017 – a summary:

Rod building

I started building a fly rod for my brother-in-law in January, enrolling for the second time in BC Flyfisher’s Rod Building Class, led by master rod builder, Joe Swam. I built up a TFO Finesse, 8′ 9″ 4 piece 5 weight rod using all of TFO’s original components. THis moderate action rod was just the ticket for fine presentation, according to TFO, and the rod performed outstandingly on the Bighorn during the trico hatch in Jeff’s able hands.

Fly tying

I also enrolled in BC Flyfisher’s annual fly tying class, though I could not attend all of the classes. Led by a cast of several very experienced BCFF members and guest tyer Joe Cambridge, the class once again added to my skill base and provided some simple guide fly patterns to add to my fly boxes. among them the Utah Killer Bug and The Turd.

Casting

One thing I tried to do a lot of in 2017 was casting practice, especially during high water conditions. It is said that the best anglers will practice casting BEFORE fishing, particularly to shake off the casting rust at the beginning of the year, to develop and perfect better casts and in preparation for guided trips. I found that it was important to have a curriculum set so there was some purpose to the practice. There are a plethora of casting videos on YouTube to use as part of any curriculum. Local fishing clubs will usually hold casting classes, as did the BC Flyfishers. I found practice helped me tremendously in preparing for my Bighorn trip as well as my saltwater trips, where being able to cast in windy conditions can make or break the day.

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Different color hula hoops, a lawn, a fly rod of choice with clean line and a lawn fly – tuft of bright yarn at the end of the leader – are all one needs to work on becoming the next Lefty Kreh.

Thank God for trout

While the warmwater rivers were high and not wadeable / fishable, I relied on the trout fishery for my fly fishing options from spring to early August. A significant blessing we anglers of the Southern Tier enjoy is the diversity of fisheries available to us. We have tremendous opportunities in cold and warmwater angling along with very unique fisheries that offer a variety of spawning-related runs of lake fish.

In early spring through May, I fished the local creeks for stocked, holdover, and native browns. I fished some typical haunts and a few new ones and found the fishing good.

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Yours truly releasing a nice upstate brown, pic courtesy of Eric Tomosky.

I had some very good days swinging a classic old pattern introduced to me (and tied by) fellow angler Eric Tomosky.

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The Carey Special, a classic western wet that seemed to appeal to eastern browns…

I also fished the bigger rivers, including my favorite, the West Branch of the Delaware.

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Late start to Smallie fishing

The USGS water gauge for the year says it all; unless one had access to a boat, many of the warmwater rivers were off limits due to high unwadeable flows for all of the spring and much of the summer. It’s certainly always a hit or miss thing to get into the pre-spawn smallmouth bite in May as flows are normally high then, but this year I couldn’t get a break until early August. What windows of opportunity there were seemed to coincide with my work schedule.

I fished the Tioughnioga River alone and with some fly fishing friends, including Eric Tomosky and my cousin’s husband, John Greco. The Tioughnioga fished well for smaller bass and fallfish and at least one very big bass that ended with a just-beyond-the-reach release.

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A long deep pool on the Tioughnioga River…

As the Susquehanna dropped I shifted over to this favorite water, one I consider my home water, and found solid fishing for smallmouth bass in fall feeding mode…

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A beautiful chocolate fall smallmouth bass. This bass hit a white Murray’s Dying Minnow fished off a large tree downfall along the river’s edge.

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Another smallmouth bass that couldn’t resist a streamer…

The catfish bite, however, was disappointing for me and did not compare to past years.

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My lone channel cat of 2017. I miss their hard hits on a fly and the deep bend they’ll put in an 8 weight fly rod…

Saltwater fly fishing in Florida

As previously mentioned, while some forms of fishing suffered in 2017, others took off. Such was the case for me and saltwater fly fishing. I enjoyed a repeat of fly fishing Choctawhatchee Bay in Destin, Florida in April and caught some trout, a redfish, and flounder on the fly there. Though most of the fish I caught were small, these catches were a good start in my quest to learn how to fly fish the vast saltwater flats of this 130 square mile bay. Like learning to fish for trout or smallmouth bass, each fishery requires time and dedication in order to achieve a level of mastery.

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To walk the beach with a 9 weight and fish the blitzes of ladyfish was heaven…

I had read of ladyfish, considered by some anglers as a trash fish and even a pest for their sheer ferocity and willingness to attack anything that swims. They are present in big numbers in the bay and surf along most of Florida’s coast. I returned to Destin in late August and decided to fly fish the surf. I found the ladies very willing to take the fly. It was not uncommon to catch 20 to 30 of these saltwater speedsters in a few hours of fishing. And boy, do they dance and jump!

Bighorn River trip

I was able to return to “the last good country” in mid-September and wet a line with my brother-in-law on the fabled Bighorn. It was a great trip, all in all, featuring some phenomenal dry fly fishing during the trico hatch as well as some solid nymph and streamer fishing.

Float trip with Todd

While I did float the river in my kayak twice in the fall, I had the privilege and pleasure to float the river with Todd Smith, Sayre, PA resident and proud owner of an awesome 16′ Towee skiff. For those not familiar with this boat and the brand, the Towee skiff caught my eye a while ago as a true design hybrid that just might be the ideal fly fishing boat for rivers, lakes, saltwater flats, and even nearshore salt. This combination driftboat, skiff, and canoe is very stable and draws only 4″ fully loaded.

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Looking forward from aft on Todd’s beautiful Towee skiff. Note the clean layout, rod storage, electric trolling motor, storage, and partially seen, a 30 horse Evinrude jet outboard (Pic courtesy of Todd Smith).

After emailing back and forth and trying to juggle schedules most of the year, Todd and I were finally able to meet up for a nice afternoon/evening float on the Susquehanna in late September. We caught a few fish and enjoyed some banter about our different military backgrounds (Todd – Army, Me – Navy). Best of all, I got to see what Todd’s Towee could do on the river. As low as the river was in late September, I was impressed with how well it could skim over shallow riffles. It’s stability was also very impressive. Todd and I stood and cast flies all afternoon without an issue.

Saltwater fly fishing off New Jersey

I had two quality shots at northeastern saltwater fly fishing from a boat thanks to Fishhead Greg (Greg Cudnik), who owns and operates Fisherman’s Headquarters in Ship Bottom (Long Beach Island), NJ. Greg guided me on two occasions, the first for albacore in October and the second time for stripers in late November. The albie fishing was on fire and I fulfilled a goal to catch not one but 3 of these saltwater rockets on the fly rod. The stripers never came to the surface but the troll did produce…

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Mom

I can’t end this 2017 fly fishing review without the mention of my mother, who I lost on December 18th. She died of dementia and other complications after taking a fall that broke her hip. She was 88. As is often the case when dealing with the death of a loved one, time is spent looking back on their life, recalling wonderful memories. As part of this process, I had the opportunity to sort through hundreds of pictures chronicling her life, and my early life just as well. Among the pictures, I found a few of her as a young lady fishing on a party boat in the fall. According to my father, this was a trip fishing for cod and other bottom fish out of Boston. I’m not aware of her ever fishing again, but she loved the fact that I fished. I was raised in a non-piscatorial family and outside of a few saltwater fishing trips my Dad took as part of business, I was the only one in our family to pick up the long rod, or any rod for that matter. Nonetheless, my Mom was always there for me, whenever fish called. I can remember her making me a big breakfast and then driving me to the Saddle River in suburban NJ for put and take trout fishing as a 10 year old. I can remember her making a cooler of food any time I went fishing on one of the party boats out of Barnegat Light. When I brought fish home, she was always there to cook what I caught. She was a fishing cheerleader if there ever was one. And though her dementia eventually dimmed the light of her life, to the very end she was the most optimistic force in my life. I could do anything in her eyes on this good earth.

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A favorite picture of my Mom with my older son Chris, at his college graduation from Campbell University in December, 2015. At this point in her life, her light, a great guiding beacon that always steered one straight, was just starting to fade…

So I look back on 2017 with some sadness, having lost the greatest fishing guide in my life. But I wade forward into 2018 knowing she is still there for me; in the riffles, the river runs, amidst the pretty morning hatches, and the blitzes in the surf.

 

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.”

Back Home in the Comfort Zone

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!

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

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…

ladyfish

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.

Looking back on 2016…

Posted in Carp, Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Rod Building, Saltwater, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on January 17, 2017 by stflyfisher

“To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction, is to live twice”

Kahlil Gibran

The book on 2016 is now officially closed and as most who peruse my blog know, I like to take a look back on each year fly fishing the Southern Tier before looking forward to the year ahead.

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The beautiful West Branch of the Delaware – a classic Upstate New York trout fishery that will hopefully continue to provide great fly fishing in 2017…

2016 was an interesting mix of fly fishing highs and lows for the Southern Tier and for me in particular. I’ll summarize those points with commentary in this post. Look for a “year ahead” post in the coming weeks as well as a review of my performance to last year’s fly fishing goals and a list of what I want to accomplish in 2017.

Weather / Climate Summary – The top story of the year is the drought that started slowly, but hung on through summer and early fall to the point where many small creeks and streams were dangerously low, if not outright dried-up. Owego Creek, for example, was dry in sections, something I’ve never seen in the 24 years I’ve lived in the Southern Tier. What’s often not so good for some fishing, however, can be good for others. The warmwater rivers of our area were low enough for good wading access as early as April and even the mighty Susquehanna was low by late June.

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A large fallfish nest lies exposed on the Susquehanna River. This might be expected in a dry year in August, but to see this in late June is a testament to the severity of the 2016 drought.

By July, one could wade across the Susquehanna in many places! River flows hit a low of 500 CFS in mid-September – making fishing from a boat difficult in some areas later in summer. Note the USGS chart below…

susquehanna-2016-trend

As can be seen in the next chart, temperatures were on the warm side in February and March, precipitating early snow-melt, but then tracked in a fairly tight range for the remainder of the year. Precipitation, or lack thereof, was the bigger issue. The chart below shows a growing deficit that widened significantly into the early fall.

2016-temp-precip

BC Flyfisher’s 1st fly rod building class – The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF kicked off 2016 with a rod building class taught by expert rod maker, Joe Swam. The class was outstanding – the group small enough to allow personalized teaching from Joe. It was so good I’m enrolled in the second annual rod building class as I write this. The best thing about the class was the knowledged gained on not only “how”, but “why” fly rods are built as they are. As an example, I never understood why the female end of each rod section is wrapped much like a guide. Now I know, thanks to the class, that the ferrule is very weak and the wrap serves to re-enforce the rod. Obviously too, rod building opens endless opportunity to build a rod that is totally your creation, and perfectly suited to your fly fishing needs. I’ll never buy another. Thanks, Joe!

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Rod wrapping with Hemingway.

Visit to Destin – I visited Destin, Florida, and my son Chris, on my way to a business trip destination at the end of January. I’d never been to the “Emerald Coast” of the panhandle of Florida. I brought my 9 weight saltwater fly fishing outfit with me but without much local guidance, I was unable to stir up a bite. Nonetheless, in talking with a few locals, I was immediately impressed with the fly fishing potential, especially when one older angler answered my query on the fishing by saying, ‘the fishing is not good, it is excellent, most excellent…’

April Steelhead – I made it out for steelhead on a very cold and wet, early April day. I once again was able to fish with friend Bob Card and guide Tony Gulisano. Tony is a great guide and is adept in angling for steelhead and salmon in all ways – spinning, centerpin, and fly fishing. Although I did raise one fish, I skunked out while Bob hooked into a number of steelhead and lost a few more. The only bad side to the trip were the repeated disappointing statements from Tony on what he was seeing as we drifted the river. The numbers of steelhead were low according to him – in some places he saw only a few fish where he’d normally see 20, 30, or more. Tony’s observations are based on years guiding the river. What he saw in early 2016 more or less predicted less than a great run of steelhead in the fall.

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Bob Card with a nice spring steelhead…

Owego Creek – I was able to get out on the “lower” Owego Creek with Rick Searles. Owego Creek is homewater to Rick – he knows it well and has caught some true trophy browns from the Owego. Rick showed me some areas to fish but was pretty up front about expectations. The lower Owego Creek is not loaded with trout but when one does find them they can be very high quality fish, including some big holdovers and wild browns as well. While I did not do so well the couple of times I fished it, I’m a believer in this small creek’s potential. Rick and I fished it in the spring but as mentioned above, by June the creek was extremely low. I stayed away from ALL creeks for the remainder of the year. I figured wild and holdover browns had enough to contend with from Mother Nature.

April Visit to Destin – I managed to visit Destin, Florida again in April along with my wife. We flew down to see our son, Chris, but in the process, decided to see what real estate was like. One thing led to another and before long we were hooked on buying. I never pictured my later life as involving the “snowbird migration”, but suddenly the thought of living part of the year in a warm climate where the fishing is both good and different and then returning north for late spring through fall seemed to appeal to me. On top of that, Destin has a strong vacation rental market and buying a property would allow us to own an investment that we could use a bit, letting rental income defray at least some of the cost before retirement. We ended up buying a townhouse on a stocked lake just minutes from the beach and 5 minutes by golf cart to Cowahatchee Bay…

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Early Season Bronze – The pre-spawn smallmouth bass bite turned out to be excellent. With water levels at spring lows, it didn’t take long to break out my smallmouth gear and look for some early season bronze. I had some excellent fishing starting with the smaller warmwater rivers like the Tioughnioga, but eventually even the big Susquehanna dropped to levels that offered exceptional fly fishing. This early season bite is always there, of course, but only when winters are mild and the rivers are relatively tame does it open up for the wading fly angler. I fished the smaller rivers early on and found some “football” smallies and equally stout fallfish in the river braids and shallow eddies…

Later in the spring, the big Susquehanna also dropped to wadeable levels, and the fishing opened up there too. I did my best to get out when the getting was good, and scored some nice bass in the process. I even got a chance to break in my newly made fly rod, dubbed “The Golden Bear” because of its Vestal High School colors of green and gold…

 

Trout & Memorial Day – I didn’t fly fish for trout as much as I’ve done in past years. Blame the low warmwater river levels and my obsession with smallmouth bass and other warmwater river species. I did make it down to my favorite place on the West Branch of the Delaware River a few times, the most memorable and personally rewarding being Memorial Day. A former sailor, Dan, contacted me out of the blue. He had read my Memorial Day blog posts and told me he had worked for Bob Shippee, one of the 37 on board who had died when the Stark was attacked in 1987. The more I read of Bob Shippee and the more I corresponded with the man who first wrote me about him, the more I wanted to write a tribute to Shippee.

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Memorial Day brown – and evidence that Bob Shippe was listening…

Carp – I ran into a few carp this year and fished for them intentionally a few more times. My first encounter was while fishing for early season bass with “The Golden Bear” – a good test of any rod and one that made me smile all the more.

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Big river carp are a great way to test out a newly built fly rod…

I caught another dandy on the Tioughnioga with Singer’s Crayfish in a size 6 – a great little pattern that’s equally good on smallmouth. In this specific case, I sawa at least a dozen carp moving and feeding in a deep hole. A few drifts with my crayfish pattern and I was hit solidly. What a great fight these fish can put on! My other attempts resulted in a few missed hook-ups but these scouting trips proved fruitful in uncovering a number of areas to fish in 2017.

Father’s Day – I spent a very special Father’s Day with a long distance fly fishing friend, Joe Laney. Originally from the northwest, Joe currently lives and works in Manhattan with his wife and daughter, but has connections in the Southern Tier through his wife’s family. He happened to read some of my posts way back when and eventually we met up to fish our local waters. Since then, we usually get out when he’s up our way. Joe’s a very good fly angler. On this past Father’s Day we explored the Otselic River and enjoyed catching some nice smallmouth bass, fallfish, and even a few rock bass. It’s always a joy to fish new water, especially with a good friend…

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Joe releases a nice fallfish on the beautiful Otselic River…

Catfish – I’ve been running into Mr. Whiskers for a number of years, but it seems like my encounters have increased most recently, prompting me to fish intentionally for them while out hunting bass. Counter to general opinion, the channel catfish that populate our warmwater rivers will aggressively hit a fly, especially large buggy streamers and nymphs. Once hooked, hang on for a deep and dirty fight, even on an 8 weight rod. The state record was a 32 lb fish caught in Brant Lake, but I’d bet river cats are tougher, pound for pound, than their laker kin due to river conditioning. I caught a half dozen up to 32″ with just as many missed in 2016 and repeated an early fall pattern where they were feeding on large emerging mayflies! Go figure…

The Fall Float – I’ve made it out on my small and humble kayak every fall for the last few years and these solo floats always prove very productive. The Susquehanna was very low when I launched downstream this year, making for some even skinnier paddling in places. I fished mainly buggers and the bass were hot to play, including several very nice ones. I did not get a shot at musky or pike, but saw a “fingerling” musky – maybe 12″ long holding near some weeds in about a foot of water. That was most encouraging. Also in the mix was a very nice channel cat and countless fallfish, probably one of the most under-rated beginner “fly fisher fish”, but a species that always fights with bravado and readily and heartily takes a fly…

Blues – The fishing for bluefish was pretty damn good this year. That’s something I truly missed the last several years. Fishing seemed to change off Barnegat Light / Long Beach Island ever since Hurricane Sandy decimated the Jersey shore and that change to the fishing (along with regulation changes) took its toll on the party boats. Whereas two boats – Doris Mae and Miss Barnegat Light – ALWAYS ran for blues from spring through fall, day and night, fishing deteriorated so badly that these boats began to cut back on their trips. Sadly, Doris Mae eventually sold out. Theories abound on specifically why the fishing has changed for Barnegat Light – some indicate bottom changes due to the storm – others point to changes in seasonal currents. Whatever the cause, the trip (think fuel expense and time to fish) to reach blues from Barnegat Light did not make business sense. So after reading some glowing reports this past fall, I looked about 40 minutes north to the boats out of Belmar and I was not disappointed. I took a trip aboard The Golden Eagle with my cousin, Mark, and we had a great day. The only disappointment was that the fish mainly wanted bait in the chum slick. I prefer to jig for them, but it was so good to feel their brute power…

Destin – My wife and I returned to Destin in early November to spend a week at our place there. I finally got a chance to meet Ed Greene, a local fisherman and neighbor to our realtor. He was gracious enough to take me out to the expansive Cowahatchee Bay on his center console 23 foot fishing boat. We fished primarily for “trout” as they are referred to in the south. The bay holds a wide range of gamefish, including summer flounder, ladyfish, bluefish, redfish, trout, jacks, spanish mackerel, and even cobia and tarpon. Once I got a handle on the fishing, thanks to Ed’s sage advice, I ventured out on my own, wading the bayside shallows and tidal creeks. I fished a 9 foot 8 weight rod, an intermediate line, a 6 foot leader, and a number of streamers / shrimp patterns, but the best producer was a chartreuse and white clouser minnow. My efforts were rewarded with a number of small trout, a redfish, many lizardfish, and a summer flounder – a great intro to fly fishing, Emerald Coast style, and to think it was only a 5 minute ride in a golf cart to miles of bay fly fishing…

Ed also was kind enough to take me out wreck fishing offshore in a friend’s 27 foot center console boat. Our target species was red snapper. We first jigged up live bait in the East Pass inlet using light spinning gear and tiny sabiki rigs. This was fun stuff in itself. Proper technique could end up with 3, 4, or even 5 feisty baitfish on the multiple hook rigs. After we had a good supply of live bait, we cranked up and headed offshore to wrecks that Ed had in his GPS unit. We fished in water 50 to 90’+ and used pretty stout boat rods with 60lb mono. The rig was classic bluefish stuff – egg sinker (in this case 8 ounces!), swivel, leader, and snelled circle hook. I’d never fished a circle hook and it does take some getting used to. The idea is to just let the fish take the bait and simply tighten up to it without lifting the rod. The circle hook then rotates in the fish’s mouth, rolls, and hooks the fish in the corner of the mouth. I quickly got the hang of it, and in combination with the 3 other gulf-fishing veterans, it wasn’ long before we each had our 2 fish limit in the cooler. These were beautiful red snappers, hard fighting and even better tasting…

Salmon – Another first for me was a trip to fish the salmon run in the Salmon River. I made it up to the Upper Fly Zone – an area I had never fished before but one about which I’d heard good comments. I fished it with angler friend Bob Card on a rainy day. For those unacquainted, the Upper Fly Zone is beautiful water and well worth a full day or days of fishing. I hooked up as did Bob but we did not land one of thee black beasts, primarily due to our position on the river. If nothing else, it was a great recon trip. I’ll certainly be back up there again in 2017.

The Magic of 100 – I’ll finish up this post with a comment on achieving a goal I set at the start of 2016 to “fish and/or engage in fly fishing events and activities 100 times”. Look for a future post on this idea of “100”in the near future, but setting that goal was largely responsible for most of the 2016 memories that I’ve posted here.

And so, I’ll close out 2016 with a wish that 2017 is even better for Southern Tier long rodders…!

 

 

Looking Back on 2013

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Flies - Local Favorites, Saltwater, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 3, 2014 by stflyfisher

It’s always helpful to take a look back before moving forward. And while this post is a little late as we near the close of March, for most Southern Tier fly anglers, the traditional fly fishing season has not quite started. So, here’s the way I see 2013 from the fly fishing rear view mirror…

Early season fly fishing for trout in 2013 was very good. I started the season, per tradition, fishing Cayuta Creek with fly fishing friend Dan. The stocked browns never fail on Cayuta and offer a great way to shake off the dust and rust from a long winter. The creek was in great shape and full of that blue-green early season water fly fishers love to see. Particularly noteworthy was catching my first fish on my own fly – in this case a Picket Pin – and an early season favorite.

First fish on one of my own flies...

First fish on one of my own flies…

I also caught what I believe was a hold-over or native brown on a JJ Jigs Picket Pin streamer, a first for me. I once briefly hooked and saw the flash of a very large brown under a downfall and lost another good one in the same spot.

A nice Cayuta brown caught on a picket pin streamer...

A nice Cayuta brown caught on a picket pin streamer…

As was the case in 2012, pre-spawn smallmouth bass did not disappoint. And it was a good thing, because 2013 was one of the worst fishing years for smallmouth in my record books, one that I’ve deemed “the summer of no smallmouth“.

A nice pre-spawn smallmouth...

A nice pre-spawn smallmouth…

Blame high water and lots of it combined with working for a living and not always being able to capitalize on flows settling down to wade-able levels. It seemed there were many weeks when I would drive by the rivers on the way home from work, watch them clearing and dropping, only to watch them rise again with late week or weekend rains. There were a few good outings, including a jaunt on the upper Susquehanna in Windsor where a wooly bugger soft hackle streamer I tied scored some very nice smallmouth.

This early fall smallie took one of JJ-Jig's "home invader" streamers on the swing...

This early fall smallie took one of JJ Jig’s “home invader” streamers on the swing…

Blues off New Jersey were quite simply and truly ‘the blues’ this year. As reported on the Miss Barnegat Light website, it was a weird fishing year with such a lack of bluefish that the boat switched to fluke fishing all summer for the first time in over 20 years. What happened to the blues? The word is that they were far offshore and could be had if one was willing to go for them. One boat reported finding the big guys in abundance offshore where they normally hunt tuna – in this case upwards of 40 miles out of Barnegat Inlet. Based on economics, party boats would rarely venture out that far for bluefish fares. So, aside from one day of tussling with a bunch of big ones in the fall, it was a lousy year for blues.

Getting back to trouting, I was introduced to two great subsurface patterns that really impressed:

I fished a sulfur soft hackle during the sulfur hatch and did quite well. This was not a first for me – I had been introduced to soft hackles way back on a trip to the Bighorn River in Montana – but it was a first on the West Branch of the Delaware. Along with some nice browns, I caught a bunch of dandy rainbows.

A beautiful West Branch rainbow...

A beautiful West Branch rainbow…

I also ran into a nice guy named Tom at the parking access. We got to talking as anglers are apt to do. Tom had not fished Ball Eddy so I offered that I’d be glad to show him around and I was glad I did. Not only was Tom a great fly fisherman, he also introduced me to the caddis sparkle pupa – some he tied up himself. I was fishing a different caddis pupa pattern and not getting nearly the action he was. He threw me a few and as they say, I became a ‘believer’.

The fall streamer bite on the Catskill rivers was so-so for me this year. Conditions were classic when I went in the fall and I did hook up, but it was nothing like I’ve experienced in the past.

A new old rod… I made it a point to cull my ‘stick’ inventory and sold off some in order to purchase a classic Scott rod that I intend to wave above local waters in 2014.

Scott 906/7 BT

Scott 906/7 BT

This Scott 907 BT (“Bass/Trout” rod) was built in the original Scott factory in Berkeley California. The original owner purchased it in 1993 and it has been fished far and wide, including a trip to New Zealand. It’s a “907” rod with a twist – a 6 weight trout tip and a 7 weight bass tip. I’ve always loved my Scott 907B and look forward to putting many more miles on this rod.

‘Turnover’ in the fall is always an interesting time. The science behind this event is that as the temperatures cool, the surface water of ponds and lakes cools, sinks, and displaces the relatively warmer bottom water. This turnover creates up-welling of the bottom water which continues until water temperatures are consistent, top to bottom. Before this process is complete, the water can turn stained or dirty, but afterwards, it’s clear as can be, and refreshingly so on our pond, which is normally murky and weedy in the summer to early fall. I took my kayak out on the pond in mid-November on an unusually warm day and experienced some incredible streamer fishing. I fished my St Croix 5/6 weight with a sink tip line and short leader tipped with one of my weighted bugger / soft hackle variants and had a blast “sight fishing” to deep-cruising largemouth. It was neat watching them inhale the fly in water as clear as the Caribbean. And many of these bass put quite the bend in the rod.

Stripers were hit and miss this year, as recently posted. I managed 2 pool-winners and caught a total of 6. I missed another big one right at the boat. The bass followed my flutter jig right up to the boat, took a swipe, and then bolted! It’s always exciting to watch big bass in feeding mode!

A great way to end 2013...

A great way to end 2013…