Archive for Destin Florida

Redfish and the value of fly fishing…

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Flies - Local Favorites, Saltwater, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on October 19, 2018 by stflyfisher

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

Thomas Paine

I awoke eager to see what the wind was doing early that morning. Looking out the back sliding glass door of our townhouse, I could see the lake behind our place was as still as a mill pond – a nice sight for a saltwater fly fisher. Even the palm fronds were still.

I made some coffee and busied myself with cleaning my line and getting my gear and flies in order. I wanted to get to the bay before the wind came up and while the light was still low on the water.

The bay was still flat when I arrived, with just a few sporadic cat’s paws on the bay’s surface. The water was cool, shocking me more so out of warmer expectations, but once in, it felt just fine as I waded to where the the salt marsh began.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I started out fishing a small pink and white clouser on an intermediate sink tip line. My 8 weight fly rod – the first fly rod I ever built – proved perfect for fishing the bay water. In a few past outings in spring and fall, I focused my fishing efforts on the deeper water of the bay – the channels, sloughs – and then on the potholes – slight depressions on the flats that sometimes harbor fish. But after dredging the depths with nothing to show for it on this morning, I decided to change the game plan and explore new bay water, well beyond where I’d ever gone.

I waded along the salt marsh grass, stepping as carefully as a blue heron stalking the shallows, scanning the water for shadows or signs of fish. I changed my fly to a small shrimpy looking pattern that cast easily and was light enough to enter the water with little splash.

7T5RL3SF_lg

The Hot Legs Foxy Gotcha – pic courtesy of Orvis.com

As I approached the mouth of a tidal creek, I noticed two forms slowly move out from the shoreline. I followed their movement and immediately recognized them as good-sized redfish. They didn’t appear spooked but I questioned whether it was worth a cast to them as they lazily swam out. I decided ‘what the hell’ and made a 15 foot cast the put my fly slightly ahead of them and to their right. I allowed the fly to sink a bit and gave it a twitch-strip and I was tight to a red.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The red bolted bayward and I frantically cleared the slack line and got the fish on the reel. It then swam hard in a long wide circle, swinging back towards me. It was a nice fish and had its friend swimming alongside the entire fight, apparently checking to see what all the fuss was about.

I soon slid the red up on a break in the salt marsh where there was sand. The shrimp fly was perfectly set in the corner of its mouth. Clad in hues of copper, pink, and red, I noticed even dark blue on its tail, and the unmistakable black dot as well.

With that first success in hand, I continued to stalk the salt marsh edges and saw at least half a dozen more fish. One more showed interest, but refused at the last moment.

Later as the sun rose and the wind began to come up, I made my way back to leave the bay, stopping briefly to talk with a spin fisherman who had been casting from a long pier. He had been using a popping cork rig and shrimp. The float was supposed to rattle and pop, attracting the attention of redfish to the bait. It seemed clumsy and I didn’t see that there was any way he’d catch a thing given the low clear water, the high sun, and the “spook” factor of the fish.

“Getting anything?”, he asked as he looked down from the pier. He was old, tanned, white-haired, and dressed in white sneakers, socks pulled up high, a neat T-shirt, and golf shorts, appearing more like he was running errands in town than going fishing.  “I got one nice redfish”, I said. “What are you using?,” he asked. I showed him the shrimp fly. “I’m not a lure guy” he said without a hint of disdain. “I like to use bait”.

We talked a little more and then bid each other farewell. I finished my way back to the bay access and by that time the wind was breezing up and the sun was high in the sky. I was wet from the wade but comfortably warm with the breeze taking the edge off the late-morning heat. The bay was a checkerboard with patches of light water over sandy bottom and alternating darker patches where the turtle grass grew dark green and lush.

As I approached the bay access, I met another man about my age who was relaxing on a bench while his dog ran around the bay beach. He asked me how I did and we began talking about fishing. He claimed to be a fly fisher, saying he had an 8 weight in a closet of his condo but admitted he had never thought of fishing the salt with his fly rod.

This man told me a bit about his life and his fishing adventures, which were extensive. He had owned a big center console boat and had fished the deeper offshore water of the Gulf, but only occasionally in the bay. He finally sold his boat due to the high cost of ownership and the fickle species regulations for offshore waters. He had also fished other saltwater areas, most notably the Keys, but again he had never thought to bring his fly rod along. I told him he should break that 8 weight out and give the bay a try, and maybe even the surf. But I sensed his reticence. Perhaps it was too complicated, perhaps he feared he didn’t have the skills, or maybe he didn’t believe saltwater gamefish would come to the fly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The ride home…

So I left the bay, hiked back to the golf cart, and headed home, thinking about my experience. I was happy after a nice morning on the water, exploring new water, unique methods, and feeling good about a plan that came together. To top that, my redfish had been a “first”, hopefully to be followed by more in the years ahead on that emerald bay.

But beyond happy, I was thankful for the skills fly fishing had taught me. While no fishing is easy, catching fish with a lure is challenging, but to catch a fish on a fly is, arguably, the ultimate of fishing challenges. That challenge comes in many forms to the fly fisher, and particularly in the salt: wind and current test casting and line control, casting comes with it’s own set of technical difficulties in that lines, flies, and tackle are heavier, and fly rods are often faster action. Finding fish is dependent on a lot of new factors when compared to freshwater fly fishing: tidal changes, wind direction that can move water and vary water temperature, fog, and other environmental factors. And then there are the fish themselves. But for those who can prevail over the difficulty, fly fishing can be far more satisfying. With that satisfaction comes the confidence to keep on, and ultimately, achieve a level of effectiveness one never thought possible.

So I am thankful for redfish and, for that matter, all fish that beckon a cast. Because of them, I am a better angler.

 

Advertisements

Pompano on the fly

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Saltwater, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on April 26, 2018 by stflyfisher

Hey, are you Jeff Lowery? You sure look like him. He’s a fly fishing legend around here. 

Shout-out from an old beach bum in Destin, Florida

He looked like Jim Harrison, the famous writer, squinty-eyed, wrinkled, and tan as old leather. It was the second time in two days he had asked me if I was Jeff Lowery.

“You asked me that yesterday”, I said with a grin. “Oh, well you sure look like him”, the old beach bum replied. “He’s a fly fishing legend. He fishes from a step ladder on the first bar”. And with that he promptly moved on down the beach in his quest for the elusive fly fishing legend.

I had arrived early with the morning sun painting the beach and dunes sugar-white and the calm surf in hues of emerald and azure. The first and second bars were clearly visible with the deep blue of the troughs beyond them. The first bar was out 25 to 50 feet. That is where I needed to wade to intercept fish that cruised the trough and crashed bait against the shallows of the bar. It was late-April and the fishing report was that the pompano run was a strong one.

permit pompano spearfishing today

A tale of two cousins…

Pompano are a smaller cousin to the permit – the saltwater fish of fly fishing dreams and one of the three gamefish of the tropical saltwater fly fishing “grand slam”, the other two being the bonefish and tarpon.

Pompano can range up to 8 lbs., but finding fish over 5 lbs., is rare. Even so, they are built for speed with their forked tail and tall compact body. Their saltwater habitat is typically inshore and nearshore warm waters (70-89 °F), especially along sandy beaches, oyster bars and over seagrass beds. Because of their temperature preferences, pompano migrate northward in the summer, and toward the south in the fall. Their range extends from Massachusetts to Brazil, but it is most common to areas near Florida. Like permit, pompano feed on crustaceans: sand fleas, small crabs, and shrimp. But they also eat mollusks and small baitfish. They are a member of the jack family (Trachinotus carolinus) and like most jacks, are very fast swimmers and live in schools. They are bottom feeders with very short teeth made for crushing and their mouths are rubbery, much like a carp.

permit-zoom

The Permit – picture courtesy of Gray’s Taxidermy

I was not sure how to fish the pompano run so I started with a small clouser in blue and chartreuse. The 9 weight cast it well on an intermediate line and a 6 foot leader tapered down to 15 lb test. There was little wind to knock the fly down and almost immediately I felt solid taps on the retrieve. As I lifted the fly to re-cast, several small fish came screaming by the fly. I’d deal with these feisty fish all day, dime-bright bullets with tails of egg yolk yellow.

After a few more casts to the deep blue edge of the trough I felt a soft grab, somewhat tentative, followed by a few head shakes and then the jolting of the line and bright flashes in the water. The fish suddenly “grew” in size and made off on a run that pulled my rod down to the horizon, bucking wildly, and had me doing everything I could to keep the slack line feeding cleanly through the rod guides. In no time I had the line on the reel, the drag screaming as the fish tore off to sea.

At times I gained on the fish, then it would reverse and peel out. This continued for 5 minutes and then wondering and hoping it was a pompano, my first pompano, I saw its gleaming deep side and the forked tail. I waded back off the bar into a small trough and up the beach. The fish slowly tired, but still fought in the surf. I walked up the beach some more and dragged the fish out of the surf.

It was a pompano – speed demon of the gulf surf! Its body shone bright in the sun – hues of silver and light blue, its back dark gray with hints of yellow on its underside and the tail fin. The fish had inhaled the small clouser so I clipped the line as close as I could and released it, feeling good about catching my first pompano.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My first pompano on what would turn out to be one of those days to remember…

I waded back out to the first bar. The water was still relatively cool but the sun warmed me. The day brightened and the sea around me turned on with color. I now tied on a fly that imitates a sand flea, one of the principal foods of the beach-running pompano. Like permit, the pompano has a downcast mouth made for eating the bottom dwelling sand flea, among other crustaceans.

Vlahos sandflea

This sand flea pattern was just the ticket for the pompano that ranged the surf the day I fished. This fly was designed by Nick Vlahos and sold on his website (www.sandbarflies.com). The pattern I fished was sold at the SanDestin Orvis store and is called Vlahos’ Marbled Sand Flea.

I fished this fly deeply with short twitches and it wasn’t long before I was fast to another pompano. These fish are truly built for speed in the shallower waters of the surf, and it was evident why when I watched large porpoises in the outer bar that were likely feeding on these fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dolphins were not the only predator for pompanos on the day I fished. This fish fought hard for being so critically wounded by what was probably a small shark.

As the sun rose higher in the sky I could see the pompano is schools cruising up and down the beach. I was able to sight-fish them, casting ahead or just short of the school. Though pompano are known for their Jekyll and Hyde feeding personality, on this day the “pomps” were turned on and lit up. Most casts I made were followed and the fly would be attacked even when it meant an about-face. While the sand flea fly was very effective, switching to clousers and other bright saltwater streamers didn’t seem to make much difference.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This fish displayed some yellow on its fins and a somewhat darker gray/blue back.

The fishing continued red-hot most of the morning into the early afternoon with 30 fish landed and quite a few more lost. Quite possibly the ultra clear water conditions and bright sun eventually ended the active bite. Pompano are known to prefer turbid waters so maybe too much sun was a bad thing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The beautiful Emerald Coast of Florida…

After 5 hours of epic fishing in the sun-drenched clear waters of the Gulf, I decided to give the rest of the day back to the fish. I had that good tired feeling as I walked the two miles to the beach access with the sound of a screaming reel and the sight of a deeply bent fly rod accompanying me the whole way. The pompano definitely put a smile on my face and a skip in my step and I was thankful to have met such a beautiful gamefish. I will be sure to return next spring, hoping the timing is in tune with the spring migration and maybe too, in time to meet my apparent fly fishing clone, the legendary Jeff Lowery.

 

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…!