Archive for saltwater fly fishing

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Looking ahead to fly fishing in 2018

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on January 7, 2018 by stflyfisher

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.

Benjamin Franklin

Those who know me know that I have always studied and enjoyed the wisdom of Ben Franklin. I named my youngest son after him, I’ve read his autobiography and other books by and about him, I’ve visited his museum in Philadelphia, and I have often felt that if there was one person I could talk to now, he’d definitely be in the top 5.

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Franklin’s wisdom has helped me in life. I’ve tried to apply much of it to my life, and even my fly fishing. Franklin was among many things, a philosopher, scientist and inventor. He studied and read voraciously and was an optimist if there ever was one.

And while he was not a fisherman from what I’ve read, he does make some comments on fish in his autobiography, including this humorous note from a voyage as a young man. The note shows he toyed with the idea of being a vegetarian but eventually came round about to keeping fish in his diet…

I believe I have omitted mentioning that , in my first voyage from Boston, being becalmed off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion I considered, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanced some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs. Then thought I, “If you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.” So I dined upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

He also is the author of a quote my father uses…

Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.

Benjamin Franklin

Franklin was known for his views on developing character and continuous improvement in life and was so respected by author/educator Stephen Covey that his name was used as part of Covey’s planner system (The Franklin Covey Planner), a product I use in everyday life…

As posted last February, here are the goals I set for 2017 with commentary on how I did:

  1. Learn more about nymph fishing – study Joe Humphreys’ “Trout Tactics” (100%) Excellent book – highly recommended!
  2. Learn to fly fish for muskie. (0%) I did not prep of fish for muskie – need to move this forward to 2018.
    1. Purchase line and leader
    2. Tie flies
    3. Study muskie fly fishing
    4. Fish for them
  3. Saltwater flyfish in Destin, FL. (100%) I had great fishing in Destin and look forward to more of the same in 2018.
    1. Fish the bay for redfish & trout.
    2. Fish the inlet / surf.
  4. Continue fly tying – learn to tie 5 more patterns. (100%) Thanks to the BC Flyfishers tying clinic, I expanded into a number of new patterns and skills.
  5. Float-fish the local warmwater rivers (4X) (75%) I got out fishing twice in my kayak and once with Todd Smith in his Towee skiff.
  6. Fly fish, practice casting, or attend fly fishing events 125 times this year. (70%) Overall, I fished, practiced casting, and and attended events as much as I could. It was a challenging year at work and that kept me off the water a bit.
  7. Learn to build leaders. (0%)
    1. Buy kit
    2. Buy micrometer
    3. Fish my leaders
  8. Night fish for trout. (0%)
  9. Fish marginal waters. (100%) I did fish some more marginal water on a few occasions with mixed results. 
  10. Build more fly rods / advance my rod building skills: (33%)
    1. Fly rod for my brother-in-law for his 60th birthday – I loved building a rod for my brother-in-law and loved even more seeing it put to good use.
    2. “River Rat” prototype – I assembled the materials for this rod but never started the project.
    3. “Bay Rat” prototype.
  11. Search for the ideal river boat. (100%) – I spent considerable time looking at river boat options, including bigger craft like the Towee skiff

All in all, I’d rate 2017 as a decent year in terms of goal accomplishment but one can always do better…

Following are my fly fishing goals for 2018:

  1. Expand my knowledge of smallmouth bass. Read books related to fly fishing, talk to and fish with experts, and study smallmouth bass biology.
  2. Read Dynamic Nymphing by Daniel.
  3. Learn to fly fish for muskie.
    1. Purchase line and leader
    2. Tie flies
    3. Study muskie fly fishing
  4. Saltwater flyfish in Destin, FL.
    1. Expand bay and surf fishing activity.
    2. Target reds, trout, ladyfish, jacks, and spanish mackerel.
  5. Saltwater fly fish the NJ coast:
    1. Spring bluefish bite
    2. Fall albie bite
    3. Possible tuna trip
    4. Stripers
  6. Continue fly tying – learn to tie 5 more patterns.
  7. Float-fish the local warmwater rivers (6X)
  8. Fly fish, practice casting, or attend fly fishing events 100 times this year.
  9. Learn to build leaders.
    1. Buy leader kit
    2. Buy micrometer
    3. Fish my leaders
  10. Night fish for trout.
  11. Build more fly rods / advance my rod building skills:
    1. “River Rat” prototype.
    2. Saltwater fly rod.
    3. Fly rod for BCFF auction.

Having set my goals, it’s never too soon to get started on their accomplishment. I’d encourage my readership to give goal-setting a try if they haven’t. I feel strongly that it has helped me progress as a fly fisherman. And as with all aspects of life, if you’re not improving, you’ve accepted status quo, and are essentially “decaying“. In the words of Ray Kroc, the great McDonald’s franchiser…

When you’re green, your growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.

I’m not ready to go that route just yet, are you?

Thanksgiving reprise: Stripers and The Promised Land

Posted in Fishing Reports, Saltwater, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on December 28, 2017 by stflyfisher

We stood there in the cold dark of a pre-dawn November morning talking about the plan for the day of fishing. Lights sparkled about the village of Barnegat Light just across the harbor. Greg said we’d fish “the promised land”, an area off Seaside Heights where the ocean water was warmer, the bunker thick, and where the migrating striped bass were congregating for a Thanksgiving feast. Even humpback whales had been reported cashing in on the autumn harvest…

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A humback whale breaches with a mouthful of bunker. Fishhead Greg is seen in the background working the bunker pods for hungry bass from his 21′ Parker center console boat. This beautifully timed picture was taken by Kevin Fresno fishing aboard Reel Fantasea Fishing Charters with Captain Steve Purul.

Striped bass migrate south in the fall and early winter and on the way, feed voraciously on menhaden, otherwise known as “bunker”. Menhaden is a big baitfish – they can reach 15″ in length – a literal cowboy steak for hungry striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish.

Greg fired up “the FishHead”, his name for the 21 foot Parker center console outboard that he so loves for its shallow water capability and it’s ability to fish near shore waters. We pulled up our neck gaiters and buttoned down as we sped out the inlet, rounding the north jetty where Greg opened the throttle for the long ride north. We were not the only boats on the way either. Big and small, open and cabin, we raced across a flat sea just off Island Beach State Park to “the Promised Land.”

Once at the Promised Land, we began to actively scan the horizon for bird play or other signs of fish. In their absence, Greg was wrestling with what to do. He had already suffered the day before when his client refused to do anything but fly fish. In the end it’s all about the client’s needs, but it was killing Greg to watch his client blind cast the water while boats all around were catching stripers on the troll. I was fine with conventional gear and even trolling gear. I wanted a striper on the fly, but I also wanted to take fish by other means if that was all that was working.

I was, in fact, dreaming of conditions Greg had reported on November 12…

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What every saltwater fly fisher dreams about – the surface feed. Picture courtesy of Greg Cudnik, Fisherman’s Headquarters…

And of the fish he caught on the surface bite that morning while fishing alone…

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Greg Cudnik with a dandy…

We slowly cruised around the area Greg had fished the previous week. The fish finder would go from blank to occasionally showing a big blob and a few random markings. Greg explained that the blobs were schooled up bunker, but he wanted to see them more spread out horizontally. If they were spread out, jigging or using the snag and drop – a technique where large weighted treble hooks are used to first snag bunker and then let them drop in the water and hopefully into the large mouth of a hungry striper. Either method would have been a good way to hunt bass. But as the bait was balled up, trying to position the boat directly over them as they moved about would be difficult, at best and akin to chasing fish. Given this situation and the lack of surface activity, trolling was the only viable option.

And so we trolled. Greg likened trolling to watching paint dry. He masterfully set up a deep bunker spoon on wire line, a mid-depth umbrella rig with swim baits, and a shallow running rapala-like diving plug. We trolled at 3 mph, chatted, but also scanned the horizon. It wasn’t long before the bunker spoon rod took a deep bend, but then almost as quickly relaxed. We’d find out later it was a solid strike that broke the hook off the spoon! Then the shallow diving plug rod bent down, reel screaming. I let the fish run a bit, set the hook, and soon had a nice striper in the boat. This fish was pretty much right at the minimum length but Greg suggested we release it for something bigger.

A while later the umbrella rig rod went down. This fish would be a nice keeper – roughly 16 lbs.

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Even fish caught on the troll can make a happy angler… (Pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik)

We would end up catching another smaller bass on the umbrella rig and missed a few more.

Come mid-morning, the troll bite began to die down, so we cruised in search of bird play. We did find some and I broke out the fly rod and cast a bunker fly. While we did not see any surface action I did get a good whack at one point, but that was the extent of the open water fly fishing.

We then headed to the inlet and fished the North Jetty. I rigged up a 10 weight rod with a sink tip line and tied on a fly imitating a peanut bunker, a juvenile version of the bigger bunker that were just offshore. Greg positioned me perfectly for casting to the jetty. I was casting to the wash around the jetty, the seams off the current over the submerged part of the jetty, and even casting out in the deeper water away from the jetty, varying retrieves and sink time. Harbor seals were about the jetty – so neat to see these beautiful animals coming back along with so much other marine life.

At one point I had a good bump and it ended up being a very large Atlantic Herring. I have caught herring on the fly while fishing the bay and they put up a good fight. They can grow to over 18″ and this one was certainly up there in size. Having said that, it could also easily be taken by a large striped bass.

But no one, even the guys fishing live “spot” were catching anything. It seemed as if no one was home around the jetty. We moved on and tried a beautiful part of Barnegat Bay where a “river” ran through the sod islands off the bay side of Island Beach State Park, but again no luck. And so we called it a day. That evening I would dine on fresh striped bass in the company of family, while dreaming of stripers-to-be on the fly…

Over the rest of that weekend, I spent time with my father and went to visit my mother in Seacrest Village Nursing Home. My mother had suffered a broken hip as a result of a fall a month earlier and in combination with her worsening dementia and stroke-related speech problems, was not doing well.

On my last visit before heading home, my father and I sat by her bedside. She lay in the bed, murmuring at times. It was hard to know if she remembered me, but she remembered my Dad, if only by his name. Her bed was by the window and the sun streamed in brightly. Beyond the window was the parking lot and then the low bay marshland of Barnegat Bay.

My Dad and I talked and tried to engage my mother. She would look at us and smile at times. Her hands shook uncontrollably. She lay before us a mere shadow of the great woman, wife, and mother she had been in her 88 years. And then out of the silence of the room and the confusion dementia casts on days of old, came a moment of clarity. My mother raised her head off the pillow and turning to the light streaming in, said with joy in her voice, “oh, isn’t life good.”

Back Home in the Comfort Zone

Beautiful Barnegat Bay salt marsh. Picture courtesy Greg Molyneux

I left for home the next day with thoughts of my mother weighing heavy on my mind and heart. How ironic, I thought, that a nursing home, where people come to live out the rest of their days, could be built on the great salt marshes of Barnegat Bay where so much life begins. The great striped bass migration started there with the spawn each spring as did the masses of bunker that fed them on their way to “the promised land”. The baymen lived because of the bay’s bounty and Tuckerton, Barnegat, West Creek and so many other bayside towns and villages sprung up around the tidal creeks and sod banks and thrived on the fish, shellfish, and sea ducks all brought about by the marsh. Yet there lay my mother, on the threshold of the life-giving bay, dying…

Two weeks after my visit, the cell phone rang very early on a Monday morning. I glanced at the phone and saw it was my sister. I knew before I even answered that my mother had passed. The most positive force in my life – my guiding light – that everlasting smile – all of that was gone now.

And so I returned again to the shore, to the bay and the marsh with so many tidal creeks running like little fingers into the land. I spent time helping family get ready for my mother’s final goodbye – calling hours, a Mass, and a farewell lunch after. The weather was beautiful, unusually warm, and though deep in grief and busy in the preparations, I could not help but wonder if the striped bass were still around. A peek at Greg’s blog showed that as deep in December as we were, bass were still being caught, and by a few lucky fly fishers, even. And though it had proven to be a much longer striper bite than originally anticipated, it did not surprise me. Mom, in her own way, had asked the bass to stay a bit longer, as if to show to me just how good life was, in the promised land…

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Thanks, Mom!