The pull off just ahead, my head was still spinning from what we had just witnessed only an hour ago. With the water level on a popular tailwater dropping rapidly, dozens of anglers resorted to some of the most brutal and shocking fishing tactics I had ever witnessed. Appalled, we left to find greener pastures on the other side. The other side consisted of a steep decent into another world that seemed far away from the circus earlier. Approaching the stream a calm suddenly came upon me. I was in familiar territory. A small stream flowing through a wooded ravine transported me to my home water back in Pennsylvania. I looked up stream and saw a slate cliff leading to the water. The reflection of the fall foliage on the water created a mirage of oranges, yellows, and browns. No one was in sight. We had it all to ourselves.
A Great Lakes Stream=Slate Cliffs.
Eye Popping Fall Colors.
Adam Fishing The Bend.
The Poor Salmon.
The Mighty Brown.
Approaching the first few holes, the large lake run brown trout could be seen gliding in and out of current seems. Their colors closely resembling the scenery surrounding them. Some so orange and bright, there was no possible way for them to hide. The small water created some interesting scenarios sight fishing to these brutes. They all seemed to have lock jaw as every pattern in the box was put to the test. When a few did come to the back of Adam's net their colors were even more spectacular. Their hook jaws and large teeth menacing. These were survivors and it was an honor to behold their power.
The sound of the windshield wipers moving back and forth was the only thing keeping me awake. The five hour energy and the two cans of Red Bull just couldn't do the trick. As I concentrated on that nice rhythmic sound, my mind kept drifting off to the current destination. I dreamt of slabs of brown, sides of crimson, and the sound of line screaming off my reel. The oncoming high beams of another car snapped me back to reality. I gazed at the clock and realized I still had four hours to go. Time for another swig of the juice.
Finally arriving, the parking lot was nearing capacity. Combat fishing amongst dozens of other anglers can be quite the experience. Finding one of the only fishable pieces of real estate I know I am not welcomed. The sideways glances, the biting glares, and the smug smirks contemplate my every move. They eye my gear, my clothing, and my demeanor. They have no idea who I am but they are so quick to judge. This melting pot of characters represent different states, countries, and ideologies. You have spinners, liners, pinners, dead drifters, swingers, and snaggers all vying for a quick fix that only a fish could bring. The environment is one of envy, greed, and lust surrounding a thin gauntlet of flowing water. I try to block out all the unnecessary distractions and concentrate on the task at hand.
After a long day of fishing, I have little to show for my efforts. A few solid hookups and glimmers of hope fluttering away at the end of my line keep me going on my one hour of sleep. Finally, during the tenth hour of fishing, the set, fight, and land all come together and I get my first chrome of the season. I struggled getting my cold hands around the thick midsection of the small hen. She was round, mean, and entirely used. I admired her for a few seconds before she returned to her lair. In that moment, the long drive, sleep deprivation, empty stomach, sinus pressure, and parched lips did not matter. A smile came to my face, and I was content.
I find myself thinking once again. Instead of dreaming of what could possibly be, my mind wonders to what could have been. That nice long rolling cast up into the current. The perfect mend and dead drift through the seam. The set and roar of a giant buck cart-wheeling out of the current in front of me. The blazing run downstream and that last head shake that shook my hook for good.
The high beams distract me from my deep thoughts again. I look at the clock and realize I have much longer than four hours before getting another chance. For now, all I have is this singular thought to dwell upon, until the next time I get a shot, at a taste of chrome.
My cell phone alarm awakened me early Sunday morning urging me to get the hell out of bed and go fishing. After the initial shock, I opened my tired eyes and in the gloom of the backlit screen I saw my two Labradors looking at me in the dark. They shifted their gaze and looked at each other before collapsing sideways into me. Their combined weight nearly pushed me off the bed. They must have thought I was crazy to be waking up at such an hour to leave the warm confines of my bed and head out into the heart of one of the season's first noreasters. I got their message and stopped the alarm.
Fall on the Pohopoco.
The Fish Congregate Under the Rhododendron.
I awoke several hours later and this time both dogs were off of my bed, eagerly gazing up at me. This time, they wanted me to get up. I obliged, and took them out for some early morning exercise. Tired and panting relentlessly, Riley and Sophie came back inside. They saw me head for my fishing gear and realized I was about to leave them. Normally, any movement towards a jacket or shoes results in several jumps or excited moans and groans. It's wierd when the dogs know when they are and are not welcomed. I always feel bad taking one and leaving the other, so they both get left behind. One day, when they are both mature enough to handle fishing and have some sort of stream etiquette, they will never be turned away.
A Shallow Poho Run.
The View From Below.
I arrived at the Pohopoco Creek tailwater emptying out of the Beltzville Dam around 9 a.m. The place was empty and I headed down to the stream. Looking downstream, a small layer of fog hovered precariously above the water. I rigged up my outfit and fumbled tying on my 7x on the dropper. For mid October, the weather felt more like late November. The cold air caused the joints in my hands to ache and the strongs winds traveled down any opening in my outer armor. The first cast produced a stocked rainbow who fell victim to a small, soft hackled flashback pheasant tail. I slowly made my way downstream and then back up. Heading upstream, I was casting directly into a strong wind that often caused my dry dropper combo to collapse in a heap of ruin. Every so often I got my long leader to unroll upstream and produce.
The First Bow = Mangled Mouth.
Ahh, Much Prettier.
Soft Hackle PT Slays.
& Claims Another.
Soft Hackle Hares Ear Does The Job Too.
Taking time off from fishing, I played around with the river bottom, lifting and turning over large rocks accompanied by thick vegetation. The stream was alive with insect life. Olive and yellow caddis, black and golden stones, and a strong population of sow and cressbugs. I took my time trying to take some micro shots. I took even more time trying to find a large black stone. I only produced a small one around a size 12. I tied on one of the blackstones I tied for the Salmon River. It was a size 6 with a tungsten bead and rubber legs galore. I heaved it upstream behind a fallen log. In the 12 inch water, the tungsten hit bottom in less than a second. In around 2 seconds, I saw a flash and set the hook. A small wild brown could not resist the large meal and he came to my cold eager hands.
Large Caddis Dwarfing A Small Stone.
One of the Small Stones.
Green Caddis Larva.
Small Black Stone.
My Large Black Imitation.
The next time I head out, one or both of those labs are coming with me. They need more training and I guess the only way to find out if they can handle it, is to throw them into the fire. If they spook all the fish or runaway, so be it. I'll probably have as big a smile on my face as they will on theirs.
My planned weekend trip back up to the Salmon River to duel with large migratory salmonids was put on hold for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, I still managed to get out and fish albeit for 12 inch trout instead of 12 pound trout. Saturday, I began my mini-adventure with an urge for carp on the new switch rod. I made the trip and fished for around an hour. I saw zero carp in the stained water of Lago x and decided that I was wasting my time blind casting for golden ghosts. Reluctantly, I decided to head to the Little Lehigh.
Be Prepared To Combat Fish on the Little Lehigh.
The Little Lehigh is a limestone stream flowing through the heart of Allentown, the third most populated area of Pennsylvania. It has one of the largest populations of wild brown trout in Pennsylvania despite the constant threat from runoff and development. These threats have increased greatly over the years and the results are easily noticed. The amount of sediment found in the stream has increased substantially and in my opinion, the fishing has suffered the consequences. Despite this, it still holds large numbers of trout, especially large numbers of stocked trout & hatchery escapees. The fishing on the Little Lehigh, for a beginner, can be extremely challenging. For someone who fishes the Little Lehigh regularly, it can be somewhat of a joke at times. Once you figure out the flies that work and the techniques needed, it can be like hitting the broad side of a barn. I hadn't fished the Little Lehigh for nearly a year, so I was interested to see how she was doing.
Sight Fishing To Large Trout Rocks.
Arriving on the stream, I noticed how uncrowded it was. The cold weather, high winds, and rain made a lot of regulars stay home on this Saturday. I got out my 9ft 5, and headed to the glory hole. Packed along was a spool of tippet, a small fly box, clippers, and forceps. The hole was manned by several fly fisherman indicator nymphing under large pink thingamabobbers. I positioned myself high on some slippery rocks along the rapids feeding into the hole and eyed my quarry. My favorite method of fishing on the Little Lehigh is sight fishing. Nothing is better than picking out a large trout, presenting the flies to him, seeing the take, and setting the hook. I chose my fish carefully, presented the flies, and preceded to hook up regularly drawing the ire of the other fisherman. The high point came after hooking a very colorful rainbow that was pushing 18 inches. I kindly asked the nearby fisherman to take my picture and then showed him my flies to help out. I caught several more in the 12-18 inch range before packing it in. The majority of the fish were stocked save for a few nice browns.
Colorful Little Lehigh Rainbow.
The Little Lehigh is great place to take friends and family who are new to the sport and introduce them to fly fishing. Along the way and with the right help, they have the chance of hooking a fish that would be a trophy on any other waterway.
Last night I had trouble sleeping. It wasn't the oppressive heat and humidity, or even the mosquitoes. It was the fact that I was going fishing for tarpon this morning that was responsible for my fitful sleep.
With three different stretched and straightened leaders of different formulas connected to three different flies on the new gamakatsu tarpon hooks, I arrived at the honey hole around 5:50am. Within 15 minutes, I had missed one fish and boiled another. At around 6:25am, I made a cast off to the eastern side of the jetty on which I was perched and gasped as a black hole emerged from the water, engulfing my fly.
The tarpon has taken the fly while coming straight at me. As it turned to my left, I strip set ferociously. The tarpon didn't leap straight away, but moved away from me at a good clip. I strip set again, taking no chances. This seemed to piss her off. She leapt and thrashed but didn't dislodge the hook.
By now, 10 seconds in, this was the longest I've had a tarpon on the line. She pulled out line like nothing else, leapt and cleared the water like a rainbow and shook her head like a 4ft long brown trout would.
I tried my best to do the 'tarpon dance,' and bend at the waist, etc, while she leapt. This resulted in me falling on my ass not once, but twice on the slippery rocks as the waves crashed around my knees. Somehow, I stayed connected to the fish.
She liked the eastern side of the jetty, and this presented a problem for me. There was no place to land her over there except for a rocky beach, and my camera\phone was on the shore on the western side of the jetty.
For 25 minutes I tried to stear her across the point but she was having none of it. Finally, I got into the water, waist deep, and waded toward the shore on the eastern side. I got the fish close enough to touch the leader and go for the tail, like an idiot, but she saw me and bolted, running out more line than ever before.
I slowly cranked her back in using the 'down and dirty' method I had research the night before. Angling the rod down and towards the tail end of the fish to keep her head down and constant pressure against her swimming direction. She came within 5 ft of me and this time I grabbed the leader and went for it's mouth, but at my touch she freaked and bolted for the horizon again.
Worrying about sharks, I contemplated breaking her off instead of exhausting her and making her vulnerable. The fact that this fish had probably been swimming for longer than I have existed, and could quite possibly out-live me, upped the respect for it immensely.
Deciding to have at least one more go of turning her, I climbed back onto the jetty and inched my way out to the end. I cranked and reeled her in and finally, after half an hour of being on the line, steered her around the point and into the protected little beach where I hoped to land her.
I scrambled back off of the jetty and into the surf, bringing the fish in close. At about this time, Stacy arrived on her way to work and started taking pictures.
The jetty in the background, spent most of my time being led around on the far side of it.
The TFO rod and Lamson reel performed flawlessly.
I hoped to have the fish ride the waves up onto the sand so that I could pin her momentarily and grab her by the jaws. I put on my gloves and after 3 missed tries, I dropped my 10wt into the water and went for her with both hands. I was finally was able to lip her.
First Tarpon ever. Landed on the fly from shore. Boo Ya!
Searching for the fly, I stuck my entire hand into her mouth. The fly was lodged on the roof of it's mouth about 8 inches deep, and popped out with ease.
She's just a baby compared to the others that frequent these jetties.
I hoisted the fish for a few pictures, then placed her in the water and lead her around the shallows for about 10 minutes. Last night, I read about a mortality study of the tarpon in Boca Grande Pass in Florida. The study found a mortality rate of about 20% due to the fish's inability to escape sharks while on the line or after a long fight. Keeping an eye out, I walked her around to make sure she was fit for release.
After those few minutes, I turned loose of the mouth and gave her a gentle shove. She gently swam off through the surf and disappeared from view. With my shaking arm and slamming heart, I decided to rest a bit on the sandy shore and soak in what had just happened. I went home without throwing another cast.
I don't remember my first trout on the fly. I don't remember my first fish on the fly, period. But I know that I'll never forget spending more than 40 minutes with my 10wt bent to the cork to land my first tarpon.
Last weekend, Adam and I braved the Columbus Day weekend crowds and made our first trip north for king salmon along the Salmon River. It would also be our first time officially fishing for king salmon so we were pretty excited. With this excitement we tied numerous types of streamers anticipating some brutal and angry strikes on the swing. Early Saturday morning, we made our way north to the upper fly zone.
Sunday's View Downstream.
Sunday's View Upstream.
The New Toy & The Killer Stone.
On Saturday, we fished the upper fly zone starting below the upper wire and worked our way downstream. We hunkered in at a deep hole along the edge of what was easily class 3 rapids. Fishing here, we each caught several small rainbows, browns, and atlantic salmon. The high flows made it difficult to get anywhere near the bottom with a swing and we soon transitioned to nymphing the deep run. Large black stoneflies with rubber legs were the ticket and we received our first hook ups of the season. My first king toyed with me for about 30 seconds before realizing he was hooked and then bolting into the raging torrent yards away. I cranked the drag knob up not wanting to see my fly line and 75 yards of backing blitz downstream in an instant. In a matter of seconds my hook straightened and the king rolled one last time before erupting out of the water and seemingly waving goodbye to me. My legs shook uncontrollably for the next several minutes as some random dude consoled me from upstream.
Changing Flies & False Hope.
Adam Working The Swing.
Sunday, saw us arrive on the lower fly zone around 6 am, well before the sun comes out. Pulling into the parking lot we realized that we were probably the 99th and 100th people there along with 8-10 drift boats. Welcome to the Salmon River circus. We bushwacked with our headlamps upstream and thought we found a run all to ourselves. Waiting merely minutes to make up our minds, several more people began flanking us and we were trapped. Unwilling to move and lose a decent spot we stayed. The river was raging to the point where if I would step another foot out into the river, it would lift my feet off the bottom and begin pushing me downstream. We struggled most of the morning reaching the bottom but once we did, Adam promptly began hooking up, seeing his fly line disappear a hundred yards downstream, and systematically pissing off twenty dudes at once. Later that day we made our way to the other side along some soft backwater next to the torrent from the morning. Seemingly every cast produced a hook up and Adam landed a large male coho. However, all the kings wanted nothing to do with coming to our hands.
Sunday's Raging Run.
Adam Getting Bent.
The Fly Line Is 100 Yards Downstream.
The long drive back to Delaware constantly reminded me of our defeat, the hard runs into our backing, and the flicker of that monstrous tail as the kings said, "adios." This singular thought has occupied my mind all week, and this weekend round two will commence.