Wednesday, November 30, 2011

High Water Impact

I hadn't been on my local stream in Delaware since May. I left it full of stockers, some of which were quite large and in charge. Over the summer, I retreated home to Pennsylvania pursuing trout and carp as well as saltwater chrome in the Caribbean. In that time frame, the stream experienced some significant changes due to several high water events throughout the summer and early fall. Most of the changes had to have been from Hurricane Irene. For the most part, I am happy with several shifts. Some new logjams have emerged, an entire bank has been eroded encompassing a large boulder, and a certain mud banked hole's flow has been immensely improved. If the stream remains unchanged, we are setting up for quite a good spring.

The downside to the high water impact was the complete lack of trout in certain parts of the stream. My buddy Ben and I experienced some fishless hours before zeroing in on a few fish. It seems all the new holes might have to force me to relearn the water and selective holding areas. I did manage a feisty and healthy looking rainbow that fell to a caddis pupa before we departed for a Sunday of football. I've decided to periodically check in until spring.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Walk Off Homer

The weather was warm, and the sun high, as my buddy Tyler and I headed to an unfamiliar stream along the eastern shore of Maryland. Stocker territory. Our descent to the stream brought us to a slow run of water filled with hundreds of suckers. Smack dab in the middle of them all was a lone palomino, completely out of place. Two other rainbows and a brown rounded out the moving ball of fish. We took turns trying to entice the trout to a variety of flies. Our sight fishing efforts proved futile and we left those few trout in search of others. Tyler found success throwing a small olive streamer in a deep eddy, landing two small rainbows. I flailed, tossing a double nymph rig in the channel feeding the hole. On the way back, we stopped for another look at the palomino that had kicked our butts an hour earlier. I slowly changed flies, made a downstream dead drift to find success. The body language of the palomino was significantly different as he arched slowly upwards making a move on the fly. A short while longer, I gently cradled twelve inches of bright orange in my hand. My lone fish of the short sojourn was a walk off homer.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Something Weird

Every now and then, something grabs your fly that results in the face above. The photo captured Adam at the exact moment he realized he caught something weird. Coho? Summer run steelhead? A really beat the hell fall run fish?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Steak & Eggs

A much needed break was in store. Instead of driving and fishing around the clock in between work weeks, I found myself sleeping in, sandwiched between two labradors happy to see master. It took two leisurely days of rest and playing with the dogs before I picked up the fly rod again. When I did, I made a phone call, and later found myself on a small stream with the goal of slaying some stocker rainbows.

On the menu are every pig rainbow's favorite morning meal: steak and eggs. For us, its seven foot fly rods in the 2-4 wt. range with enough bend in them to execute slingshot casts between and underneath all sorts of overhangs. It is 100% pure sight fishing with egg patterns and san juan worm atrocities. Tradition is overthrown and the legends turn in their graves as hog after hog comes to hand. There are smiles on our faces and zero shame in our stomachs. The memories of a fishless weekend swinging flies endlessly for a big pull are flushed out of my system. They are replaced with small stream gluttony and football shaped overfed bows.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Too Good To Be True

We sat patiently on the side of the road for an extended period of time, listening to some tunes and contemplating the days strategy. We had at least a half hour before we even considered stepping into our waders and preparing our rods. We just waited. By the time you could tie a knot without a headlamp, we were on the trail, intent on reaching a piece of water we wanted to fish. We bypassed several famous pools, some great pocket water we knew and loved, and finally crossed the river to a favorite run. Along the way, we didn't see a single soul or another car. Surprised, we even joked that people forgot about changing the clocks. After awhile, I even thought that they closed this section of river. It was too good to be true. So good, that we took turns. I gave Adam the entire run and he promptly obliged by hooking a small male on a black and purple contraption. Meanwhile, the water on the rod worked its way silently into the smallest of imperfections and began freezing. The bend in the rod, courtesy of a feisty steelhead was all it took for the tip to break in half, exactly at the point we deliberated on a few hours earlier. Our perfect morning suddenly began fading as a broken rod gave way to a series of misfortunes that left us shaking our heads. Missed fish were only the beginning. All the water we bypassed began filling up faster than Salmon season and the fishing was hot. Before we could partake in some fun, the sun was high in the sky, and the fishing cooled down. We were left to dwell on a shipping bill and a few weeks without any tributary swinging.

We need the break.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Swinging in the Mist

In between sips of red bull, I remembered watching the temperature plummet as we drove north towards the closest steelhead. Arriving, I stepped out of the Jeep and into a frozen landscape completely different than the one I had left six hours earlier. It was pitch black without a cloud in the sky as I placed my waders on. My hands unfamiliar to the chilly air, ached as I laced up. I yearned for a handwarmer. Soon, Adam and I made our way riverside down a well worn trail that thousands of anglers march upon each season. We rigged up under headlamps and the glow of Orion's belt finishing with enough time to watch the first light peak over the horizon and shoot through the trees. The morning fog hovered precariously on the water for the first hour of light. The best time to catch a steelhead on the swing.

The run we found ourselves on was slowly moving and had a depth of 4-5 feet. Downed trees lined the far bank providing cover for the fish. My chance came first. I casted slightly upstream allowing my unweighted prom dress to descend in the water column. With a downstream mend, I raced it across the pool and infront of a snag of trees in the water. The pull came immediately. I clamped down on my running line and raised the rod hoping to tie into a nice fish. The running line had other ideas. It slipped through my numb fingers and the hook set failed miserably. A simple headshake by the fish and an eruption of water ensued as my only chance of the day glided back to the snag.

Downstream, I heard a whole lot of commotion as Adam lets out a series of expletives celebrating a fish. The elation soon turned to horror. The steelhead on the end of the line looked like it went through hell. Slightly emaciated, with a bronze color, the fish looked like it had been hooked thirty times over. It  didn't even look like a steelhead, even though it was. The fish was released back into the river, where hopefully it recoups or some other angler puts it out of its misery.

Soon, the first drift boats rolled into the run, parked directly across from us, and began hooking up left and right. The first hour of light came to a close and the chances of bringing up a fish on the swing diminished greatly. Along with our chances, the mist and fog receded as the sun came upon the water providing relief to our frozen hands. The rest of the day was spent fighting crowds of anglers, more crowds than salmon season. Looking back, the best part was the beginning, swinging in the mist.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

First of the Fall

Late October and I still hadn't caught my first steelhead of the year. Stubborn as could be, it had to be on the swing and three weekend excursions left me empty handed and broken hearted. During a Sunday spent downriver, I was about to realize my goal.

Hanging downstream was twenty feet of Rio Skagit Short, attached to a T-11 MOW tip, and a few feet of tippet. A purple tandem tube dangled precariously, its magnum rabbit strip swimming against a current of water. The line arched upstream into a circle spey, falling back to the water forming the anchor needed to launch the heavy set up. A spray of water known as the "white mouse" moved upstream as the skagit head arched at a 45 degree angle into a d-loop. The rod bent to the cork before launching 525 grains, a T-11 sinktip, and 4 inches of tungsten rabbit strip across stream. I dropped the rod tip enough for the rig to fall under the overhanging branches on the opposite bank. My upstream hand lifted the line off the water, mending it just enough for my fly to get in the zone. I waited until the perfect moment before leading my fly through the seam. The pull came almost immediately as eight pounds of chrome arched against the current.

The land came a minute later. During that moment in time, the fish ran downstream peeling line off my reel. She turned completely around and stormed back upstream creating a massive belly in my line. I struggled to keep up. In those brief seconds, the T-11 wrapped around a rock and the action ceased. Fearing the worst, I marched into the middle of the river, unwrapped the line, and once again felt the weight of steel. I brought her into the shallows and beached the hen on some cobbles. With the hook coming loose, the fish darted back to its run, as the shutter closed on the DSLR. My first two steelhead of the season evaded capture by the camera, but I was able to take a mental snapshot that won't be forgotten. It is hard to forget the sight of chrome burning its image into your corneas.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Dilemma

The crowds of Salmon season have dissipated leaving behind open runs downriver. Adam and I took advantage of the opportunity and headed north intent on steelhead on the swing. We had extremely high hopes thanks to some hot reports and blinding pictures of chrome slabs. We even spent a whole week tying new concoctions in all varieties. We thought we had assembled a fleet of destroyers but the steelhead had other things on their palate. Like eggs.

The night on the road went by in a breeze with intermittent showers and the promise of rain all day long. This only heightened our expectations into a fever pitch. With new skagit lines on our rods, we couldn't wait to get on the river to dial in our casting strokes and entice a few willing fish. It was a whole lot of hope dangling on a string. We were blanked, skunked, and demoralized left shaking our heads, as trembling hands tied on another fly in vain.

With our confidence rocked, we were left with a major dilemma. Our thoughts slowly crept to sharkskin lines on spare reels, to large thingamabobbers, and freshly tied egg patterns veiled in all sorts of awesomeness. Although we both didn't speak about it, we could tell what was on each other's minds. All day long, the thought of a dead drift, a suddenly dipping strike indicator, and jumping chrome tempted our minds and tested our resolve. Adam and I played a game of chicken. Who would be the first to crack under the pressure of catching a fish? As the hours ticked by and the light faded on the horizon, neither of us blinked. Our morals held strong in the aftermath of one of those weekends, one of those days, where we didn't give into temptation.

It was swing or go home.