Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Window Into the Past.

Last week brought an unexpected gift to my hands. My roommates father came to visit and brought with him his grandfather's fly fishing gear. He handed me an old ragged cloth bag and from within its tattered compartments came a bamboo fly rod. My first. Shocked, I carefully put the 3-pieces of cane together and held her out for a wiggle. He brought me over a map where he had carefully highlighted where his grandfather grew up and fished. I didn't have to turn the map around to recognize the highlighted area. The Catskills. The old man apparently practiced his craft along the fabled waters of the Beaverkill and Delaware rivers. That wasn't all. He had another bag and out came two reels, a leather fly wallet full of flies, some old Cortland leaders, and some more flies from a small plastic container. My Friday night plans went out the window and instead I spent my evening examining my new toys. The flies, rod, and reels offered me a window into the past, a past that I hardly understand.

He had only one request from me in return for his graciousness, travel to the Catskills, catch some fish, and take a bunch of photos for him. Until that moment, the bamboo rod will not come out. It has not been used in 49 years and won't be used until I set foot in the waters from whence it came.

I cannot wait.

Fresh Coat of Varnish From 1981.

Marble Plastic Reel Seat.


Out of All This, There Is Only One Clue To The Brand.

US Patent N.O. 1624052
Charles Heddon & Jack T. Welch

Sears Model 312.31130

South Bend Automatic No. 1180 Model A

Is it a Heddon Rod?

The Flies, Mostly Wet.
Some Used & Some "New".

Homemade Wading Staff.
Welded Copper Pipes & Leather Strap.

Catskills, Here I Come.

The only clue on the rod and cloth sack is the US Patent 1624052. It is a 3-piece rod that measures out at 8 feet. It is labeled with "Trout Master," but a quick search turns up nothing. On a thin piece of whats left of the label on the rod cloth is an 8 1/2 scribbled in blue ink. The tip of the rod was broken in the early 1960s and was not repaired until 1981 after the owner's passing. The repair may have led to the decreased length, that or its in a different cloth sack.

I think it may be a low grade Heddon rod. If you have any idea, let me know. I would like to ID the rod.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Slump Continues

Last weekend, we happened to stumble upon another tarpon feeding frenzy. This time, however, I was armed not only with my arsenal of fly rods, but a new HD video camera.

I was certain that my slump, which began at the end of December and has continued 'til now with nothing more than some small pompano landed, was about to come to a reel-screaming, surf-thrashing, arm-aching end. So confident was I, as I eyed the huge school of small fry and the dozens of breaching tarpon, that the crushing defeat at the hands of these big fish was made all the more painful by my inability to hook one.

Stacy and I spend a good two hours casting to these fish. I changed flies and leader no less than 5 times, varied the retrieve as much as I could, and waded out until I was just about treading water to get in front of the cruising fish. The closest to a hook-up comes at about 0.54 seconds into the video as, I think, a tarpon boiled under my fly and turned away at the last moment.

I should have dropped the fly rod at one point when a tarpon leapt clear of the water so close to me that I literally could have caught it in my arms. That part isn't in the video, however.

My hypothesis is that the school of fry were so densely packed that the tarpon could not see my fly through the school. Also, as they cruised perpendicularly to the beach, it was difficult for me to get ahead of them and lead them without showing them the leader before the fly.

Back to the drawing board as the Slump of '10 continues...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Soul Searching

After a rough week I found myself stream-side early Saturday morning for a bit of soul searching. I began my search with a 10’ intermediate sink tip and a small tube fly. I wasn’t expecting much..the water was low and clear, the fish are few and far between, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. With the odds against me I began swinging my fly through some of the deeper sections of the stream. My first cast at spot number two heightened my moral, I missed a brutal take. My reflexes improved on the follow up cast and a nice holdover brown came to hand.

Sweet Little Fly

First Fish On a Tube

I proceeded down stream until the water became un-fishable with a sink tip. The last section of stream is a slow and extremely shallow run. I sat down to admire the glassy run and take a few pictures of the little black stoneflies that peppered the snow. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a dimple form on the waters surface, then another. Midges were on the menu, and there I was with a sink tip throwing a streamer when I could be indulging in some winter dry fly action…typical.

Ready to Drop Some Eggs

Cold and Swollen

Sunday afternoon was no doubt spent sitting in the snow anticipating a repeat scenario. Armed with only two size 16 CDC BWO emergers, I waited, watched, and wondered why my dry fly box was 45 miles away...beggars can’t be choosers right? Size 22 black midge...size 16 BWO...same thing...

The waiting game had ended, two fish began to rise...using a huge snow pile as cover I crept into position…cast number one…tree. Tying on my last dry fly I wondered if the fish were even trout, the glare made it impossible to tell…probably doing all this for a shot at a six inch chub. A few casts later I was rewarded with a splashy winter rise and one very unselective wild brown.

Beggars Can't Be Choosers...

So much for auto-focus when your shivering.

Friday, February 19, 2010


A long day spent swinging flies in single digits and teens left us weary and tired. After downing some delicious Wegman submarines we ascended upon the hotel. Pulling into the lot, there was a fresh three inches of snow with more coming down. Rearranging the gear, we made room in the front and back seats of the truck, gathered the sleeping bags, and extra blankets and started packing it in. Still wearing my five upper and lower layers I crawled into a cheap sleeping bag rated for temperatures as low as 33 degrees. I draped a swimming parka over top, pulled on a beanie, and tightened my hood. Time for some much needed shut eye.

I am awakened nine hours later to Disturbed's Down With The Sickness. For a brief few seconds I have no idea where I am but I inhale a breath of cold northern New York air and it all begins to sink in. With crusted eyes and blurry vision I reached for my contact case and peeled open my eyes and begrudgingly forced them in. With everything in focus, I arise to in the cabin of the truck and try seeing out the windows. A long nights sleep in a car leaves considerable condensation on the inside of the windows that has frozen solid in the low temperatures. A first. I unravel myself from the cocoon and join Adam back in the front seat. The vents on full blast we await the de-melting of the ice. Outside, the parking lot is plowed save for a three feet radius around our truck. Apparently we were too tired to be awakened by a plow truck whizzing by our heads. We head to Dunkin Donuts for some grub, coffee, and napkins to wipe down the inside of the windows.

After some much needed coffee and hash browns, we head back to the Salmon with an entirely different game plan. We are about to go back to our roots. Nymphing. On day two, the air temperature is much warmer registering in the high teens and reaching into the low twenties during the day. However, the wind has picked up and occasionally gusts to 30 mph. Probably a good day to swing some flies but we had our fill the day before. We needed to get into some fish. We waste little time. Adam hooks two fine steelhead along the inside seam of a deep run. One is short and strong and the other is long and mean. They both make runs downstream and Adam loses both near his feet. Rotating in the hole, I hook into a twenty inch brown and land him quickly. The action slows and we change positions. We work our way to the opposite side of the river.

Getting Under the Tree.

The Home Stretch.

Good Way To Start The Day.

Brown Beauty.

Off You Go.

I reach a fresh spot on the opposite bend and on my first cast I am into some sizable steel. It bolts and snaps my 4x. I wasn't ready. I retie and on my next cast, I am into another brown. This one much larger. He too, bolts into the current and after several hard head thrashes throws the hook back at me. I give the hole a short break. On the next cast, I approach from a new angle and am rewarded with another brown. The largest one yet and after a brief few moments, I tail her in a slow eddy. She is my Valentine, and she is gorgeous. Dark golden browns with greens mixed in and a bluish hue to her cheeks. A typical Salmon River brown. After a few moments of admiration she slowly glides off, back to her lair.


First Big Brown of 2010.

The Close Up.

The Valentine In All Her Glory.

Sending Her On Her Way.

For the next several hours we experience some midday blues and barely receive a strike. We make our way up and down river slowly losing feeling in our hands and feet. We fish every likable holding area. After a long walk back to the truck, we decide to take a break. I can't feel my right leg above my knee. It needs some reviving. After blowing some time in the truck we head back out. I decide on working the pool from yesterday afternoon where I landed my steel. Its the latter half of the day and the temperature is dropping and the wind is getting worse. On a long drift, I hook into a slab but have too much slack on the water. The line wraps around my tip and the steelhead takes off snapping the line. The lack of feeling in my extremities is messing with my reaction time. After awhile I finally get a second chance. I hook into another fish in a closer run and the headshakes signal a brown trout. He shakes it. I lose another.

An Early Black Stone.
Probably Should Have Tried These.

Desperation Throws.

Adam About To Lose Another at His Feet.

Frustrated & Cold.

Winter Obstacles.

A Tangled Shit Show & Adam Is Taking My Picture.
Can't Feel My Feet, Can't Feel My Hands.

At this moment in time, I am on my last legs. Adam has been on the bank for sometime watching, too cold to stand in the water. The last two fish are the only reason I am still there. I decide to change flies for the third time and give them a fresh look. I go small, size 14 egg. On the third cast a fish takes and runs straight at me and the down and across the stream before leaping out of the water. Its a big one. I play her for some time before slowly working my way to the bank. She runs further downstream and the fellow angler in the stream doesn't provide any room. He just stands there as the steelhead approaches him. I have to pull the fish back upstream and around the friendly angler if I have any hope of landing the fish. I put some extra pressure on her and the fly shoots back at me. She straightened the hook. The guy tells me what a nice fish it was. I just nod. After a few more attempts I have had enough.

Ice Islands Dot The Landscape.

Constant Battle With Ice in the Guides.

Wind Whipping at My Coat.
Hoping For One Last Shot.

What We Love.
Open Air, Open Water, Beautiful Scenery.

We head back to the truck and Adam and I start doing laps trying to regain some feeling in the feet. Its only 3:30, plenty of time left to fish. But my leg is dead and I say enough is enough. I take off my waders to discover a soaked right leg. I had a leak and didn't even know it. I was too numb to realize it. My foot does not look good and I put it on one of the vents. I place hand warmers all along my feet. After a few minutes my whole foot begins to burn and itch. More than anything I have ever experienced. Dark purple blotches erupt all along my foot and I am forced to call my buddy back home for some Web MD analysis. Signs of frostbite. After a few scary moments I begin to feel alright and we decide to make the long journey back home.

Two long days in freezing temps, biting wind, and wintery conditions. It was slow, a lot of fish were lost, and few were landed. Yet it beats anything else we could have been doing. Heck, even if we didn't catch anything, it beats sitting on our asses back at school. Such is the lure of water and the calm it brings. The silence of the woods as the snow crunches under your feet and the possible pull of a large fish that can come at any moment. We made the decision to take the chance at a long distance trip and were rewarded with more than just fish, and thats one of the things that makes fly fishing so special.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Swing or Go Home.

For five days in late November I was able to fall off the societal map and fish my way across the various tributaries of the Great Lakes. Large steelhead and brown trout were the target and I was breaking in a new switch rod and the accompanying single and double hand lines. After those five days of glory I approached the winter doldrums unable to make the long drive back to the large fish of my dreams. Instead I relied on small wild trout in remote settings and a week long sojourn to the Caribbean to tide me over until the next time I was able to make an extended trip happen. With those trips out of the way, intense cold and snow derailed the months of January and the beginning of February. Cabin Fever set in and I found myself at the vice contemplating, experimenting, and learning. Big nasties, intruders, and tube flies became my vice and the temptation carried over into forming sink tips out of T14 and practicing casting technique from a computer chair. I needed to get away. I found the solution in a spontaneous venture to the Salmon River. The weeks leading up to this past weekend left me little choice but to put in practice all those weeks of hard work. It was swing or go home.

4 Degree Air Over 33 Degree Water = This.

Sunrise = Packed House.

A Friday night lights tying session ended around midnight and I spent an additional hour organizing and packing extra clothing and gear for the trip. I laid down and closed my eyes for half an hour before picking up Adam and driving four hours up 81 North to the destination. Despite little sleep Adam and I were wide awake thanks to several cans of Red Bull and the excitement of a fishing trip. There was plenty of talking, planning, and strategizing going on. We decided on the stop and pulled onto the road eventually coming to a halt in the large parking lot. The morning light was just peeking over the horizon and a gloom hovered above the water. Three anglers were already systematically working the first pool. We stepped out into the cold air and painfully suited up before making our way over the snow and ice to one of the only open runs remaining.

An Angler on the Bend.

A Gang.

An Angler Hooking Up.

I slid down the ice about ten feet on my ass before coming to a halt on the edge of some rocks along the water. Ice extended out from the rocks an additional foot creating hazards for any unaware angler. I was on the wrong side of a deep, fast run perfectly situated for an extended dead drift. The thought crossed my mind before I remembered the agreement. Swing or go home. I took off my gloves and slid the compact skagit head through the guides, looped on a section of T14, and tied on a large sculpin with a tailing hook. I made exactly two feeble casts before an elderly man descended upon me. He asked for some assistance on the ice. I brought my fly in and attached it to my reel. I watched in amazement as the rabbit hair and wool instantly froze solid against the spool. I put the rod down alongside my back pack, hobbled over some rocks, and got into position to catch the senior citizen sliding down the cliff. He thanked me before asking if he could fish on my right or left. I kindly tell him that I would prefer that he fish on my right side because I am swinging a fly through this run. He waddles off to my right. Over a hundred yards of open space exists on my right side but he stops five feet away leaving me zero room for a proper cast with an 11 foot switch rod. I don't bother to say anything, I never do. I stand in shock and wonder. I just take out my camera and snap some pictures of the bend in the river and watch other people "fish".

He's Got Another One.

The old man is fishing a large spey rod and I am anxious to see what kind of skills he has accumulated over his years. Hopefully I can pick up a tip or two and pick his brain while he fishes my spot. I am quickly disappointed. Instead of showing me the ropes he his fishing an extra long leader with a sinker the size of my thumb near the end of it, before a few feet of tippet descend to a large egg pattern the size of a small sandwich. The high vantage point on the rocks combined with the large spey rod allow him to catapult the rig without using any fly line to the prime seam on the other side of the river. The sinker lands with a large thud and the egg pattern instantly plummets to the bottom. He dredges a twenty foot section of seam waiting for a sudden stop before he can rip that rig off the bottom. He hooks up twice before I decide to leave, failing to land both fish. A quick glance around the bend and six or seven anglers are employing the same tactics. I gather my frozen rig and head off looking for some space.



Let The Running Line Go Boom.

The scenario repeats itself throughout the day. I work my way up and down river picking and choosing the open spots while swinging flies in the coldest weather I have ever fished. All without a bump or pull. It is the worst possible scenario to swing flies in. I am fishing sloppy thirds, fourths, and fifths. The air temperature doesn't make its way out of the teens and the water temperature is 33 degrees. The only thing I really have going for me are the overcast skies and the lack of other people fishing the way I am. Adam is left in a similar predicament. We try everything we have. Big hulking intruders, bunny leeches, woolhead sculpins, woolly buggers, zuddlers, and classic wet fly patterns in all colors. We register one bump throughout the entire day. It came on Adam's third cast on the large pink intruder from Saturday Night Lights. The cold leaves our hands and feet without feeling as they cling to life next to hand warmers. We watch other people fishing and witness several hook ups. None on the swing. Adam decides he has had enough. It is around 4 o'clock and I am growing desperate. I am freezing my ass off and have nothing to show for it.

Snowed All Day.

A Lucky Young Gun.

Wishing, Watching, Waiting.

We turn on the truck and I stick my rod and reel across the vents before turning the heat on full blast. I loosen up the reel seat before taking my skagit rig off and attaching a new reel. Brand new 9wt Steelhead Sharkskin. I love the smell of new Sharkskin. If you have bought it, you'll know what I am talking about. I have one hour to work with and I am going to be mending an indicator rig like a boss. I attach one medium sized split shot on the tail of a 3x loop knot before looping on a foot of 4x. I wade out into the middle of the run and work the opposite bank. After several attempts the indicator takes a plunge and I tie into a buck. The instantaneous thrashing brings a smile to my face and I silently scream **** yea to myself three or four times. During the brief battle I can feel all my extremities and I am awash in adrenaline. I work the fish to the bank and Adam helps me corral it in the water. It never leaves the water because it is far too cold. The buck's gills would freeze and the fish would die. The hook comes out by itself and I tail the fish in the water before releasing it back on it's way. A few moments after the release I suddenly am reminded of the weather as my hands ice up and I let out a cry of pain.

We pack it in. Adam tells me we are going home. I broke the day's rule.