Friday, October 26, 2012

Fortune & Misfortune

-It is three in the morning and I am going eighty on I-81 north towards the Salmon River. Two friends and I had just stopped for coffee outside of Syracuse, where we were pretty sure we drove in on a drug deal. I reached for my coffee and was about to take a sip when the lid broke sending super hot coffee collapsing all over my groin area. I basically took a huge deep breath preparing for the absolute worst (think Kramer in Seinfeld after trying to smuggle a hot latte into a movie). Luckily, I was wearing water resistant pants that spared me from burning myself and finding my very own Jackie Chiles. However, they were my only pants of the trip.

-I opened the door and in the 25 degree temperature the front seat of the truck was steaming. Coffee saturated the ruined front seat. I found myself naked on the side of 81 putting on someone else's long underwear. In my haste, pain, and fits of laughter, I forgot to close the back of the truck. We got back on the highway for a few miles before realizing the mistake. All our gear, rods, sleeping bags, pads, and reels miraculously stayed in position. Even so, we found ourselves back on the side of the highway, head lamps on, looking for anything gone astray.

-During the first hour of light, all three of us had the chosen section of river to ourselves. Slowly, people started to come and box us in on all sides. You could look upriver and downriver and see a line of people, with more on the way. Adam and I held onto about a fifty yard section of real estate where we were swinging flies. We decided to switch spots. As we passed each other two guys took my new spot downstream and two guys took Adam's new spot upstream. Just like that. No more room to swing. No etiquette. No respect. No courtesy.

-As my fly began a fast swing, I felt a bump. It was either a fish or a wad of leaves. However, it ended up being a snag. The worst kind of snag. A snagger's thick monofilament from a surf rod. Unbreakable stuff because if you try and pull it to break your own tippet, the line attached to the snag gives. This particular line was attached to a large branch mid river. I had to wiggle it out or risk going for a swim. In the process of getting the line out, my favorite rod of all time snapped in half. My only switch rod, my baby. Gone. First hour of the weekend. I was speechless and couldn't understand why it happened. It just did.

-Topping it off, the broken section of rod slid down my MOW tip into the middle of the river and by some divine intervention freed my fly from the snag. I lost the broken section to the river. I was left with a twenty minute walk of shame back to the truck to grab my back up rod. Laid atop the back glass of the truck behind the head rests laid the Eagle Claw Switch.

-After half a day of fishing, we decided to switch spots and headed back to the truck. Sometime during the day, or perhaps when we locked up that morning, my window had collapsed into the door frame. Meaning that two GPSs, two iPhone 5s, a few rods, two gear bags full of reels and assorted goodies,  three wallets, and the keys to the truck were free for the taking the entire day. Nothing was missing.

-It was a good thing I had the tool kit in the back of the truck. For those that have Ford F-150s, I am sure you have experienced the dreaded window motor failure and know of the utter pain in the ass it is to take off the door panels and prop up the windows. It took three of us about an hour (even though I have done this several times) to sort that problem out and use a part of a kayak paddle and some cardboard to keep the window up for the rest of the trip.

-The next morning I followed Adam's lead into the Devil's teeth as we headed into town to fish above the DSR. I hate unfamiliar territory especially via headlamp in pitch blackness and rain. We settled alongside a deep hole and my first drift of an egg pattern resulted in a plunging indicator. I set the hook into what I thought was a fish. It ended up being a rope. Someone's lost stringer. It had three fresh king salmon on it. The eagle claw did mad work bringing that fiasco in. Adam and I cut the rope and released all three salmon back on their journey upriver. I had no idea how they were so alive. I remarked that if there was such a thing as karma, the weekend was about to get a lot better. I was wrong.

-Adam took up shop in a familiar run ideally suited to a swung fly. He got three casts in before being rudely interrupted. Below Adam, as far as you could see until the next bend in the river was open real estate. No other fishermen. Two fly fishermen thought it would be a great idea to cross the river in the middle of the run that Adam was swinging flies in. Not being deterred by a few choice words or a skagit head attached to some t-14, the two guys pressed on. Only when they reached the heart of the run did they decide that it was too deep and they couldn't cross. They had a few hundred yards of river to find a spot to cross but it had to be the exact spot that Adam was fishing. Sadly, this happens every time we fish the SR. I can't make this stuff up.

-I am in the latter days of my wading boots and wader's lifespans. Before heading to the SR, I spent a sleepless night stitching my wading boots back together using Maxima leader material and then epoxying them for good measure. I also took out rusted spikes and replaced them with brand new ones. At the end of day one, I lost six spikes.  By the end of day two, I had lost 11. The five minute epoxy apparently doesn't cure fully even after eight hours and began to fail. For good measure, I was wading through a riffle and unbeknownst to me, I got hung up on someone's lost line and kept walking until a Tiemco 600SP tarpon hook sinked into my waders creating a gash directly on a seam. I spent the rest of the day with a wet leg.

-That afternoon, I left Pat and Adam fishing a good spot and headed downstream to find my luck. I found only the cold shoulders of several snaggers and came back. Crossing a section of river, my foot slid sharply on a rock and before I knew it, I was doing the doggy paddle in a riffle. Back on shore, I did a pike press to the let the water drain out of my waders. Now, I was completely soaked from head to toe and the temperature was dropping.

-I took off a few wet layers and watched Adam and Pat fish for a little bit. I even found some time to take the fourth, fifth, and sixth pictures of the entire weekend. Pat broke off a fish by clamping down on the fly line. A rookie mistake he kept repeating. They let me have a shot at the hole and I hooked into a large male steelhead on my first cast. Finally, something went right for a change. That thought crossed my mind a split second before my brother's 8 wt. snapped in half. Unfazed, I kept fighting the fish. It broke off in the landing attempt.

Soaking wet, we left the river and found the truck. I was low on dry clothes and borrowed some sweatpants. The 7.5 hour drive back to Delaware went by in a blur. I found myself sitting at work at 7 a.m. contemplating the weekend. I realized that despite all the misfortune, I still had a good time. I was more worried about the prospects of the next few weekends. With it getting cold outside, I need to get a new switch rod, a pair of waders, and new boots. The truck window needs to be fixed and I need to find a way to get a large coffee stain out of a seat cushion. As of right now, my prospects aren't looking so good.

Monday, October 22, 2012

An Unexpected Twist


A family function to the local Hungarian Hall was planned but I decided to go fishing instead. My reasoning was simple. It was a beautiful fall day, the water levels were up for the first time in months, and I only had a few hours left on my weekend home. The piece of water I had in mind was my Grandfather's stretch that he fished as a kid. As the family departed, they dropped me off on the side of the road, giving me a few hours of solitude, wild browns, and an unexpected twist.

New side channels...

Slate Hole

First cast wild brown...

The outing went as planned for the first mile of water. Wild browns were in all the right places as I made my way upstream. It had been awhile, so it was a pleasant surprise to see how the stream had re-structured itself in the past year. One particularly deep hole had been completely filled in with gravel and there was an entirely new side channel.

A Long Glide Wrapped in Autumn

The surprise came as I was hiking upriver avoiding a stretch of slate water. The hike takes you along a two-acre pond that is not ideal to fly fish in because of the heavy cover on its banks. Off the point of an inaccessible island in the middle of the pond, I saw a vast mud cloud in the water. With Canadian Geese feeding nearby, I assumed it was from them. For some reason, I stopped and did the unexpected. I started roll casting a nymph rig into the lake and caught a few sunfish. I walked out on a log and spotted a nice bass, cut my nymph rig off, and tied on a streamer and single spey casted attempting to catch one. After a short while, I lost interest, and made my way back towards the stream.

On my way back to the stream, I saw something that caught my eye. Halted in my tracks, I saw an active mud plume. I immediately dropped to my knees and crawled to investigate. At the tail end of the plume was nice a carp, in the mid-teens, that was going to town. My heart beat doubled as I reached into my waders to grab my single fly box. I clipped off the streamer and found one of three reasonable carp flies for the situation, a veiled Otters Soft egg. My mind was racing trying to comprehend the situation. I had spent the whole morning fishing at our premier carping destination and saw absolutely nothing. Here I was at a small pond trout fishing where I fished for thirteen years and never saw any sign of a carp.

A few moments later, I was ready for war. The carp had moved on and under a large fallen tree in the water. On the other side of that was our battleground. As I positioned myself, three other carp rolled into the same area, all going head down and tail up to feed. I couldn't believe that this was even happening. I had my Orvis Superfine Trout Bum, which is a 704-4 outfit that actually worked to my advantage because of the limited casting space and an overhang of leaves and branches. Completing the scenario was another fallen tree in the pond to the right. These odds tipped the scales heavily in the carp's favor. The only thing I had going for me was the fact that these guys probably never met a carp fly fishermen before. That was the only advantage I needed.

I had to side arm roll cast to get to the carp. It had to be dead on accurate or it would hang up on a snag. When it didn't hang up on a snag a dozen sun fish would play ping pong with the egg has it slowly sank to the carps level. I had to cast accurately over twenty times before the egg made it through the onslaught. With uneducated carp, they are not spooky to a light fly and a light line. When the carp saw the egg, it moved three feet to suck it in before it hit the bottom. All I needed was that one cast to get through and I was able to watch the whole thing happen. Carp fly fishermen live for that singular moment.

Miraculously, I did not lose this fish on its first two runs even though it went completely into one of the fallen trees. I lost him on my third landing attempt, when my leader caught a small branch sticking out of the water. As I fumbled to clear the caught line, he blitzed under a nearby log and snapped the line. I let out a roar of disappointment and sat on the bank to recover.

Small Egg FTW

After I re-tied, I found another feeding carp. This one was more clear of the fallen trees but I still had to get past the sunfish. This fish was also a little larger than the previous one. He took, and blitzed across the entire pond to the far side where I thought I was going to lose him. With the carp bum fly rod held high and bent in half I had to go for a little walk down the bank where I finally subdued him on a shallow shelf. 

Battle wounds from the heavy structure...

Autumn Colors

"Bridge of Death"

This guy buckled while I was in the middle of it...

High on some carp action, I spent over an hour trying to find some more real estate to cast to carp. I attempted to make my way to the island but found it inaccessible. I returned to the stream and walked the last mile finding several more willing trout. As the rains came, I headed to the road and was picked up for a return home.  

Back to the creek...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Big Browns with Tidewater Charters

One of my good fishing friends is Tyler Nonn, who runs Tidewater Charters out of Elkton, MD. He has honed his craft over the years and is head guide up at Hoodoo Lodge in Alaska. In the spring, he runs a charter service out of the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna Flats for huge stripers. In addition, he runs steelhead and big brown trout trips throughout the fall and winter. He is probably the fishiest guy I know and is mad fun to fish with.

He has open dates this fall and winter targeting large predatory brown trout on several Pennsylvania rivers. I was able to spend a few days fishing with him in the middle of February where we boated several fish a day, the smallest of which was 18". I thought I had the largest fish of the trip at 26 inches until Tyler cranked out a 27 inch monster.

If your looking for large fish and are tired of the crowds associated with tributary fishing in the fall, this is a great alternative. Also, why freeze to death knee deep in a run when you can have a heated jet boat and access to an entire river? Either way, if you enjoy chucking large streamers for big browns, hit him up and schedule a trip. Space is limited but I am sure you can also ask about steelhead, musky, or big striper trips throughout the year.

You won't be disappointed.

Tyler Nonn
Tidewater Charters

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Men Who Stare At Nothing

It's early October and I find myself stepping outside to the first chilly air of the fall. Overnight, temperatures plunged into the thirties signaling the end of warmth and the heart of autumn.  Leaves are rustling in the woods and being swept out over the yard and clear skies reveal a canopy of stars. It is 5 a.m. and the sun isn't rising for another hour and a half. I am on my way to go carping for the last time of the year at one of my favorite haunts: the local canal.

The local canal is bi-polar. Despite zeroing in on early mornings, certain moon phases, and patterns of weather as the best times to fish, it still produces the most bizarre extremes of fish activity. One morning can produce regular shots at feeding submarines, while the very next day, in the exact same conditions, it can produce nothing. Not even a remnant of activity. This produces a conundrum for the local angler and a pretty serious love/hate affair. I can honestly say that of the ten times I was fortunate enough to fish the canal since the Spring, I did not see a fish during half of those outings. I effectively spent over a days worth of time staring at absolutely nothing.

This is basically what canal carping boils down to. Can you spot a fish? If you are lucky enough to spot a fish, can you get a cast off without it seeing you? If you can get a cast off, will your presentation be soft enough to not send it back to the dark abyss? If your presentation is on point, will your fly get to the zone in time without succumbing to a sunfish or snag? If it reaches the zone, will a twenty pound carp, mere feet away and in full view, suck it in? Finally, will you actually be able to land the guy in a small waterway full of snags on 3x? Not only do we stare at nothing most of the time, we are crazy enough to endure this, repeatedly. We might have even gone a little crazy sometimes.

On particularly bad outings, we have been known to hallucinate. We end up seeing what we want to see, rather than what is actually in front of us. Low light, fog, deep water, and a rising sun play tricks with your mind. Did you really see the outline of a carp cruising into the shallows? Is that a mud plume or simply the fog rolling over the placid water? Are those bubbles from a turtle or a monster carp delicately sipping something off the bottom? It gets to the point where everything seen is named and referenced on subsequent outings. Names emerge for for the degree and likelihood that the rate of bubble trails correspond to sizes of carp. Mud plumes are named based on formations, direction, and length of time since a carp was in the area. A catalog of different kinds of carp blocks is kept that ranges from barking dogs and trains to old ladies and homeless men.

These hallucinations keep you walking down the path. Somewhere along that journey you will find what you are looking for. Eventually, you will finally see the image that all carp aficionados crave. It is often unmistakeable and your knees will begin to shake. It forces you to realize that the previous few hours, you basically stared at nothing. All those things you thought you saw, weren't what you thought they were. The real thing is five feet away from you. It is huge, beautiful, and actively feeding. It is the "perfect" shot that you have been waiting for. An opening emerges and you decide to go for it.

Don't mess it up.

You might just spend several more hours staring at nothing.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fishing With Riley

It's a Saturday afternoon and a beautiful day outside. I am home for a fall visit complete with games, pumpkin beer, and relatives. Before company arrives, I have a spontaneous urge to head down the road to the creek where I learned how to fly fish. Recent rains have the water levels up for the first time since late Spring, and I haven't fished it since then. It being a short jaunt, I decide to take one of my two dogs, Riley. A female chocolate lab at about 60 pounds, she constantly plays second fiddle to her much larger sister, Sophie. Supremely loyal and obedient, she is following me around the house, sitting at attention, and usually just staring. Yellow eyes piercing into mine, I can't help but wonder what she is thinking, but I am sure it has something to do with playing fetch. It always does. I could tell she was anticipating something as I headed to my room to grab a pair of shoes.

Master, where are you going? To the bedroom? Please get a ball? A ball, a ball, a ball. Fetch time! He's reaching for his SHOES! Put them on! Put them on!. He's putting on his shoes!!! I'm going outside, I can't believe I'm going outside! I am so freakin' happy right now! Where are we going, Master? Where are we going?!

Riley is catapulting up and down in the air crying out in joy. Following me around all the time, she has become conditioned to react to my every move. It is somewhat annoying, but I can't help but find it utterly amusing. In this case, a pair of socks, shoes, and a jacket and she knows exactly what is about to happen. However, whenever I am about to leave and head back to Delaware she somehow knows that she isn't going along and lays down, staring into my soul. She lays a terrible guilt trip. We head to the door and I tell Sophie to stay and Riley cocks her head to the side, ears perked up, wondering what the hell just happened. 

What? I can go and she can stay? Are you sure? Sophie is going to be sooooooo mad at me. Wait, really? Sweet! This never happens, I'm going SWWIMMINGGGG!!!! Screw you Sophie. HAHAHAHAHA. 

Riley's demeanor completely changes once Sophie isn't around. Freed from the dominance, she literally prances down to the car with her head held high, enjoying the moment and the freedom. She knows the drill and patiently waits for me to gear up. On the road, she has her head out the window, ears flapping in the wind taking it all in. We hit the stream and she immediately heads down to the path sniffing and smelling everything she can. A few times she gets caught up on the scent and has to be reminded to come along but for the most part she never gets more than 25 yards away. 

Oh boy! So many smells... Where do I go, what do I pee on? Have to mark my territory before Sophie takes it all. What kind of animal made that pile? Wait, where is Master? Stop, point, there he is! Hurry the hell up dude, I hear water!

The trail is already covered in leaves, a solid mix of yellows, oranges, reds, and browns. Above a canopy of green and the aforementioned fall colors breaks up the sunlight coming in over the hill. I break off the path and down to the stream bank where I find Riley already waiting for me. She gives me a look and begins to head into the water and I tell her NO!

WHAT?! No? Are you freaking kidding me? I thought I was going swimming. Wait a second, you brought that thing didn't you? Stupid fly fishing.... Not this again. Where's a stick?

Riley takes up position along the bank as I begin fishing the first hole. She wants to jump in so bad but thus far is obedient. I surprisingly don't catch a trout on my first cast, Riley must have spooked them jumping around on the bank. Nonetheless, I take a few more casts sensing Riley's frustration at my side. 

Alright master, I think its my turn now. Another cast? Really? You suck. Your not going to catch anything! Water feels so good right now. I need a bath! Thats it, I don't care anymore. BANZAIIIIII!

Before I can thoroughly fish the hole, Riley is hurtling herself through the air and swimming to the other side. I can't really yell because she was being so good and gave me a chance to get a few casts in. I head up to the next hole, where I hook into the first wild brown of the jaunt, but Riley doesn't seem to care all that much. She was never really into fish, just water and sticks. It doesn't help that she has zero object permanence. 

Thats a fish? Paaaaaathetic. I found a stick and it's four times the size of that thing. Wait a second, where did it go? Oh there it is. Where did it go? I thought you caught one. Look master a stick! Throw it! I'll go get it and then you can throw it again! Hellooooo?? Are you paying any attention to me? Fetch!

I fish two more holes and catch some fish but it's no where near the amount I usually do. I give in and start the endless game of fetch with Riley. I let her have a go at the deepest part of the creek and kept throwing the stick downstream. Sometimes it would drift away leaving her confused but most of the time, she swam all the way back upstream to drop it at my feet. More often than not, she spooked everything in sight, but I didn't really mind. I had company, the absolute best kind of company. 

Man's best friend. 

Monday, October 8, 2012


Too many people put a premium on fish, rather than just being there in the moment. I found myself in that particular position when I took my buddy Austin out carp fishing. I had high hopes to get him on his first carp, but after an hour there wasn't any activity to justify spending more time. I was placing a premium on our score sheet, rather than the beautiful day, the knowledge passed on, or the stories told. We went on a rescue mission to a nearby stream where I found myself apologizing for the poor carping experience in the morning. Austin told me, "that's alright man, I just like being outside". It was then that I snapped back to reality, looked at my surroundings, and smiled. Sometimes, all it takes is a reminder that its not always about the fish.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The River Keeper

Day two brought us back to the lower end of the river to see if the fish were still coming in. Despite some early morning pushes of fish, things died down considerably for the rest of the day. On the previous day, we were lucky enough to catch the tail end of the main run. However, there were still a lot of fish to be had and we made the most of our chances swinging wet flies in water that was much lower than the day before. We had several chances, losing fish from long runs, putting too much pressure on them, and a few from people following fish a few hundred yards downstream. 

My best fish came at the tailout of a run that I knew fish were holding in. I'd take a few casts and vary the speed, direction, and length of my swing each time. I'd take a break, maybe change flies, and repeat the same scenario. On one particular cast, I had a nice short pull on my fly and knew a particular fish was feeling a bit grabby. I spent some extra time with that fish, making minuscule changes to the swing attempting to get it just right. It paid off when I felt a big pull and some deep head shakes. The big hen head thrashed at the surface before careening downstream into the heart of another run. I did all I could to keep her on in that moment while letting her tire a bit. I relinquished some control to get her to come back upstream to a small eddy where she was easily tail grabbed for some quick pics. Adam named her, "big momma nook".

Downstream, and much later in the day, Adam got his. He followed the advice of a new friend: the river keeper. The river keeper monitors the run and this particular man was seasoned beyond his years. "Chartreuse comet," he told us over and over. He proclaimed that, "It's worked for the last fifteen years". On his hikes up and down, he stopped to talk to each of us several times. We remarked on the beautiful day, the amazingness of the week's run, and on simpler things such as swinging and steelhead. He parted from us with one last nugget of knowledge: "you guys are the only people I've seen all day that are actually fishing".

Touché river keeper, touché.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Good Old Days - five of many.

Back in The Good Old Days, we would take a backpack full of cashews, flies and leaders, cache some water along the coastline and spend a week bonefishing on our own private island for the cost of a ferry ticket.  Those weeks were sacred.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Good Old Days - four of many.

On his birthday back in The Good Old Days, Mark landed our only permit ever, immediately after breaking his 6wt and destroying his brand new DSLR.  Thus, totally redeeming himself.