Archive for fall creek

Listening to guides…

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Trout Fishing, Writing with tags , , , , , , on October 12, 2010 by stflyfisher

When local fly fishing guide Wayne Aldridge recently spoke to our Trout Unlimited chapter, I took copious notes. Part of my studiousness was in the interest of writing a report on his presentation: “Fall fly fishing on the West Branch of the Delaware”. But most of my note-taking was out of pure self-interest: I have learned to listen to guides. This past Sunday was a perfect example of how listening to a guide can pay off.

After recent dousings of rain, the weekend had looked like it might be the perfect set-up for fishing the Cayuga Lake tribs. A good push of water along with the sting of some frosty nights this time of year is typically what sends a love message to the landlocked salmon and brown trout staging in the lake. The fish sense that the time is right and move up the tribs to spawn, giving fly fishers a golden opportunity to catch the fish of a lifetime. But timing the run is never a sure thing, and while monitoring the USGS river gauge and the weather report are key, there’s nothing like being on the spot and testing the waters to really know when the run is on. And so, an email inquiry was quickly dispatched to fellow blogger and trout bum extraordinaire, Artie Loomis, and the inquiry was just as quickly answered: “Fall Creek isn’t happening yet”. As I stared at those disappointing words early Sunday morning, I immediately started thinking about plan B…

Plan B...

A quick glance at the Hale Eddy river gauge showed perfect wading flows, but the potential for dirty water loomed large in my mind. The tailwaters are known for producing a turbid discharge in the Fall, the result of turnover in the reservoir that feeds the river. Most fly anglers would not even give discolored water a chance figuring the fish can barely see their nose in such conditions. But the advice of Wayne Aldridge suggested otherwise – that stained water in combination with the presence of spawned-up male brown trout in a bad-ass mood can make for some truly outstanding fishing. What’s good for a guide is always plenty good enough for me…

Shortly before 9 am I crossed the river at the Rt 17 / Deposit overpass. The Gentleman’s pool was flowing picture-perfect and its banks were totally void of anglers but the river water was the color of dirty wash-water. I made my way to the river road and was butt-deep in the 45 degree water in no time, armed with my Scott A2 9 foot 6 weight streamer rod, a vest stuffed with flies, and hope in a guide’s advice.

The river was in its peak autumn glory and I had the entire stretch of river to myself. Mist rose off the water and encircled me like cigar smoke, but despite the frosty morning temps, the constant casting, mending, and stripping that’s required when streamer fishing warmed me up in no time.

I started the morning fishing a white conehead zuddler on a river braid above the pool. The water was cleaner there – the channel was fast in spots but the far bank was undercut and laden with thick cover. A downed tree created a deep green pool with a gorgeous back eddy as well. I had once streamer-fished this braid on an early spring morning and experienced one of those vicious, arm-jerking strikes that momentarily stops one’s heart and left my 1X tippet clean of any fly.

The channel failed to produce, so I made my way to the riffle at the head of the pool where two spin anglers had taken up position and now broke the morning solitude. They were throwing what appeared to be spinners based on the glint of light that beamed off the end of their lines. It wasn’t long before the taller of the two caught a small brown, and then another. That was enough for me to change my fly. Tucked in my fly box was a black maribou streamer with a zonker-style body of gold. I figured the gold flash and contrasting black color might show better in the murk of the pool.

I walked downriver below the spin anglers and worked the water thoroughly, hanging up every now and again. Losing flies, especially streamers, can get pricey, but I chalk that up to the price of success after another “guide-ism” that states; “if you’re not losing flies on the bottom every once in a while, you’re not fishing deep enough”. I quartered my cast upstream, then stripped it hard, down and across. After every few casts I moved down a few steps and continued this way, eventually hooking up with a few feisty browns, small but full of spirit.

Mid-morning, I headed back to the car for a break, my legs numb from the cold water. The spinning anglers had also left the river and we chatted a bit in the warmth of the sun. These guys were from New Jersey and had apparently done well on a Saturday float trip of the Main Stem. They inquired as to the fishing of the West Branch and I told them that fall was regarded as the best time to catch the brown trout of a lifetime. Indeed, towards the end of his presentation, Wayne Aldridge had gone even further stating that every year the river gave up a fish in the 27″ – 30″ range.

I returned to the river fishing tandem streamers, starting at the head of the pool and slowly working down-river. Partway through I changed flies again (another guide-ism – to change type and color often when streamer fishing) and this time tied on a snow-white bead-head zonker as my lead fly with a black ghost riding shotgun some 2 feet back.

Halfway down the pool I snagged what I thought was the bottom but then watched in disbelief as a very nice brown launched airborne and tail-walked across the river at the end of my line. The fish fought deep – a solid heavy slug-fest and much more in character with what brown trout are known to do so well. I gradually worked him out of the main current but saw little of his size in the discolored water. Minutes later and after a few misguided attempts, I finally got him part way into my woefully inadequate net…

The pay-off...

After releasing this beautiful male brown, regaled in spawning colors and sporting a pronounced kype, I thanked the good Lord for two things: the advice of guides and ears to listen with…

Tight lines…

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The Finger Lake Tribs are Up!

Posted in Fishing Conditions with tags , , , on November 20, 2009 by stflyfisher

Finally, a good drenching rain…

Fall Creek is no longer falling...

Fall Creek had dwindled down to what seemed a comparative trickle.  There’s no USGS chart for Salmon Creek, but I suspect that it was in the same shape.  Last night’s rains might have been just the ticket to trigger fresh browns and landlocks, staging in the lake, to move up the tribs.  Air temps will be cooler the next few days too.  Could be a nice weekend!  Get out and enjoy…

Tight lines…

Falling for Fall Creek…

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Trout Fishing with tags , , , on November 3, 2009 by stflyfisher

When it comes to fishing new water, I’m a believer in humbly paying my dues.  I grossly lower my expectations and fish with head bowed low, hoping the fly fishing gods take notice.  These first trips are more “recon” than fishing – an attempt to learn the water with eyes wide open.

Some of my loyal readership know I’ve been itching to take a trip to Fall Creek.  I had heard the fishing can be great in the fall, when lake-sized browns and landlocked salmon feel the ancestral urge to spawn, but I had also heard it was a place requiring tribute (read, many fish-less casts) before one could “bring home the Cayuga Lake bacon”.

Those who angle the tribs in the fall know that a big push of cold water is all it takes to signal the lake’s trout and salmon to make their annual spawning runs, so last week’s heavy rains and cool weather were just what I was waiting for…

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The kind of chart for trib fishers love...

After spending a good chunk of Saturday “leaf-plowing”, I decided to give Fall Creek a try early Sunday morning.   I set up my gear the night before, turned back my Seiko Monster for Daylight Savings Time, and hit the sack.  I was up and on my way at “0” dark-thirty Sunday morning; it was still dark when I pulled into a local McDonald’s / Express Stop for an Egg McMuffin and a fill-up of petrol.  By the time I crossed the river bridge in Owego, it was just light enough to see a high and muddy Susquehanna, a river far different from the one I fished as summer transitioned to fall.  The trip up route 96B to Ithaca was relaxing – the Catatonk Valley’s mix of heavily forested hills, serpentine brooks, and bucolic farms made for a nice drive.

I arrived at the parking area off Lake Street and quickly rigged my rod and donned my gear to the roaring music of Ithaca Falls, the largest of the Finger Lakes falls at 150 feet in height and 175 feet in width.  It was a short hike down to the creek and the gorge pool…

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Looking upstream from the tail of the gorge pool to the falls...

I fished the gorge pool using a sink tip line, a 1X tippet, and a weighted purple streamer.  As the sun rose and lit the morning, fishermen began to arrive in numbers I was not used to after fishing the Susquehanna in late summer / early fall.  I watched one angler below me expertly flipping a long orange bobber with what looked like a fly rod.  I spoke with him out of curiosity as he moved by me on his way upstream and found he was fishing a centerpin rig.  He had hooked a few small fish but was still in search of bigger fish, like the 27″ male landlocked salmon he reportedly caught on just such a rig the previous year.  For those not familiar with centerpin fishing, it’s a deadly way to fish a bait, typically an egg sack or worm, using a bobber for a drag-free drift.

I decided it was “recon” time after working the gorge pool and watching fishermen stack up above me.  I slowly waded downstream, swinging my streamer – an easy and enjoyable way to fly fish on such a beautiful fall morning.  Below the gorge pool was some fast deep water, and further below these runs the river broadened, slowed, and ran largely featureless, save a few deep pockets in isolated spots.  I fished all the water the same – exploring this delightful Finger Lake tributary one cast at a time.

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The N. Cayuga Street and Rt 13/34 bridges, looking downstream...

I could see bridges below me and figured I’d fish downstream to them and then get out and hike upstream to fish the falls pool before heading home.  But as I closed the distance to the bridge pool, two things convinced me that this spot was worth a longer stay: 1) a fat and feisty rainbow nailed my streamer on a swing through a riffle, and 2) I almost stepped on a small landlocked salmon, holding mid-stream, as I got in position just above the bridge.

I changed my fly to an olive bead-head soft hackle wooly bugger, having read that olive was a good color for landlocked salmon.  I swung my streamer across and down, periodically wiggling my rod tip to give the fly some life.  The water appeared to deepen just above the bridge, and it was there, that a man scanning the water from the bridge above, spied two large shapes holding in the current.  “There”, he said, pointing just downstream and across from me.  “I’m not sure whether they’re browns or salmon, but they’re big fish”, he said.  “If I were you I’d move upstream a little and swing your fly just above that deep water”.  I thanked him for his advice, and did as he said.  A few casts across and down and my fly stopped dead as it swung.

I set the hook into solid head-shaking, and below me I could see the white of a big jaw, whipping angrily back and forth.  I stripped in my slack line and put the fish on the reel.  The fish, a nice landlocked salmon, held in the current, solid as a planer board trolling a spoon.

So unprepared was I for this early success, that my thoughts immediately turned to where the hell I’d land this fish.  I had no net, and the channelized banks on either side of the creek were fairly steep, so beaching was out of the question.  I let the fish hold upstream of me until I could find an area of slower water and, after two thrashing jumps, dragged him with side pressure to a slow water eddy along the bank.  I’d like to say I executed the perfect Lee Wulff atlantic salmon tailing, but in reality, I slipped as I moved shoreward, ending up flat on my back in the water with rod held high.  My salmon slipped under a tree branch hanging in the water, but I did manage to tail him.  A nearby angler helped me unhook my fish as I held him, and moments later was kind enough to photograph the evidence for posterity purposes…

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Well worth a dunking...

The kype on this male was, well, garish, to say the least.  The kype is to salmon, like antlers to a buck, formed when the testosterone starts flowing for taking care of the competition.  This bad-ass had marks from scraps he had already undertaken in the quest for some lucky salmon maiden.  I released him back to the creek and watched him effortlessly swim away.

I had read the temp of the creek to be 46 – 48 degrees, so it wasn’t long before I was shivering cold.  I got out of the river, shed my soaking shirt layers, and walked back to my car in my t-shirt and waders, like some bass-fishing river rat on a summer’s day, an odd sight for the many anglers dressed in heavy wading jackets and topped with ski hats.

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Fall Creek in late fall...

I left Fall Creek with mixed feelings.  I was delighted to land a truly magnificent fish – the original upstate version of the atlantic salmon that none other than Lee Wulff proclaimed to be the king of gamefish.  On the other hand, no angler likes beginner’s luck.  It often spells doom for subsequent outings until the fly fishing gods deem said angler is finally due again.  Better to get the lay of the water and work into good fishing than to start off with a bang and go fishless.

Racing back home with my car’s heater on high to fight the chill, I couldn’t help but stop to take this photo from a high point at the south end of Cayuga Lake…

PB010011

"Far above Cayuga's waters, with its waves of blue..."

Beginner’s luck or not, I’d be back to this special place, where salmon once ran so thick, native Indians speared them by the hundreds on their fall spawning runs.  To hold the progeny of evolution just once was well worth the risk of never holding it again…

Tight lines…