Archive for fall fly fishing

Indian Summer

Posted in Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Writing with tags , , , on November 10, 2015 by stflyfisher

The Indian Summer of life should be a little sunny and a little sad, like the season, and infinite in wealth and depth of tone, but never hustled.

Henry Adams

Indian summer is a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather that sometimes occurs in autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. The US National Weather Service defines this as weather conditions that are sunny and clear with above normal temperatures, occurring late-September to mid-November, and particularly after a killing frost. Such were the conditions when I set out on what was to be my second kayak float of one of the Southern Tier’s great warmwater rivers. I had my eye on Columbus Day weekend for a while, and as it got closer, kept hoping the predicted indian Summer conditions would hold, and that the river would remain low and clear. Thankfully, it held…

I set out early with a plan to launch from the Apalachin DEC fishing access but my pick-up plans were still a little in the air. Last year’s trip had been a float of the river from the same starting point to Hickories Park in Owego, but I had found out the hard way that those last couple of miles below where I fished were nothing but slow moving river and a tough, long, and arduous paddle. So I decided to see if I could float roughly 3 miles down to the choice fishing areas and then paddle back. There were a few places where I would need to haul my kayak around faster riffles and runs, but generally I felt it could be doable.

I fished this same stretch last year and wondered if it would be as good as my last visit. That trip brought me to totally unexplored water and absolute solitude save a few recreational kayakers. The varied water in what I refer to as the “outback” made for great fly fishing and a surprise visit from a musky that inhaled a 10″ smallmouth I had on the line and, though it was not hooked, would not let go of his meal for a good 20 minutes.

The river had been through a spate of dry weather since mid-summer and the river was showing it with flows below the 1,000 CFS mark. Low water tends to concentrate the fish a bit which is a help on such a big river but it can also make for spooky fish when the water is crystal clear and the sun bright. With that in mind I focused on fishing the northern bank on the float down, hoping the shady areas would hold some bass.

The morning was chilly and foggy but it did not take long for the rising sun to burn through. I drifted past my honey hole, about a quarter mile below the bridge, figuring I could hit it on the way back if fishing wasn’t that good below. I focused my morning efforts on some shaded downfalls that had produced some nice bass on last year’s float, but this year, no one answered my casts. Perhaps the extra skinny water was the culprit, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the day.

I paddled on and fished the bend in the river where weeds were prevalent adjacent to deep water and where again, last year, I had caught some nice bass. I thought for sure there would be some bass willing to play here but again, it was “no joy”.

Beyond that spot is what I now call, “the promised land”. This stretch of the river is a lot like the St. Lawrence in terms of the bedrock and boulders that make up the river bottom and shoreline. The water is deep here, yet out of nowhere, boulders and rock outcroppings loom large in the current. It is perfect smallie habitat and the home of at least one big musky. So I fished it thoroughly, and finally was rewarded for my efforts.

Love the chocolate brown coloring of this smallmouth bass.

Love the chocolate brown coloring of this smallmouth bass.

Maybe it was fly size, maybe color, but changing up to a 5″ long white deceiver I had tied for saltwater striped bass and bluefish fishing changed my fortune. Tied to a stout leader and an intermediate sink tip fly line, I cast to the shallows and stripped the fly across and through the boulders and the deep run of the river. I immediately hooked up with bass after bass, over a dozen and two of them real gems – full bodied, broad-shouldered. One of those two had a large baitfish tail protruding from its gullet, it’s belly extended noticeably. But even 12″ chunks, as I refer to them, eagerly attacked this big white streamer. And halfway through, so did a large green torpedo…

I decided to

I decided to “go big early” and fished a white deceiver, like this one, and the smallmouth loved it…

For the third time, I encountered Mr. Musky. My two previous encounters were while “bait fishing”, that is, catching a 10 – 12″ smallie on a fly and suddenly feeling it get REAL heavy. Both encounters were amazing in that the big guy on the end hung on to the “bait” for 20 minutes before finally having had enough. They were never actually hooked. This third encounter was an aggressive follow, but only as I swept the fly up and parallel to the kayak, getting ready to backcast.

Indian summer and fall splendor on the Susquehanna...

Indian summer and fall splendor on the Susquehanna…

I paddled back upriver around 2 pm and fished the shade of the southern side of the river, picking up a few nice bass and missing some more. The wind had started to blow with the warming of the day. Leaves littered the river and of course the wind blew my kayak around a bit, but I enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon and the vibrant fall colors.

I gradually worked up the river, then hit another run and riffle and got a good workout pushing my little boat home. I had passed my home pool – a favorite wading spot and the home of my largest smallmouth bass – on the way down, but on the way back I decided to fish it a bit before continuing on to the takeout. The night before I had stopped here to gauge the fishing and was smitten. I caught a large fallfish, a nice walleye, a good northern with a fat belly, and two very nice smallmouth bass. And on this afternoon, my second cast and retrieve came to an abrupt stop…

I was fast to another quality smallmouth and this bass was a fighter. Once in hand and released, I fished the rest of the pool and missed a few fish. It was beginning to get late and I still had to paddle / wade and tow my boat another quarter mile, then pack it up and head home. So I left my honey hole and towed my kayak home.

Terrific way to end a beautiful day...

Terrific way to end a beautiful day…

The drive home was as pleasant as it gets. I had enjoyed a long day on a beautiful river with not another angler in sight and enjoyed only the company of a few bald eagles, osprey, mergansers, Canada geese, and mallards.

A soft warm breeze blew through my open windows as I smoked a cigar and drove through hills painted in hues of scarlet and gold. Winter was not far off, but for now I enjoyed one last dance with summer – and a flirt with fall. Long gone were wet wading days on the river, shirt-sleeved evening slogs on late summer evenings. I felt blessed and happy for having another year of fly fishing and for having one last shot at fish before the winter snows arrived. And I could almost hear fall’s siren call to fish of all kinds – the basses, pikes, salmonoids, and trout – hastening the feed for some in advance of winter, and sending others upriver to spawn and create another life-cycle all their own.

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Bob’s Most Excellent Kayak Adventure

Posted in Fishing Reports, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on October 11, 2014 by stflyfisher

Loyal readers of this blog will likely remember a post I did way back in September 2009, entitled “Kelly’s Excellent Canoe Adventure”. Kelly was a coworker who owned an old aluminum Grumman canoe and he happened to live just a short portage from the Susquehanna River in Owego. That trip was a good one for two reasons: Kelly paddled me around while I fished, a luxury to any fisherman, and 2) the fishing was very good. But since that enjoyable trip, most of my fly fishing has been afoot – wading the muddy and rocky shoals, riffles, and pools. While I’ve certainly caught a good number of smallmouth bass over the last years on the hoof, I’ve always wondered – what’s it like in the back country – could there be places where the bass are bigger and less visited by feather-throwing types?

I set the goal to get out and float the river again the following year after my first Susquehanna float. But the trip somehow eluded me. I changed jobs in 2011, lamented high water for two years and a lack of time in others. So back when the big river was still locked in ice, I developed more resolve towards this goal. And with the river flowing low and clear and the weather splendid, I found one recent weekend to be the perfect opportunity. My daughter and son were home from work and college and could assist in doing shuttle service to make sure I had the reliable kayka-conveying Subaru Outback in place for me at the boat launch in Owego. All I had to do was gear up and get in the water at the NY DEC fishing access in Apalachin.

The trip would take me down-river past a favorite honey-hole and beyond to an area along the Hiawatha Links Golf Course where google satellite imagery showed me some very bassy looking water. I had never fished this area. The call was too great to ignore and somewhat pathetic Salmon River reports just added to the appeal.

Come one Friday evening I hauled my kayak – an Old Town Loon – from its pond-side lair. I was able to get it on the roof rack and tie it down single-handed. The next morning I was off to the access, with a stop thrown in for a Sausage Egg McMuffin and hash brown. Us river rats have to eat, don’t you know!

The river was fogged in as expected with the air temps in the mid-40’s. I had my kayak ready to go at the access and met another angler getting ready to launch his river boat to fish the long pool in front of us. We talked fishing and shared stories, one of mine being the infamous meet-up with a musky covered in this blog some time ago.

The Old Town Loon ready for action...

The Old Town Loon ready for action…

I launched my kayak and fished the tail of the pool, then slid down the riffle following the tailout. In just a few minutes I pulled ashore at one of my favorite pools on the river. Most recently, bass fishing has not been as good as it normally is, but I had to at least wet a line just in case. Between wet wading and enduring the chilly morning air temps and fog, I was close to shivering after about 20 minutes and without any action, decided to get back in my kayak and enter into the unknown waters beyond.

A foggy cool morning on the Susquehanna...

A foggy morning on the Susquehanna…

As I paddled downriver, the fog began to burn off, the air temps warmed, and the colors of fall came out. With a little bit of sun poking through, I noticed the northern bank of the river was still dark with shade. A downfall piqued my interest, so I tied on an olive soft hackle bugger that I tie with a little added schmaltz (gold flash and some long rubber legs) and that has served me well this year.

This downfall caught my attention as I drifted down river, and I'm glad I fished it thoroughly...

This downfall caught my attention as I drifted down the river, and I’m glad I fished it thoroughly…

I cast upstream of the downfall and as I drifted past, stripped my fly down and across its edge. I only needed to do this twice before setting the hook on a nice fish. It immediately bolted downstream, jumped high and mighty, and I was all smallie smiles…

The result of observation, some skill, and a little luck - a beautiful Susquehanna smallmouth...

The result of observation, some skill, and a little luck – a beautiful Susquehanna smallmouth, all browned up…

The north shore of the river hosted a number of such places – areas where debris piled up during floods, downfalls, eddies – and all of them were shaded from the strong morning sun.

Another nice bass that fell to an olive soft hackle bugger...

Another nice bass that fell to an olive soft hackle bugger…

I missed a few strikes and even spooked some bass, witnessing the telltale “puff of river bottom” as I glided down the river about 20 feet off the shoreline.

I passed a few river braids on my voyage that were inviting but fishless…

I explored this river braid but did not find any fish. It re-entered the river at a big bend and deep pool.

I explored this river braid but did not find any fish. It re-entered the river at a big bend and deep pool.

And then I came to a wide riffle and a river bend where the water slowed and the bottom disappeared. A river braid re-entered the river just above the the bend, but what looked very fishy was the line of thick weeds that formed on a bar at the transition point. I fished the edge of these weeds and was soon rewarded with a take and another nice bass…

Another nice bass that liked to hang near the weeds...

Classic smallmouth camo. This bass liked to hang near the weeds…

I continued to paddle, drift and fish as I passed through the bend. In some ways it was difficult fishing as there was so much good water to explore but only so much time to fish and make the long paddle down to Owego. There was also the fall colors and a rich selection of wildlife on display, including blue herons, bitterns, mink, osprey…

Nothing better than the Susquehanna River in autumn wear...

Nothing better than the Susquehanna River in autumn wear…

After fishing the big bend, I came upon a stretch of river that was a lot more like the St Lawrence River than what I’m used to on the Susquehanna. The northern shore was rocky and in places large boulders jutted from the river. As I paddled closer, the bottom came into view, strewn with large rocks in places. Depths varied – in some places the waters were shallow – in others the bottom would fall away. After recon of a 50 yard stretch, I paddled back to the head of this stretch, rigged one of my own crayfish flies, and started casting. It didn’t take long to catch a few nice smallmouth bass, with smaller ones mixed in as well. As I suspected, this was great holding water for smallies. But it was holding water for other predators, which I soon learned.

This stretch of rocky shoreline featured just the kind of habitat smallmouth bass love, along with some bigger toothy predators...

This stretch of rocky shoreline featured just the kind of habitat smallmouth bass love, along with some bigger toothy predators…

I hooked a small bass that, as most bass do, went airborne and then bulldogged down in the 6 foot depths beneath my kayak. As this bass ran around, I saw a golden brown flash come out of nowhere and snatch my fish. My line tightened immediately, my rod bent over double and what had to be a big musky slowly towed me up-river.

I quickly realized that if I was to land this fish, I better get to the other side of the river where the slope to shore was gradual and made for easy wading. I used my free hand to slowly paddle across and downriver as the musky swam upriver. I gradually made my way to shallow water and, keeping rod high and steady pressure on the fish, beached the kayak and struggled to my feet. I then got parallel to the fish, put sideways pressure on it, and tried my best to work the fish in to me, knowing it was probably not hooked.

I could only hope the musky would hold on long enough for me to get close and grab it (carefully) under its gills. But as in my first encounter with such a fish, it was not to be. I could see the beginnings of the sink tip section of my fly line when the fish had finally had enough and released the fish. Remarkably, this bass looked virtually untouched, save one or two puncture marks. I could only surmise that the musky had fully engulfed the bass in its mouth for the bass to escape major tooth wounds. I actually released the bass and it swam away. Also amazing was the fact that my 1X tippet held up to a mouth of teeth known for line-parting effectiveness.

The luckiest bass in the world...

The luckiest bass in the world…

After leaving two great fish to fight another day, I took a moment to soak it all in, trembling a bit from a great battle. The musky had twice taken me down to my backing and bucked my fly rod with massive head shakes for over 20 minutes.

I decided then that it was time to call it quits. Sometimes it’s good to end on a high note, stopping at the end of a crescendo. This would certainly be one of those days even though I never landed “the fish of a thousand casts”. But also, as afternoon advanced into evening, it was still a long way to Owego. Effortless, so effortless, that long paddle home seemed…

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