Saturday, April 21, 2018

Big Poppa Pump Goes Streamer Fishing


Thus far, the extent of Big Poppa Pump's fishing adventures with my brother and I have been limited to nymphing for trout. It is the easiest way to get Pops on a fish with his lack of skill casting a fly rod. When we pushed off on this venture, I had him armed with a 9wt, a 350 grain sinking line, and a six inch deer hair streamer. In other words, an entirely different game. He would also be casting from a moving raft that required fly placement under over hanging branches. After several misplaced casts into trees, tangles, and overall difficulty managing his fly line, he finally started to get the hang of it. With decent visibility, I could see most of the takes and tell him to set the hook. The second hurdle was improving his reaction time to my verbal commands. This proved to be hilarious. My Dad had eats from some truly monster smallmouth bass and almost every single time would miss the hook set, fail to hook set hard enough, have a line management issue, or be drifting aimlessly in outer space. All told, he boated three smallmouth bass. He missed out on 24 eats. That count started about halfway through the day. I kept my brother and sister updated with a live accounting of events which added some additional pressure on the old man. However, this kept the stoke high and my Dad started to get really into this particular type of fly fishing. Overall, it was time well spent on the water with the old man. 



Pissing on his new Orvis Encounter waders like a champ...


Anybody home?


Eyes wide open...


Addiction


My turn...







Spring



A good one...



A really good one...





Saturday, April 14, 2018

A humbling day in the gorge


It was early April and the forecasted 60 degree day had us dreaming of willing risers. We saddled up the raft and entered the gorge despite the 40 degree water temps. Mandatory lifejacket conditions. Packed with all the gear we imagined we'd need was a dry bag of spare clothes for each of us. Along for this float was Stacy, my wife. This is one of the three special stretches of water that I had resolved to show her this year.


The day started off with a few stocked rainbows as we pin-balled between rocks while trying to steer clear of the anglers on the banks who were out for opening day of trout season. We made it through the upper sections within walking distance of the put in without embarrassing ourselves and entered a secluded waterway paralleled by a rail trail and nothing else for miles. The number of anglers dropped off and the soundscape of the gorge asserted itself.


Along an inside seam of a sweeping run we posted up in thigh deep water and showed my wife how to cast a switch rod with a double nymph indicator rig. She is a natural and was dead drifting momentarily. We talked about reading a river and where the fish would be with water this cold. After ten minutes of prospecting she set into a decent fish.



She may be a natural at casting but her fish fighting skills need some work. She started to reel in the wrong direction then laid about 20ft of slack into the run. While my brother and I shouted somewhat contradictory instructions she picked up the slack and got the fish on the reel, which we were all surprised was still there.

With continuous tension and a bent 11 footer she played the fish so I could net it. We were rewarded with one of the gorge's resident wild browns; an increasingly common little miracle in light of the polluted history of this watershed.

With frozen hands we kept the fish wet and snapped a photo before its vigorous release. We talked about our childhood memories of this river, of the dam that could do a better job of keeping it cool in the summers, of our hopes for its future. Then, we continued downriver.




I'll call it complacency, but we have only ourselves to blame for the trouble we found ourselves in a few hours later. The rapids in the gorge have names and we have a homemade book of maps with instructions for running them. We also have a spare paddle that can be used as a pushpole by the person in the bow. That book was unconsulted and the paddle was stowed when we slid into a hairy piece of water several miles from any road.

In seconds, we realized we were headed sideways over a drop of a few feet and that this raft was going to flip, that we were going for a swim and that our gear was going to be smashed.

Thankfully, we became stuck fast on the lip of the drop in some class III whitewater. Mark, sensing no other option, hopped out from the bow into the waist deep water, simultaneously unsticking us from the rock and spinning us into proper position by swinging us by the stern handles. As we went over the lip he attempted to reboard from the stern but slipped and was left standing against a boulder on the upstream side. We made it through the rapid, rowed to shore as soon as possible and ran upstream to offer assistance.

Mark was standing in the middle of the river with no way to cross to safety. We threw him an extra lifejacket and shouted across the whitewater to come up with a plan. He decided his best option was to kick up his feet and ride downriver while we backrowed into an eddy to catch him as he went by.

He cinched his wading belt and strapped on the second life jacket. I pulled hard to cross the river and got the boat near where we thought he'd come out. We signaled for him to go.

He sat back into the frigid water and was swept through the rapid. I pulled out into the current and he grabbed the end of the spare paddle that Stacy extended for him. Holding onto the pontoon, I ferried him to shore.

We were thankful for the dry bag of clothing and that this situation turned out the way it did.






The 60 degree day never materialized but dry clothes and renewed vigilance kept us warm enough. We fished our way downriver, bringing many more to hand. Mark even moved a monster on a streamer but we were ripping by too fast to make another cast.


Hours later we arrived at the pool we were hoping would be dimpled with risers. It was not. We let the tranquil waters ferry us to the takeout, and called it a day.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Bronzylvania


Keystone bronze...

Melting snow and Spring rains raised the water level of a nearby tributary to a point that peaked my interest. I was willing to bet that the smallmouth bass would be making their annual Spring spawning run with this increased flow. I called up Matt and offered him a proposition to meet me at the put in. My plan included a 17 mile float from sunrise to sunset. Ever the one to question my plan, Matt felt that 17 miles was way too ambitious. I felt confident that the high flows would cover his doubt. Several hours away, we met at the put in and launched. Adding to the doubt, was the unfamiliarity with the water way, our intended quarry, and tactics. Within a mile, a 21 inch slab of bronze emerged from some structure and violently attacked a six inch streamer near the surface. Matt hoisted an easy personal best smallie and had a huge grin on his face. What followed was an epic float with several bass hitting that magical 20 inch mark. All the large ones took a big fly placed tight to some obstruction on the bank. With the ripping current, casts had to be on the money to entice them out of their lies and into the current. Our success has us thinking of what a future Spring float would look like with slightly lower flows, a better pre-spawn window, and a second angler in the boat. 

Only time will tell...


Hunting


Jurassic


Matt setting the bar pretty high...



Little beaver...


Off the bridge abutment 



Osprey








A special silhouette...