Archive for the Saltwater Category

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…

false_albacore

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.

img_7573

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.

050313-A-EO314-103

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.

albie5

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…

albie1

My first albie… (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik)

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

albie3

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.

22549960_1788431681465000_4698076119308831124_n

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…

albie4

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.

alba-clouser

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!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

destin

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

ladyfish.jumping.olander.doug

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Noreen Galaba ladyfish

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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…

ellen-288

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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…

 

 

Looking back on 2012

Posted in Fishing Reports, Saltwater, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , on February 2, 2013 by stflyfisher

By most accounts, 2012 was a strange year for fly fishing in the Southern Tier of NY. Local anglers I’ve talked to didn’t know what to make of the wild seasonal swings, and fishing seemed to be mixed, at least according to my journal, with phenomenal days followed by not so good outings during other parts of the year.

Thanks to a warm spell in late winter / early spring, fly fishers enjoyed great fly fishing for trout. Instead of a bone-chilling opener, anglers basked in relative warmth and fished near gin-clear water conditions. Even the pre-opening fishing on waters that were open, like parts of Cayuta Creek, shown below, was excellent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some anglers reported early season dry fly fishing – as early as March 7th – which is unheard of in these parts. Note the water level and clarity of the West Branch of the Tioughnioga (below) in late April! I didn’t have my fly rod when I took this picture but brown trout were actively rising to caddis, leaving me drooling…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While the trout angling got even better in April, another surprise opportunity was the smallmouth bass fishing in local rivers and streams. Rivers were at low levels thanks to the lack of snowpack. Normally, bass fishing on the larger rivers is not possible until late spring at the very best. I kept eying the “big four” in our area – the Tioughnioga, Chenango, Chemung, and Susquehanna – and watching the USGS water gauge. Even the main branch of the Susquehanna looked enticingly fishable as shown in this picture taken in late April. As a reference, the point to the left in this picture would normally be covered by 6 feet of water at this time of the year…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After reading a post by fellow fly fishing blogger, Dave Pelachik, I decided to give the Susky a try and boy was I glad I did, as detailed in a post I did soon after my trip. My only regret is not spending that entire day on the river…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fly fishing in general was outstanding on the Catskill Rivers. The tailwaters were able to maintain flows throughout the season: the freestone Willowemoc and Beaverkill were not quite so lucky. In any case, the only ‘off’ part of the spring was the effect the weather had on the hatches. They were in some cases very strong and early and in others, such as the March Brown hatch, reported to be non-existent. But the trout were hungry. One observation I noted in my fishing is that I did not see the same proportion of rainbows to browns that I normally do, but the browns were certainly in very good health.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While the smallmouth season started out with a bang for me, late summer fishing was for some reason a bust, at least on the Susquehanna where I fish it. It got downright befuddling at times, to the point where I began to hunt the smaller Tioughnioga and upper Chenango. Interestingly, these rivers fished better than the main branch of the Susky. Noticeably absent during much of my fishing on the Susquehanna were the younger year class bass, which normally prove to be a nuisance.  These fish were present on the smaller rivers but their absence in the bigger water is a mystery to me.

The West Branch of the Delaware continued to fish well into June…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While summer fishing was slow in some ways, the largemouth bass on the pond out back of our house were ever willing to slam anything tossed their way. And the white fly hatch in early August on the Susquehanna was epic, but didn’t seem to bring out the bass for me, at least.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Saltwater fishing was also a mix. I fly fished Meyer’s Hole near Barnegat Light, NJ on the July 4th holiday, and was fortunate to run into schools of very willing shad that clobbered my clouser streamer to the point where it was nothing more than a jig with no tail feathers. These mini tarpon were a blast, leaping on every hook-up. These were 1 to 3 lb fish, but mingling among them were houndfish, a gar-like fish that on two occasions attacked my clouser streamer and ripped line as they streaked across the surface of the water like an airborne torpedo. My houndfish were not quite the size of the monster shown below (but they were a good 3 feet in length), but these are respectable game fish, and keep your hands away from the business end!

305952969_d4ad728afd_o

The party boat fishing was also a mixed bag. I went with my cousin Mark over that same July 4th weekend and we caught ‘cocktail’ blues on jigs. We won the pool, believe it or not, with a blue just shy of 2 lbs. We split the winngins at $65 a piece. Go figure…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Later in the year in September I fly fished the bay again with nothing to show for it – then headed out on the Miss Barnegat Light for blues and did nicely, again using jigs. These were 6 to 14 lb fish – the kind that leave your arms sore and put a big smile on your face. Anglers drifting chunk bait in the slick did better than us jiggers. The fish seemed a tad picky – unusual for the ever-hungry bluefish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bass fishing in late summer seemed to pick up for me. On one morning I did very well fishing the tail of a pool in the Susquehanna. I had noticed the distinctive water disturbance left by bass chasing baitfish and positioned myself to swing a white Murray’s streamer across the tailout. These fish were very aggressive and were marauding the very shallow parts of the tailout. I landed 4 very nice bass and lost 2 more before the action slowed. One fought like a snag the first few seconds, then had his way in the strong current before I lost him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Finger Lakes trib runs never happened unfortunately. I was ready and willing, but the rain just never came strong enough to trigger staging fish to move up the creeks. Oddly, rain did hit the Catskills late one week in October and I knew it would be the perfect set-up for streamer fishing for pre-spawn browns with attitude. I hit the West Branch of the Delaware with the river settling but still nice and murky. The streamer fishing could not have been better. 8 browns, colored up, the males with kypes and besting 18″ came to hand, with as many or more electrifying short takes including one practically a rod’s length away from me.

1349994997934_IMG952012092995102054

Striper fishing in the fall was an absolute bust thanks to Hurricane Sandy. I took a trip Thanksgiving weekend with my son, Chris, and no one on the boat caught a fish. I also caught a skunk on the Salmon River in November. The salmon were done then, and steelhead were caught, but not by this angler. Sometimes a river demands its dues before it graces your net.

It was certainly an odd year for me, book-ended by absolutely bests (early smallmouth and fall browns) and filled with some days when an angler should have stayed home and got some things done. What’s most important though is the learning and the loving of the outdoors. One often forgets a day not fished is one less day fishing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Back in the game…

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Saltwater, Writing with tags , , on August 20, 2010 by stflyfisher

It’s been a while, to say the least…

Fishing has been slow and I’m afraid I’ve been “dragging the skunk along” as fellow fly fishing blogger / uber fly fisherman Artie Loomis once quoted. Additionally, life has leaned a little heavy on my shoulders in other areas. Nonetheless, in the words of the immortal American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Be still sad heart and cease repining;
Behind the clouds the sun is shining,
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life a little rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

I recently took a family vacation to the salt and was able to wet a line in both Ocean City, Maryland and Barnegat, New Jersey. Both areas yielded nothing to the fly, but, in an 18th birthday wish for my son, Chris, I was able to temporarily throw the skunk by hitting the party boats out of Barnegat Light.

We decided to fish for blues on the Miss Barnegat Light. For the last month-plus, the big boys (and girls) have been focused on propagating the species and the catch has been primarily of the “cocktail / snapper” size (1 – 3 lbs). But on the eve of our trip, ole Miss Barney had started picking 8 – 14 lb fish – more the size that leaves you with sore arms. Unfortunately, said fishing skunk showed at the docks on our arrival: Miss Barnegat Light was not going to sea due to some type of mechanical problem.

So, a-fluking we would go. The Doris Mae was eager to have us. Some time before we headed out, the Carolyn Ann III sent her flukers to the Doris Mae and suddenly we were chock-a-block with fishermen, many of the sub-teen variety. I had noticed the wind was out of the northeast – never a great sign – and the flags about Long Beach Island were streaming straight out, indicating that wind was a stiff one and that sea conditions could be rough.

Old Barney

Sure enough, once we rounded the lighthouse, we ran headfirst into an angry inlet. The wind was working with the tidal current – had it not been, the inlet would have been a real mess. For all those history buffs out there, Barnegat is a derivation from the Dutch for “inlet of breakers”, and indeed, it can be a very dangerous inlet when wind and current align right.

We fished the inlet for a while with 10 ounce bank sinkers and fluke rig baited with spearing and a strip of squid. It wasn’t long before Chris and I started hooking up but, like all of the fish being caught on the boat, none met the legal keeping size of 18″. This newly imposed limit has a lot of fluke fishermen seething as the commercial guys are apparently not bound to it. Personally, I’m always an advocate of catch and release, but a nice fluke dinner (otherwise known as summer flounder), is hard to pass up now and then…

After a while of drift fishing the inlet our captain decided to brave the open ocean off the beach. The winds had abated some but the waves were still there, and it wasn’t long before we were rocking and rolling to 10 foot seas. The Doris Mae wasn’t the only thing rocking either – the younger kids who had been guzzling soda and all types of snacks were now looking pretty green. The rail soon filled with “chummers”.

Being seasoned sailors, Chris and I fished merrily away. We were now using 16 ounces of lead to keep in touch with the bottom, but few fish were caught by anyone. Much to the relief of our unsailor-like brethren, we returned to the inlet to finish the trip.

We fished the inlet drift and scored more fluke, but all were throw-backs. The pool went to a 20″ fish, with few keepers caught. Chris had also scored a snapper blue which we kept for the grill!

In honor of Chris’s 18th, I bought a few beautiful soft shell blue-clawed crabs. For those not familiar with this delicacy, crabs shed their exoskeletons (shells) as they grow larger. Crabs that are caught shedding are called “peelers” and bring a premium price as the entire crab is edible, meaning there’s no picking of meat – just wholesale chowing down.

Soft shell crab seasoned with Old Bay - doesn't get much better than this...

After a great dinner, we capped the day off with cigars – Chris’s first. The night was cool, breezy, and unseasonably dry. And it was ours…

Here’s wishing my patient readership tight lines…

Striper Lockjaw Off Barnegat Light

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Saltwater with tags , , on December 3, 2009 by stflyfisher

“No birds – not a good sign”, sighed an older gentleman standing next to me.  We were on board the Doris Mae, heading out of Barnegat Inlet, and the horizon was barren except for the silhouettes of small boats.  On top of that, the weather looked almost too perfect, with light westerly winds, clear blue skies, and a bright sun that was quickly killing the early morning chill.  Last year at this time, the fishing started with lots of bird-play and fish that were obviously on the feed.  That was not be the case this day.

I had arrived at my parent’s house in nearby West Creek, NJ, the previous evening.  After chowing down on one of my madre’s most special meals, I was ready to do battle the next day on the Doris Mae – one of three party boats sailing out of Barnegat Light.

Pot roast, mashed potatoes with dark gravy, and veggies - what every saltie should eat before venturing forth...

I was equipped with my ever-trusty Penn Slammer spinning rod and an arsenal of good fishing hardware including crippled herrings, AVA’s, and bucktails – trademark jigs of the fall striper fisherman.  As one man noted when he saw my gear; “that man’s ready to fish!”

The Crippled Herring - the striper's demise...

The Doris Mae left the docks on schedule at 7 am and 15 minutes later we arrived at an area just outside the inlet that was crowded with small boats.  It wasn’t long before I had a good thump on my jig on the drop after working it off the bottom.  The fish fought like a blue, but I was surprised to find I had the first striper of the day.  This fish ended up being a short – party boat parlance for a striper under the minimum 28″ length, so back it went to the sea…

Plenty of fishing company...

Unfortunately, that early morning fish was all she wrote for me, and for the other anglers on the boat it was much the same.  We fished from 7 am to 2:30 pm, and came up with a few blues and one additional short striper.  Our captain, one of the famous Eble (pronounced eb’lee) brothers, took us far and wide in search of feeding fish.  We drifted off Island Beach State Park, but the only action we saw was from the small boats trolling umbrella rigs, picking up a striper here and there.

Leaving the beach for deeper water...

The other Barnegat party boats found the same conditions and all reported that they were marking fish with a serious case of lockjaw.  While I did have the one striper, I’m more proud of the fact that I hung in there and fished hard the whole day.  I noticed as the day wore on, the rail thinned out quite a bit.

I’ll have more to report on party boat fishing in a future post, but for me, I’m most likely done with saltwater for the year.  For those of you still itching, the fishing can be quite good through December, so give it a shot.

Tight lines…