Saturday, July 1, 2017

Loud and Clear

"You're fishing for only one fish with that kind of fly," my brother said as he dug in at the oars, ferrying us across the current. I could hear the grin on his face. I pulled my gaze from the too-large yellow articulated undulation I was leading along the bow on a fluorocarbon leash to look back at him and nod, and smile.

---

This morning the river was high and off color, 1400 cfs and holding when it is said to fish well at 400, and this was our first time angling it. We'd heard of big brown trout and within an hour of shoving off we met what we sought. Mark placed his streamer tight to an undercut root ball and a big fish breached but missed. As we ripped past in the current he cast upstream to replace the fly, twitched it once and the fish came back. Twenty-two inches to start the day and a memorable eat to start our week together on the water.

I was up to fish and decided to try a streamer cooked up during a winter evening of altered consciousness. After an hour or three its form emerged from the hazy crucible, fixed in the vice atop a heap of hair, fur, feathers and flash. My fingers were bloody from hidden hook points. When I returned to it in the morning with clearer eyes I knew the fly would hunt. It called to me whenever I would consult the meat locker but it hadn't aligned with a river and the water until now.

That the trappings from the bodies of terrestrial and aerial organisms can be arranged to create something that acts like it evolved in the water is one of the reasons I love fly fishing.

Mark is better at the oars. In the lee of a small island he began to inch us quietly upstream into a narrow side channel. We entered an eddy across from a large boulder sheltered under the branches of a leaning hemlock, deep in shade. He told me where to cast. At the splash, unseen, a big, beautiful fish peeled off from her lair in the slackwater as I swam the fly lazily back to the boat.

Holding starboard in the current the yellow streamer fluttered like a descending angel until a quick, white hole opened beneath it, a singularity, folding the fly into itself, vanishing. The fish turned and I clamped down. It thrashed on the surface and the black water frothed. I was in shock and the fish sounded. When I brought her back my brother was there with the net. He knew it was the best trout of my life.

That the fish was severely gill hooked threw a wet blanket on our enthusiasm pretty quickly. Clouds of red billowed from the net and dispersed downstream with its fading heartbeat. We cursed as it died in my hands.

I'd forgotten that fly fishing is also a bloodsport. We consume a resource whether or not we catch and release, and what we take from the experience, flesh or memories, should be able to justify our continued participation.  I took the oars for a few hours and led us down this healthy river, watching my brother practice his art from the bow, and suddenly aware of the imbalance between what these waters have given to me, and what I've, thus far, given to them.

That evening, with a few miles left on our float, my brother asked if I was ready to fish. I pinched my barbs and stood in the bow, looking for likely holding water.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Calibrating


Arriving. Black bear eating berries at the turnoff. Making camp. Stepping into a familiar and favorite river. Several beautiful, wild fish in the afternoon. Fishing slowly, methodically. Soaking it in. Being changed. A long glide for magic hour. No takers. Tying some flies in the firelight. Pouring rain overnight.

The new moon. A wet morning. Off-color water. Rigging up at the truss bridge. A family of mink chirping among the riverside stones. Fog on the green water. Setting the tone with a gold bar on the first cast. Losing count of trout by mid-morning. Breaking for a riparian lunch. Losing a nice fish during an unplanned swim. Then, my largest brown from this river to date. Seventeen, sparsely spotted, fleshy adipose, slight hookjaw on a head too large for its body. Wild. Contented, driving to investigate some native brook trout water. Hitting a chipmunk on the road. Low summer flows. A return for the evening hatch. A turkey vulture eating my dead chipmunk. No takers from a new tailout.

Breaking camp. Phoning to plan the upcoming rendezvous with Mark. Returning to the river because I have some time and the fishing is good. Several beautiful fish, again. Two perfect brook trout among the golden browns. Midges, pheasant tails and stimulators rigged as a hopper-dropper. One last fish on top and that was that. Hitting the road to meet my brother.

My river was kind and is still beautiful. All was now well, with many days on the water still ahead of me.












Monday, June 5, 2017

Creek Stalking


Every Spring I make a point to fish some local Delmarva creeks for a myriad of species. This usually occurs as the leaves are reaching their peak and the shad run is basically over. I mostly target carp, but I also have the chance to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, hickory shad, perch, catfish, and some leftover trout. Sometimes, I try to catch all of the aforementioned species in a short after work session. More often than not, I just focus on the carp. This year, I only fished two sessions and was able to tangle with a few quality specimens...

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Topography



The gorge is some twenty-four miles of whitewater with only a rail-trail for company. You'll go under a singular bridge between the put-in and the first possible take-out, 9 miles later. That might not sound remote in an absolute sense, but in Pennsylvania it's just about as far out there as you can get when searching for trout.

This gorge's soundscape is geologic. It is the sound of water moving downhill and of rocks weathering slowly. It is one of the oldest sounds on Earth.

To a degree, aesthetics have begun to matter and mean more to me as I approach middle age. Not being reminded of the Anthropocene by sight or sound, for even a day, is a privilege. Places like the gorge are a relief and a refuge for the mind and the soul, where a rarified focus is able to emerge.

In a sense, this was the maiden voyage of our Stealthcraft Hooligan XL as it was the very place we had in mind when forking over the cash. Rocky rapids with names and the maps that show how to run them are the gatekeepers to an emerging wild trout refuge. Like learning to drive a manual transmission on the way home from the dealer, we developed a confidence at the oars in a few hectic river miles that saw us safely through the rest of the year.

Blue haloed browns have staked a claim to this piece of water, descendants of holdovers that found cold water seeps to weather the summer months. They're found among a healthy population of bronzebacks that like to play. It was early June. Tumbling a streamer through the boulders brought many fish to hand and an evening slate drake hatch turned a tail out on as the sun set and darkness crept into the gorge.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Localities


Pennsylania's finest...

It was a wet Spring filled with prolonged days of rain and ending with many nightly thunderstorms. Appropriately, a lot of my fishing was done with heavier rods, sinking lines, and a wide variety of articulated streamers. On most weekends, I found myself driving home to where I was born and raised. Over the years, several friends have been catching some amazing trout in waters I never ventured to nor explored in my high school days. From afar, I was curious and a little jealous. Being local, they were able to time everything right. With streamer fishing, timing can be everything. For a weekend warrior living a few hours away, I was never able to take advantage. This year, I finally did. Although I was able to catch some big trout and a few other species, I will be haunted by several big browns that got away. These fish viciously t-boned my flies before cartwheeling through the air and tossing the hook back at my face. Moments like those won't be forgotten and will surely keep me coming back for more...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Three Year Anniversary


A little slice of heaven...

Time was of the essence as I left work to travel several hours into the heart of Pennsylvania. Reports suggested uncommon mayfly activity for this time of year and I was eager to arrive in time to catch the evening "hatch". This time of year, the march browns were out in full force but hendricksons, quill gordons, bwo's, and blue quills were still making an appearance. Reports also suggested that the first sulphurs were beginning to emerge producing a symphony of evening mayfly activity. With the car loaded down with camping and fishing gear, I decided to cram in one last item: a mountain bike. A secret weapon of sorts, I planned on riding my bike to a far flung hole and returning via headlamp. I arrived a little later than expected, unloaded my bike, threw on my waders, and rode down the gravel road and onto the trail. I didn't go as far as planned, but managed to find an opening at a productive hole. March browns littered the air but so did a lot of the other aforementioned mayflies. I settled on a size 12 mahogany spinner to produce a silhouette in the low light. With limited backcast room, I fished downstream at a tailout and managed four fish before dark. The ride back was pleasant. The cool Spring air chilled my face and the smell of old growth forest, campfires, and roasting meat put a huge smile on my face. I eagerly looked forward to Katie's arrival as well as a few friends the next day. A three year anniversary was at hand...

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Musky Session


On the home stretch...

The trials and tribulations of pursuing esox continued over the course of much of 2017. Our natural stubbornness with the pursuit brought Adam and I once again to our home river, which has produced scant results over the last four years. In that time frame, chance encounters with legitimate river monsters have made us unwilling to fish elsewhere. Joining us for this particular float was our friend Marko, all the way from Hamburg, Germany. A true esox aficionado, Marko's pursuit focuses on the pike filled waterways across the pond, but when he dreams at night, it is of the untamed and the out of reach. When Marko comes stateside, we typically take him out to play our game of meat bingo. He wants a musky on fly and for some reason enlists us, and our chosen waterway, to fulfill his dream. If and when it does go down, it will be well earned and probably quite large. 

The plans were too idealistic from the start and as musky fishing tends to do, it gave the three of us a healthy dose of reality. Adam and I arrived at the boat launch in the dark and launched with the sun peaking over the horizon. Marko would be meeting up with us downriver at the next launch where we would continue for nine miles. After a half hour of back eddy bombs and figure eights, a cold front came through and produced a flash storm. Heavy rain and upstream wind left Adam and I stuck in the river and unable to reach Marko. Soaked and quite cold in the May air, Marko met us at the exact location Adam and I put in a few hours earlier.

Amateurs...

Thankfully, the weather cleared and we were able to continue our float. The first action came off a log jam, where Marko's fly got slammed after one strip. After a quick inspection, the fly and leader revealed some damage, a sure fire sign of an esox encounter. Off the oars for the first time, I put on a Chocklett Mega Game Changer and moved a mid-forties fish with a two handed strip. I got have a follow in the first turn of the eight before the big female lost interest and slid away into the depths. In marginal water, Marko put on some big clousers and played with some smallmouth bass. Towards the end of the day, he was able to move a small ski in a deep eddy. The fish appeared out of nowhere and Marko stopped his fly cold. With the hackle dancing in the water, the ski gave it a curious look, before disappearing for good.

Three sightings, one half follow in the eight, and a few smallies equals a typical musky session on our end. 


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Training Wheels


A stunner...

After our inaugural float with the Stealthcraft Hooligan XL, we witnessed the potential of our home river from a radically different point of view. No longer were we tempted to drive an additional few hours to fish the Upper Delaware. In fact, we ended up fishing the Upper D zero times this Spring despite it being the main reason for obtaining the three person raft. The Lehigh proved too tempting to pass up and usually had no other people on it to compete for runs, pools, and rising fish. Our first float produced two stunning wild brown trout, one on a nymph and the other on a Quill Gordon comparadun. On this float, we broke out the streamer rods and Ryan drummed one up from the deep. The fish, whether a holdover or a wild brown, was absolutely stunning and was another reminder of the potential that the Lehigh holds...

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Keys


Sunset Over Little Torch Key

A trip to the Florida Keys has been several years in the making. This Spring, Katie and I decided to finally head south for three days of visiting friends, sight seeing, birding, and fishing. Having been away from saltwater flats for so long, my only goal was to get a shot at a bonefish or permit at some point on the trip. A shot. With a shortened window of time, no skiff, and no guide my hopes were a little ambitious but it actually ended up happening. Several other cool moments did too. Our short taste of the Keys left us with a burning desire to head back and explore even more...

Monday, April 24, 2017

Evolution


Homewater

We are all products of our environment. We've spent 20 years walking through the fertile Keystone waterways of our home while only recently picking our feet up and into some fishing-specific kayaks. The accessibility they allowed was intoxicating, but their limitations quickly became apparent. They didn't quite hit the mark.