Archive for the Saltwater Category

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…

 

 

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

Weekend Short Report

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Saltwater, Uncategorized on September 26, 2009 by stflyfisher

Just got back from the lower Susquehanna and thought I’d post a short report for the weekend.  The smallmouth bass fishing is great right now.  The river is in good shape and water temps are in the mid 60’s.  I caught some quality bass, and one nice one; 8 in total and all of them well fed.  There was a hatch of big mayflies coming off towards evening, and in some cases the bass were rising to them.  There was also a lot of bait busting going on – hit and miss, as usual.  Streamers will continue to work well as the bass are really keyed in on feeding up for the winter, but tonight I also caught some fish on a popper.  And this final comment is for “jigging Jim”, a coworker who believes the ONLY fish worth catching are walleye and yellow perch: I actually caught a small walleye, possibly the first walleye ever taken in such a way, on a Murray’s #6 Blue Shenandoah Popper in the tail of a pool where the water starts getting shallow and fast.  Go figure!  I’m waiting for the IGFA to contact me to enter this one in the record books…

The weekend was looking good only a day or so ago, but to my horror, that rain thing is in the forecast again – a half inch of the stuff is predicted for Sunday…

Let's hope that high pressure system stalls the front...

Let's hope that high pressure system stalls the front...

For those anglers in the Southern Tier of New York, get out and take advantage of the good fishing now – Sunday may set us back a bit…

Tight lines…

Need to get lucky…

Posted in Fishing Reports, Saltwater on July 11, 2009 by stflyfisher

I just returned back from a week long vacation.  Our family spent a few days with my mother-in-law in Ocean City Maryland – then my two sons and I headed North to New Jersey to visit my parents who live in a small town on the bay side to Long Beach Island.  I fished my favorite haunt while in Ocean City – “stinky beach” as it was once known – and had only one small fluke (summer flounder) follow my half-and-half clouser.  Apparently the fluke fishing in the bay does not get really good until August when the mullet are in the bay.  The story was pretty much the same in NJ.  I visited Barnegat Bay Outfitters, where the owner, Adam, told me the “weakies” (weakfish, aka sea trout) had not shown up in Barnegat Bay yet, but were due any time.  He suggested I fish for stripers in the inlet using a sink tip line and dark or chartreuse deceivers.  I opted out of fly fishing and tried my luck on the Doris Mae and Miss Barnegat Light for fluke and bluefish and both were a total bust.  We caught a lot of skates while fluke fishing and only my nephew, Jake, was able to land one “short” fluke.  My Dad, who admittedly has no skill, killed the flatties last year and won the pool.  No such luck for the grand padre this year.  The bluefish were spawning and the fishing was really hit or miss the last few weeks.  I took a night trip that saw only a few cocktail blues caught.  Apparently the adults were too caught up in the heat of the moment to raid the chum slick.  I didn’t catch anything but did have a few short hits, indicated by small mouth-sized chunks torn out of my butterfish.  Tomorrow I will try to find my mojo in the West Branch of the Delaware.  The smallie fishing will have to wait as the Suskie, Big T, and Chenagno rivers are all high and murky from the rains last week.  It will be quite an adjustment going from 25 lb test mono and 5/0 hooks to 5X tippet and a size 18 soft hackle BWO!  Tight lines…

The 3 amigos looking to bring home the bacon.  The little guy in the center caught the only fluke and was high hook on skates...

The 3 amigos looking to bring home the bacon. The little guy in the center caught the only fluke and was high hook on skates...

The Fluke Head Council.  Grand padre (the big guy on the left) won the pool last year but this year lost his mojo...

The Fluke Head Council. Grand padre (the big guy on the left) won the pool last year but this year lost his mojo...