Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Moments of 2010.
Towards the end of March, I found myself huddled in the bed of my truck trying to find a pair of dry clothes. I was in the middle of my spring break; fly fishing central Pennsylvania for wild brown trout. Early on the third morning, I was wading a treacherous stretch, high sticking a run, only a few people are willing to reach for. I turned to maneuver back to the bank when the small rocks I stepped on slid downstream under my feet. I immediately plunged into the cold water and the fast current pushed the water down my waders into every extremity. I simultaneously did a one handed push up out of the flows and regained my composure. Back in the truck, I contemplated driving home, as I didn't have a full spare of clothes. It was a frigid day, which saw parts of Pennsylvania receiving snow. After a good hour, half naked in the truck, I put back on my wet pants and slid into a thin hoody before putting back on my waders. Despite my inadequate clothing, I was heading out, contempt on fishing the rest of the day in a constant state of freeze.
Walking back to the water, precipitation began to come down in the form of sleet, and I was admittedly, freezing. I bypassed the stretch of water where my kling-on boots failed me, and went straight to one of my favorite spots. I worked my way down the bank and began rigging up to nymph the deep bend pool. As I was rigging up, something caught my eye. A very large brown trout was sitting no more than ten feet into the water along a shelf. One of the largest wild brown trout I have ever seen. I immediately duck and covered hoping he hadn't seen my inpatient behind. I soon realized that the hoody I put on blended perfectly with my surroundings and he had not been notified of my presence. I perched precariously along a large boulder watching my adversary while fighting back shivers. It was a large male approaching thirty inches. He was going on a loop along the eddy every few minutes before going back to the depths. When he would come back into the shoreline area, he would pick out several targets a long the surface and connect the dots slurping the emerging BWO's. His large snout protruding out of the water reminded me of all the footage I occasionally watched of New Zealand browns slurping huge dry flies. He rivaled those glorious fish and I was in the middle of Pennsylvania.
I watched a good three runs before I decided on a rig and a fly to catch this fish. I clipped off my nymphing rig and lengthened my leader considerably, tapering it down to 6x. On the end of my tippet I tied a size 20 thread BWO emerger. I timed his next cycle and laid my offering out in his usual path well before he arrived on the scene. He slurped down three offerings before closing in on mine. My heart was pounding in my chest and my legs were literally shaking at the knees. The massive brown trout was zeroed in on my fly, his powerful tail propelling his serpent like body towards me. Time slowed, and the frame of my body got lower and lower as he approached. He was so close and I knew he was going to take. His body language spoke to me. He had made up his mind. My heart sank in my chest down into my stomach as he arched upwards. His snout broke the surface and his upper jaw came down onto my small fly. I anticipated the delayed hook set but never had the chance. He was so large; his massive head must have created a blind spot. The wake of his large snout pushed my size 20 BWO to the side and he missed the fly. I sat dumbfound as he turned mere feet away revealing his full frame. I watched him swim out into the current and disappear, never to be seen again.
Out of all the moments, of 2010, this was one of my favorites. Even though, I was soundly defeated, I can vividly recall the entire hour I sat, watched, and then fished for this giant. For some odd reason, on a cold March day, with the water devoid of other fishermen, I was the angler that happened upon this scene. I could have gotten back into the front seat of my truck and driven home to a dry pair of clothes but, I decided to go back out. That decision led me to that moment and to that fish. That large brown has since haunted my thoughts and dreams.
I fished a lot in 2010 but I hardly fished for trout. They have been replaced by a smorgasbord of other species that tend to put a deeper bend in my rod. However, the memory of that fish will always bring me back to trout and the waters they call home. The image of large wild brown trout that I have yet to fool is too much to resist. Such is the lure of fly fishing. There is always a larger fish out there, prowling in the deep, content on only showing themselves once in a blue moon. For the fly fishermen, we dream of these chances, and can only hope that one day, they become reality.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
I was really hoping for a mild winter with unseasonably warmer temperatures and rain instead of snow, but thus far, that hasn't been the case. Maybe I have forgotten the past few years, but I can't recall anchor ice forming this early in the season. On a recent morning sojourn to the new home waters, the temperature was in the twenties and several deep pools that held stocked trout were frozen over. This forced me into a minor conundrum because I only had two hours before guests were arriving to my apartment for a holiday extravaganza. All I wanted was to escape for a short while and maybe feel a tug on the end of my line as this would be my only excursion for the weekend. On the other side of the equation, I ended up walking and fishing a good half mile of water that I had never fly fished before. I found some new spots to put in the memory bank for some extended sessions later on. I didn't land any trout, but I was on the water, and I was content. I ended up finding a dead American eel some twenty inches long and had fun following my good friend, the Great Blue Heron around the creek. Better luck next time.
Monday, December 13, 2010
The feeling is oddly familiar as I step out of the truck and into the elements. My face gets blasted with cold air that is funneled down my shirt and into my extremities. A shiver is sent tumbling down my spinal column and a split second later I have to take a piss. I curse the cold, as I put on my waders and several layers of wind proof materials. It is December and a cold front has been pushing through the mid-Atlantic region plunging the temperatures into the low 30s and the winds into the 30s. I feel like I am back on the shores of Lake Erie getting pounded by some lake effect snow but I am ten hours away. Steelhead should be on the menu but I am on some beach, somewhere. The feeling is oddly unfamiliar as I take my first steps onto a sandy dune wearing wading boots. I struggle up the deep sand and soon am perched on the precipice of a new arena and a whole new ball game.
We'd Look Like Bird Watchers If Not For 10 Weights.
Almost as Cold as We Were.
A River of Outgoing Tide.
The decision had been made the night before with a singular phone call. Snow had bombarded the Great Lakes and I posed the question to Adam of driving down to Delaware to try out striper fishing for the first time. To my surprise, Adam said he would. He arrived around midnight and we were up to 3 a.m. changing out lines, getting leaders ready, and stroking some old flies we hoped would work. We felt awfully unprepared with tropical saltwater lines and a bunch of half rusted flies tied for the Caribbean. To top it off, Adam, during his haste to hit the road, forgot his stripping basket and I did not have cleats for my Korker's Predator Kling-On boots. There is nothing like incoming and outgoing waves wrapping fly line around your boots as your attempting to launch that thin running line out over the waves. Or, slipping and sliding on jetty rocks with zero traction with a deep channel of outgoing tide roaring mere feet away. Nonetheless, we hit the road heading straight for these very dilemmas.
Taking the Plunge.
I Used This Image to Match the Hatch & Catch My First Striper.
Away, Looking For Another Score.
So there we were, two striper noobs staring into the vastness of the Atlantic on a cold December day. We debated strategy and we found ourselves immediately gravitating towards the jetty. Adam had no problem walking on the rocks, while I backed off, after nearly sliding into the water halfway out on the jetty. I fished the beach while Adam sent rockets into prime water. There was no surface action from fish but gulls kept dive bombing the water feeding on something. I took out the DSLR and tried taking a few pictures, hoping to capture their prey before they gulped it down. I took a bunch of pictures before zooming in on each one, looking for any clue. Of fifty pictures, one held the key. A gull had a small anchovie or sand eel roughly 1-2 inches in length in his grasp. I took out a yellow eyed blue over white minnow on a jig hook and three casts later, was tied into a gargantuan striper on a 10 wt. Despite my sarcasm, it was just plain awesome to catch something out of the ocean, on a fly rod, in December. It being my first legit striper on the fly was icing on the cake.
Should Have Brought a Stripping Basket.
After awhile and a mid-afternoon lunch of double downs at KFC, Adam and I headed back to the jetty for round two. The tide had turned and was now incoming. Adam switched over to a chartreuse version of the fly I had some success on, and hooked up on his first striper as well. Again, it was a beast. He brought it down onto the sand and after several quick pictures, the small schoolie was on her way, back to grow into the monster that all fly fishermen dream of catching. We fumbled around on that jetty until the sun started to set on the horizon before something caught our eye on the other side of the channel. Along a rip, there was a tremendous amount of bird activity. Out of casting distance, we stayed put hoping that whatever was happening would slowly come our way. It didn't and soon some boats arrived on the scene. We couldn't resist, so we headed back to the truck, drove to the other side, and ran a good quarter mile to the jetty to hopefully get a few casts in before it became pitch black.
A New Game to Play.
Next Years Bounty.
Adam rocketed out onto the jetty armed with a headlamp and carbide studs. I took a deep breath and followed suit praying that my rubber soles and lamp less head would be rewarded with a fish. After fifty yards of the dumbest thing I have ever done, I realized that I had zero chance of reaching the melee that was ensuing. It ended up being a big batch of birds eating bait along a rip but from a noob's perspective on the other jetty, it looked very much like ones first blitz. With high tide about to peak, and waves hitting me at my knees I wanted to get the hell out of there. I gingerly found my way back, sometimes resorting to four points of contact and Adam holding onto my suspenders. Soon I was on the beach casting hopelessly into the surf. We ended up heading back to the other jetty and fishing for a short while into the dark. We left, two noobs that had leveled up, thanks to some much needed experience points.
It took me several years to finally man up and decide to go fly fishing for stripers. Looking back, I have no idea what I was thinking. But, I like this game. I like it a lot.
What Do We Have Here?
A New Experience.
Friday, December 10, 2010
With Thanksgiving dinner settling nicely in our stomachs, and our relatives departing the house, my father and I turned our focus to an upcoming trip. He hit the bed for some much needed sleep, while I focused on tying some last second flies and packing everything needed for the two of us. A tradition of sorts, we are about to head off to the Lake Erie tributaries for the fourth year in a row. With my brother in the Caribbean and Adam working, my father and I would be keeping each other company over the next three days. The area was receiving some heavy rain, and I was telling my dad about all the fresh chrome we were going to be catching as we drove all night to our intended destination.
Arriving well before sunrise, I stepped out of the car and heard a familiar sound. Rushing water. Normally, I love this sound, but this sounded like Niagara Falls. Peering over the bridge, my head lamp revealed a torrent of nestle quick, several trees floating downstream, and water levels well past the bank. Not good. Soon other anglers arrived, and after some talking we decided that our best bet would be downstream near the mouth of the stream. As the sun rose, we met another young angler near the mouth, nursing a strong hangover & eager to tie into some fresh fish. While my dad slept in the truck, I hit the water with some new friends. Near the mouth, the wind was gushing upwards of forty miles an hour and the temperature was in the high 20s. Glove less, I swung some heavy and large flies through the chocolate milk routinely catching debris. After a few hours, I headed back to the truck.
Awakening from his slumber, my father and I drove around for awhile looking for some water. Despite the terrible conditions and the freezing cold, the place was a mad house. There is no escaping crowds on these small tribs. My father then suggested some breakfast at a local restaurant. I willingly obliged and we headed in for a respite from the cold, some coffee to perk us up, and a round of eggs and bacon to fill our bellies. I normally never take a break while fishing. With my father, it became routine. Everyday after a short morning session, we hit a small diner or cafe and ate breakfast together. It was a welcomed change and it was nice to unwind between fishing sessions. After an afternoon searching and probing the unknown, we looked for a hotel. Again, I normally am accustomed to sleeping in the bed of my truck, and here I am getting spoiled by a warm hotel room with wi-fi and college football. After a full meal, my father and I settled in on a Seinfeld marathon entitled "Festivus for the rest of us". Being one of our favorite shows, we shared laughs episode after episode.
The remaining day and half on the water was spent checking out new water that we never fished before. We checked out some very tiny tributaries and found some clear water but no steelies running the higher flows. Disappointed we checked another smaller tributary and found it muddier than the day before. With the last hour of light, a larger tributary was starting to clear and each of us hooked up for the first time of the trip. My father, inexperienced fighting aggressive fish on the fly, broke one off while I landed a large male to find him foul hooked on the chin. We awoke early the next morning hoping to get a few hours in before the long drive back to work the following day. The few hours ended similar to the previous night and we packed it in.
Not all fishing trips end up being about the fish. This particular trip offered many challenges, yet I was left satisfied with my skunking. I got to spend some quality time with my father both on and off the water. We discovered some new places, that I am itching to explore on a later journey, hopefully with Big Poppa Pump in tow. Our short sojourn proved to be a festivus for the both of us and next year, hopefully I can beat some steelhead during the feats of strength.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
The pelicans were still around, and that was a good sign. I parked the truck near the edge of the sea and stepped out, unable to resist a quick walk along the shore, looking for sign, before I quickly changed and rigged up for an hour of bonefishing as the sun set.
Pelicans are not found where there are not baitfish. Bones, we've come to realize, love baitfish as well. Ergo, bonefish can be found where pelicans can be found.
The bait have been corralled in this tiny bay for the past three weeks and it has been interesting to witness the evolving diversity of things that come there to eat. At first, there were hoards of bonefish marauding the bait, taking advantage of the unusual glut of protein. Then, one or two 20" snook crept into the shadows of the rock wall and took up residence inhaling mouthfulls of baitfish whenever they pleased.
It seems the bones keep their distance from the snook. From the day the snook appeared, the bones stayed well away and were fewer in number. Now, the bones are completely outnumbered by Snookzilla and his spawn. A giant snook, at least 36", spends the days shrouded in a million small baitfish, only really visible when your fly or your shadow or your backcast or the shadow of your fly or the shadow of your cast spooks him. He wanted nothing to do with anything coming his way, except to chase smaller snook and bones from his turf.
I ignored him and focused on the dwindling bonefish numbers.
After about 45 minutes of stalking, I capitalized on an opportunity when a single bone appeared from within the cloud of bait. He readily took my fly, but as he ran, the line piled at my feet, cinched into a knotted tangle. Somehow, the sprinting bonefish ripped the knot through the guides and took me deep into the backing.
Minutes later, I was back into the fly line. The knotted mess was dangling above the surface in front of me, taut on the line connecting me to a big bonefish. As I hauled in the fly line, the knot could not make it past the first guide on the rod tip. It was then that I knew I had a bit of a problem.
Thirty feet of fly line past the knotted mess, the bonefish still pulled as if its life depended on winning this tug of war. I walked straight back, hauling the surging bonefish close to the bank. I then ran forward, putting 40ft of slack fly line on the surface of the water as I went to work trying to untangle the knot.
You know those miraculously elegant knots that sometimes appear in your leader when you suck at casting? This was similar to one of those. The tension from the fish had cinched the knot tight and the multiple loops that protruded made me rethink my strategy.
I had no fingernails to pry the knot apart, and as the bonefish streaked for deeper water the slack line ran after it. It was a race.
My predicament mirrored a scene from JAWS, when Hooper finished knotting a tracking device to a floating barrel just as the line, connected to the shark, spools out and rips the barrel from the deck of the ship. Just as the line went tight between my finger and the bone, I undid one of the loops. The pressure on the line from the bone undid the rest of the knot and we were back in business.
The backing knot ticked through the guides for a second time and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Eventually, I beached this more-than-worthy adversary and posed for a picture with him.
Still high form that encounter, I turned my sights to Snookzilla. Without giving too much away, I used his aggression against him and was rewarded with a bump. Progress.