Archive for steelhead

Goals for 2016

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on February 25, 2016 by stflyfisher

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Ernest Hemingway

It’s that time to proclaim my fly fishing goals for 2016. Much as I’ve practiced in the past, the process for goal-setting starts in late November / December, when I start a review of the year and spend time thinking about where I want to go, what I want to do, who I want to be in the fly fishing world. I usually start putting some draft goals to paper in early January, mull them over through the rest of January and early February, and post them – a formal commitment – before my birthday in early March.

So here they are – my fly fishing goals for 2016:

  1. Learn more about nymph fishing.
    1. Study Joe Humphreys’ “Trout Tactics”
    2. Study George Daniel’s “Dynamic Nymphing”
  2. Learn to fly fish for muskie.
    1. Purchase rod, reel, line, leader
    2. Purchase / tie flies
    3. Study muskie fly fishing
    4. Fish for them
  3. Saltwater flyfish in Destin, FL.
  4. Continue fly tying – learn to tie 5 more patterns.
  5. Donate a box of my flies to the TU banquet.
  6. Float-fish the Susquehanna (4X)
  7. Make perfect fly casting practice a habit.
  8. Fish with friends, including at least 3 trips with new friends.
  9. Fly fish and/or attend fly fishing events 100 times this year.
  10. Learn to tie 3 new fishing knots.
  11. Fish the Salmon River – Spring, Fall, Winter.
  12. Night fish for trout.
  13. Fish marginal waters.
  14. Build my own fly rod.
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Tawm

Posted in Fishing Conditions, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on November 6, 2015 by stflyfisher

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.

Henry David Thoreau

He stood at the head of the run, atop a flat rock, fighting a good steelhead that behaved at first but then decided the thing pulling on its jaw was really getting annoying. The fish screamed downstream, and the big man on the rock dipped his rod to the river as if bowing to this majestic force of nature and let the drag scream away. Anglers on either side of the run dutifully retrieved their lines with Salmon River etiquette. But the big angler on the rock stayed put on his fishing perch and decided to stand and fight rather than follow the fish down-river.

I watched the spectacle, line in hand and I was annoyed, to be quite honest. ‘Move down and get below him’, I thought. Who would dare fight a steelhead from upstream, especially when just below the run the river turned really fast. But this angler stayed put atop the big rock and let his fly line arc across the entire run. His fighting position was almost defiant to the bank-side anglers below, as if to say, ‘I’ve got a good fish on and you need to watch me fight him’.

The steelhead did what it was born to do. The tug of war went on and my aggravation increased. ‘Why doesn’t this guy just move down below the fish’, I kept wondering…

Then I witnessed something truly revolutionary. The big guy on the rock started to steadily reel the fish up. Though his rod was bent deeply into the butt, rod-tip just above the water, he slowly cranked in, gaining line as if retrieving a fly bogged up with a wad of stream bed clutter. This went on for what seemed forever, and granted, there was a little tug of war in the midst, but he eventually got the fish to the point where the leader was just beyond the rod tip. I thought to myself, “OK, now I can fish again”.

The steelhead charged downstream as if the fight had just begun. Big guy followed it this time as there was an angler with a net at the end of the run. I started fishing after he moved below me but a while later he came walking back up the wall path. As he passed me he said with complete sincerity, “thank you for your patience”. He had lost the fish but regained my favor.

I asked what type of fly he was using, and it wasn’t long before I began to get hook-ups. Most of these were short-lived affairs – some the result of a poorly set hook, others a tribute to the brute power of these fish – a mix of king salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead. At one point, a snag turned out to be a very big king whose explosive leaps left me with a slack line and straightened 2X heavy hook. But eventually I got one to stick. After some good runs, a few jumps, and lots of head-shaking, I worked the fish up-river to some slack water just below the big guy’s rock post.

“Do you want me to try and land him for you?”, big guy asked, in an accent from a far-off state. “Sure”, I said, and a friend was gained.

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A gift from a newly-made friend

I introduced myself afterward, to which he stuck out a huge, caloused hand and shook mine with the grip of a lineman. “I’m Tawm”, he said, smiling big and wide. He was an imposing figure, but had a laid-back warmth that immediately made you feel good just to be in his presence. “You’re obviously not from around here”, I said. He grinned, “nawww, from Maine but born and raised in Bawston”…

I asked him about his unique fish-fighting technique and he smiled. “Oh, a friend showed me that – he calls it walking the dawg”. “It doesn’t work all the time”, he continued, “but it somehow just calms them down in a lot of cases. I won’t chase ’em if I can avoid it.”

I had more hook-ups, as did he, including a dandy of a steelhead to which he complimented me in simple Tawm terms: “Nice”.

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Courtesy of Tawm’s “walking the dog”…

And I fought that steelhead just like Tom did, eventually ‘walking the dog’, right into a net.

We fished side-by-side the rest of the day, though I felt a bit overshadowed by this gentle giant of a man. Fair skinned with a fireman’s mustache and very much commanding the run, Tawm greeted almost every angler on the run as if they were at a high school reunion. Anglers far different than Tawm, with accents straight out of “Rocky” or “My Cousin Vinnie”, shook hands and hugged him like long lost brothers. He knew them by name, called out to them, verbally sparring, joking, and laughing.

At one point, even though the action was steady, Tawm rested his rod and drew out a big cigar. Sitting bank-side, he deftly smoked the stogie, occasionally looking skyward. “Sometimes it’s nice just to sit back and take it all in”, he mused. I looked at him and thought myself a bit of a fool for going at fly fishing so damned hard all the time. Indeed, I had started the morning at 6:30 am, not taken a break for any kind of food, or water and in my haste to ‘get a spot’, had left my own cigar in my car.

“You seem to know everyone here”, I said, as he puffed away. He was deep in thought, and maybe, it was the very thing I was asking about that was on his mind. “I’ve known some of these people for years”, he said. “The fishing here is so good, but that’s not the only reason I come.”

The sun soon dipped beneath the ridge behind us and left the sky. The run darkened with the coming of evening and anglers slowly left in piecemeal fashion, but not one of them without some word to Tawm, including some colorful expressions that reminded me of my Navy days. Then Tawm packed up, and walked by me on his way to his car. “I’m wore out, just plain wore out”, he said.

I soon left too, plodding up the steep stone stairs to the parking lot above, my upper back and arms sore from casting and tangling with lake-run fish. It would be a long drive home but a very good one – one of perspective that eventually makes for a better angler and deeper human being. And though I’m not so sure Tawm was the type of man that would read Thoreau, he certainly lived like he did, making memories of fly fishing big rivers, but most of all, the people in them.

Fishing the Salmon…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 22, 2015 by stflyfisher

It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory … over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: You will outlive the bastards.

― Edward Abbey

I have fly fished my share of upstate NY over the years, but the fabled Salmon River has always escaped me. I suppose I was intimidated by the river’s fame and also by its power – both for good and bad. The river is well known for its world class fishing but with that comes its own curse. It draws a circus with each year’s salmon run and along with many good and respectful anglers a draft of the darker side of humanity. And it can be a widow-maker, literally, when wading anglers come ill-equipped and ill-informed.

Looking upriver at the Douglaston Salmon Run.

Looking upriver at the Douglaston Salmon Run.

It wasn’t until late in 2011 when I first wet a line there and that was only under the sage tutelage and guidance of Loren Williams, a great local guide and fly tyer.  I did well under Loren’s watch, but failed to return to try it on my own. I was too much in awe of it, and so chose to fish the places I knew far better – places where the river bed was certain and the fishing calculable – places and fish that were comfortable to me. Perhaps I was just playing it safe, but safe bets get one no closer to achieving improvement in any endeavor. I think an angler’s fishing suffers when they don’t continuously fish waters that in some way push the envelope at least a little bit.

Enter John Trainor, one of the board officers in the local IFFF chapter of the BC Flyfishers. John has fished the Salmon River a lot over the recent past. And he’s certainly done well there. After hearing some of his stories, I just had to ask – “wanna go fishing”? John was kind enough to oblige.

We met up very early this past Veteran’s Day – a Tuesday. We drove north to the Salmon River in the dark, had a quick breakfast on the way up, and arrived on the river a little past 7:30 am. Our first stop was a place a coworker had recommended – the Long Bridge Pool. We parked in town, rigged up, and walked our way down to the river, and I must say I was disappointed, but let me first preface that statement. I am one of those anglers spoiled by the solitude found on some of our local waters, particularly the warmwater rivers like the Tioughnioga, Chenango, Chemung, and the Susquehanna. As has been posted here before, an angler could spend an entire day and see just a few anglers, if any at all, on these waters. So walking to any river and seeing anglers every 20 to 30 feet or so and in some cases closer yet, was hard for me. John seemed unfazed and commented that the crowd actually wasn’t too bad. I guess my lack of Salmon River experienced showed!

We walked up to the Long Bridge Pool and found two openings. John rigged me up for bottom bouncing one of his fishy looking estaz egg patterns. Then he headed upriver to some transition water where he tried swinging a streamer, leaving me to fish the head of a pool below him. There was an interesting seam and a very deep pocket not far from where I stood and it was there I decided to work my fly. I cast up into the faster water and followed the fly down the seam. As is sometimes the case with fly fishing, long periods of dullness can suddenly erupt with goodness. But this was no wild take. Instead I noticed my fly line suddenly move upstream to which I followed by raising my rod tip sharply. I soon had a tiger by the tail, but this tiger did not jump. Instead it zigged and zagged, shook its head at times, and on many occasions darted out to the fast water just beyond. After some net assistance from a downstream angler and John, it became apparent that this was a domestic rainbow – splendidly colored and a somewhat unique catch.

A beautiful rainbow trout from the Salmon River...

A beautiful rainbow trout from the Salmon River…

We fished that stretch a bit more and then decided to head upriver. I won’t pretend to have come close to memorizing the pools John spouted off by name, their history, or his personal vignettes from years plying the Salmon River. We ate a great lunch at a little diner in town – regrettably, I’ve since lost its name but could recognize it just walking by. It was one of those home-town places frequented by friends, not customers. I felt right at home and devoured a roast beef club and a tall icy Coca Cola fountain drink.

By that time, temps outside were becoming exceptionally pleasant for early November. We headed upriver again after fishing a bit in town and like a tour guide, John pointed out all the various holes and access points with their interesting names, like The Compactor Pool, Sportsman Pool,  Trestle Pool, Pineville, and Ellis Cove, all the while filling in with his own stories, good and bad, from fishing these spots.

We ended up at the lower fly zone, and after scouting a bit for the best access, decided to fish a pool located at the foot of a cemetery and church. We actually stopped there once, then decided to check out the upper fly zone, before returning to find the stretch of river a lot more crowded than when we first stopped. Indeed, there were only a few spots along a stone bank erosion wall. It certainly wasn’t wade fishing perched atop the rocks, but it did provide good access to a pretty run that looked very fishy.

The fishing was more “chuck and duck”, and ongoing experimenting with fly type, size and color, and weight. After a while my persistence was rewarded when my drift came to a very abrupt halt, followed by a nice head-shake, and the spastic run and jump of a steelhead. My JP Ross 8 weight handled the fish well – bending deeply to its power. I played it carefully as it waged a deep upstream slog, interrupted by occasional runs for the riffle just below. Eventually I could feel it tiring, and John was there to tail it for me. It was a nice male, dark from time in the river and best of all, hooked fairly in the corner of its mouth with one of my own estaz egg patterns.

A nice steelhead on my own tied fly...

A nice steelhead on my own tied fly…

A while later I hooked up again – this time with a different color and style egg pattern…

John doing the honors for me with my second steelhead...

John doing the honors for me with my second steelhead…

In all it was a great day on the water, far surpassing how I thought it might go. It was a day that built my confidence, thanks at least in part to John’s help in introducing the river to me.

A couple of weeks later I decided to try it all again. John could not go so I decided to spread my wings on my own. As I prepared for the Sunday trip, I could feel that same uneasiness that I’d felt before – would I be up to the task?, would the river smack me down after “beginners luck”? I can say I’m glad I went for two reasons – the fishing and the fishermen…

I fished the same spot in the lower fly zone. I felt I knew the water at least and the weather would again be on the milder winter side, although this time there was snow on the ground. I arrived fairly early but already the river had a good crowd. Anglers were spread along the river and ironically, I found the same section along the bank erosion wall to be open. I set up and began fishing. A while into fishing I got a good jolting grab at the end of a drift and struggled to get my line on the reel. By the time I was tight to the fish it was off and the end of my tippet told the woeful tale – my non-slip loop knot had not been tied correctly (note that this is a great knot that can give good movement to a fly but it can be tied incorrectly and will then fail easily). Worst of all, I had lost a nice fish on one of my flies.

I continued to fish a while with no results – the fishing seemed to be off and then on again and with no obvious explanation. During the off period I was lucky enough to be entertained by an absolute riot of a fly fisherman who had been sleeping on a nearby snow bank while his friend fished downstream of me. Eventually he rose, rigged up, and fished, and I will admit he was good – he claimed to be a guide. This guy turned out to be part comedian, part “gangsta-rapper-dude”, part California surfer, sporting a flat-brimmed ball cap and a voice tone reminiscent of Jeff Spicoli, of Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame. His stories were hilarious feats of angling prowess combined with life in the fast lane. He told me later he had stayed at the Tailwater Lodge and his dinner bill at the bar the night before was $170, with only $40 of it going for food.

In any case, I honestly liked the guy, and he was good with a net, landing the two steelhead I caught that day for me. I learned from him as well – both from observation and discussion. In between stories and narration of the fishing around us, he’d point out tips and techniques as well as different fly patterns that worked for him. He and his friend left mid-afternoon, quite possibly to hold court at the Tailwater Lodge bar. I left soon after that myself, feeling good about my day on the Salmon…

A beautiful steelhead, landed with the help and net of my colorful fishing friend...

A beautiful steelhead, landed with the help and net of my colorful fishing friend…

My second steelhead of the day...

My second steelhead of the day…

Driving home I thought about how anglers sometimes make fly fishing too difficult. The monster of awe we lay on fish and fishing can cause us to respect and esteem the wariness and cunning of the gamefish we seek too much, perhaps. I was once reminded by a guide that the trout we were fishing for were armed with a brain the size of a pea. While it is never good to fish such fabled rivers as the Salmon with an air of smugness, it’s just as bad to not fish it because we think it greater than our capacities, skills, or abilities. I look back on the years I didn’t fish the Salmon River as years I’ll never regain. But I’ll value that as a lesson looking forward. I’ll remember the Salmon every time I hesitate to venture on new waters, cast to  unknown fish, or angle in ways unfamiliar. And I’ll fish regardless.

 

 

 

 

Fat Nancy’s Philosophy…

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2010 by stflyfisher

This past weekend son #2 and I took a hike to the great white north.  I’m not talking Albany, Syracuse, or Rochester; I’m talking PULASKI, which, in Polish should translate to “the place where the snow flies” (actually, the village was named after General Casimir Pulaski of revolutionary war fame).  Son #2 is a hockey player, and his Bantam Travel “B” Team was to face off against the Salmon River Storm at 11:30 am that day.  We met only mild weather resistance on the trip north, which is a rarity.  In fact, once we passed snowy Syracuse, the skies cleared up but the bright sunshine did little to lift the frigid cold.  Indeed, when we left the southern tier the temp was an invigorating -1 degree F.

The village of Pulaski is famous for two things; fishing and snowmobiling.  Situated on the western edge of Lake Ontario, it receives an average of 175 inches (over 14 feet) of snow every winter, but of more interest to the STFLYFISHER clan is the village’s location on the Salmon River.  This geographical blessing makes it one of the best places, arguably THE best place in the lower 48, to catch big steelhead, monster king and coho salmon, and huge lake-run browns.

Back before Fat Nancy came to town...

We arrived in Pulaski, took the exit off Rt 81 North, and at the top of the exit ramp, ran smack dab into Fat Nancy’s on our way to the rink, and with just one look at the interesting name (followed by “tackle shop”), I knew I had to check it out after the game.

Fat Nancy's in warmer times - an oasis of fly gear, snacks, and gas in the midst of the great white north...

We drove through the sleepy village and immediately got a sense for how much snow this part of upstate New York receives.  The roofs of houses and stores were steeped high with the stuff, and the icicles were enough to make one think twice about passing under any roof overhang.  The rink in Pulaski was colder inside than it was outside, but it made for fast ice and a great game, as the Binghamton Senators filleted the Salmon River Storm 12-5.

After the game, we were to head south to Cortland for a 5:30 pm game and lunch en route, but I took a little detour to Fat Nancy’s under the fatherly auspices of picking up a candy bar for my exhausted hockey player and filling the car up with gas in case we ever got stuck in some abominable snow drift.

The greeter at Fat Nancy's...

Upon first entering Fat Nancy’s, you’re greeted by one hell of a king salmon, although legend has it that “Fat Nancy’ is not the mother of all king salmon, nor is she some gargantuan female tackle shop owner, burly and beard-growing, complete with camel hanging out of her yap, but instead, a huge sturgeon in Lake Ontario that has eluded anglers for years.  Regardless, this big king, hanging in all its glory for all to dream wistfully of bent fly rods and backing on the reel, is just one of many Salmon River trophies mounted as testament to how truly great the fishing is on the Salmon River.

If you get gas at Fat Nancy's, make sure you pay inside!

What happens after entry into this fly fisherman’s house of pleasure is sensory overload, as this tackle shop is more like a convenience store version of Cabelas than a Citgo Mini-Mart.  While the shop does cater to the hardware guys, ice fishermen, and trollers, there is a nice stand of G Loomis, Scott, TFO, and some lesser known brands of fly rods to piqué one’s interest.  Fat Nancy’s offers a broad steelhead / salmon fly selection along with a bountiful stock of line, terminal tackle, reels, waders, and clothing.  Browsing around, I quickly spied the ultimate big river steelhead rod – a 10′ / 7 weight Scott ARC for sale at half price.  I practically had to buy a hat just to catch the slobber that drooled from my mouth.

I picked up a chocolate bar for my very patient hockey player and stood at the counter while a big upstate good-ole-boy sidled up behind the cash register.  “Is that it?”, he bellowed, jowls swaying.  “Yes”, I responded, “although I sure would like to add that Scott ARC you have on sale, but the wife wouldn’t take too kindly to that”.  I chuckled a little, thinking some sympathetic comment would soon follow.  Instead I got a brash and baritone “tough sh*t”, followed by a lambasting that chastised my manhood and, would have put my tail between my legs if I had one.  “You work for that money, don’t you?”, he scowled, “you can do whatever the hell you want with it, that’s what I say”.  I grimaced and shriveled in the face of this dress-down and soon felt like I was looking up at the counter.  “If you want the rod, buy it, and if she don’t like it, tough sh*t”.  “Riiiiiigggghhhhhttttt…..”, as Dr. Evil would say.

I slithered out of the store, hockey player in tow, and thought long and hard about “the philosophy” as we sped down 81 to Cortland.  And the more I thought, the more I realized this guy had a point.  The counter-guy’s “pep” talk had truly given me a lift.  Carpe diem, seize the day, strike while the iron’s hot, go for it – the “talk” had convinced me, if nothing else, that Fat Nancy’s was far more than a tackle shop.  That week I had a new fly reel on order, with no apologies and nary a second thought, thank you very much.

Tight lines…