Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Water

Three years ago I was able to head west for my first foray into some new water. Needless to say, after roughly a day and a half on the water, I had a new favorite place to fish for trout. For the next three years, no other piece of water captivated my imagination in the same ways this place had. For some reason, I never made it back. That is, until this past weekend.

The trip was engineered as a birthday getaway and I just happened to mention this place as a possible destination. The hosts, no doubt inspired by my previous experiences, decided that this was the place. I was pumped to say the least.

Eagerly anticipating what awaited almost five hours away, I drove the entire distance through the night and rain. We arrived to a blanket of fog and mist hovering over the gorgeous pocket water and despite the conditions, fish were rising to caddis along the edges of the boulders. We contemplated strategy and headed into the fray.

The fray was filled with steady rain, periodically interrupted by intense downpours. In a matter of hours we were soaked to the bone but continued onward over slippery boulders and raging currents. The strategy of choice was dry dropper, but this didn't stop us from bouncing streamers through pockets and using heavy nymph rigs as well.

In these elements, stumbled my roommate and lifelong friend. New to the sport, he was experiencing his first wild river and his first wild fish. I was hoping for him to have a "moment," when he connects to fly fishing and begins to "get it". Halfway through the day the rain stopped for an hour allowing a BWO emergence to take place. This was the moment I was looking for.

Fly fishing is filled with these types of moments, but at the heart of the sport is dry fly fishing. Few things can compare to a trout ascending from the depths and inspecting a few wraps of thread and feather upon a hook. It has been known to make grown men shake in the knees. On this day, it grabbed on and attached its barbs into my roommates soul.

My roommates improved casting allowed him to reach the risers. What followed was predictable for a beginners first dry fly experience. The first fish rose and took the fly, while my roommate simultaneously pulled it directly out of the fish's mouth. The second time, he waited just a little longer and was treated to a small head shake. The third time, the fish just flat out threw the hook. After each and every dismissal, screams echoed out of the ravine as my roomies enthusiasm bordered on anger and exclamations of, "this is awesome".

As the day came to a close, we were content with less fishing and more listening. The sound of the water sustained our minds, bodies, and souls for an entire day of fishing on no sleep. One of us stated, "I closed my eyes, listened to the water, and was the happiest man in the world...nothing can bring me down". With that, we headed to our camp site and made a fire. We cooked hot dogs wrapped and bacon over the embers and flames. We set our tents and fell asleep to the sound of nearby water. The water sustained us, without even trying.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Unrealistic Expectations

Almost exactly a year ago, I experienced the best weekend of fishing I could imagine, documented here, here and here. That same long weekend rolled around again and I found myself riding the same borrowed bicycle down the same lonely roads, dodging potholes and cowpies between a hammock slung between a stand of whispering pines and miles of sandy flats.

Unlike last year, the wind was blowing. Hard. If it suddenly stopped, I would have fallen flat on my face. I couldn't see a damn thing but kept looking anyway. Four hours into the first session I spotted my first fish in the lee of a small mangrove stand. A short cast and a soft presentation with a merkin (rigged for the new year's resolution permit), and I was connected to the only bone I would land for the duration of the trip.

As it took me into the backing for the 2nd time, I reflected on the past three years and said aloud that I better take all of this in; the bend in the rod, the pumping tail reverberating up the line into my arm, the rippling surface, the intricacies of the mangrove roots, the birds circling in the sky, the howling wind. I landed the fish and held it in reverence. Perfectly evolved. She swam away.

A new rainfly - a step up in luxury.

There won't be many more of these moments...

Forced off of the flats due to the gusts of wind, I rode the bike to a beach in the lee of the wind and started to blindcast with the spinning rod. I jumped 2 small snook, landed this decent 'cuda and then jumped snookzilla before heading back to the hammock to nap away the rest of the afternoon. I had mellowed considerably over the past year, I realized.

As dusk fell, I rode to the ferry dock. The sight of the nightly gathering of feisty tarpon. I stood in silence as the sun sank and the wind tore at my clothes. Shortly after that, I made my first few casts as Mars, Jupiter and Venus shone brightly in the evening light.

I lost every fish I jumped. If don't want to know the number. I was surprised at how not pissed I was.

When it got late, I caught some small fish for cut bait, threw it out on the spinning rod and sat down with a book. As I settled in to the story, the line started to peel off into the darkness. I flipped the bail and set the hook into pure dead weight. At that, the unseen force bolted for the horizon. I was almost spooled from 200m of 30lb braid when the thing stopped, I turned it, and started to regain some ground.

Ten minutes later, I had the creature directly below me with the braid disappearing into the abyss, straight down. The cheap rod was bent like a horseshoe. The animal stopped cold. I could feel the rod flexing in the reel seat as I unstuck it from the bottom and realized that it was a ray. Twenty minutes later, 4ft-across of shark relative came to the surface, gurgling and wheezing in the wind-driven whitecaps. I cut the line as close as I could and watched the primitive thing glide into the dark green and vanish. My arm hurt. I rode back to the hammock and slept like the dead.

Satisfied for some reason, and conceding defeat to the wind, I caught an unexpected Sunday morning ferry for home.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stocker Surprise

It is the second outing of the year on my local stream and it is absolutely filled with stocked fish from the fall, winter, and recent spring stockings. Every angler in the immediate vicinity is taking advantage of the only open trout water in the region, thanks to Pennsylvania special regulations. It has been this way for awhile and the banks of the stream are littered with footprints and signs of bait. I have been putting off joining the masses for awhile, until I just had to join the herd.

Another after school sojourn found me sitting on the bank of the stream with other anglers flanking me on either side, and closing fast. For the first half hour, skittish trout in super clear water ignored most of the flies I threw at them. They probably had sore lips and had been fished over all day long. A heavy fluorocarbon leader left over from a carping session was dragging the tip of my fly line underwater and I couldn't take it anymore. Packing light, I went back to the truck to tie another leader. I decided to walk far in the other direction for some solitude.

I found some fish in some spots that most people pass over. They were eager as long as it was on 6-7x. The fish were of the cooker cutter variety. Twelve to fourteen inch rainbows exhibiting the signs of most stockers. Feisty guys on a two weight rod and light tippet.

Towards the end of the day, I saw the anomaly in the whole equation. The big guy, typical of most highly stocked waters. I found him where they usually are, tucked away in a feeding position that was entirely his territory. Actively feeding, he flashed his fat white stomach making him stand out in the low light conditions. He was sandwiched in a pocket of deep water between a large boulder and faster shallow water. The flies had to travel through that seam and make it deep enough, fast enough, to make him eat. He did.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Maiden Voyage

The Diablo Chupacabra grew restless all fall and winter as it picked up cobwebs in the garage. I grew restless all fall and winter longing for a steady supply of carp and a relaxing paddle down a lake. Our paths intertwined on a hot afternoon session, where both of our needs were fulfilled, thanks to unseasonably warm temperatures.

The temps have caused the trees and flowers in Delaware to begin blooming in late February and stripers and shad are currently being caught in the lower Susquehanna. I am sure there are spring hatches enticing large wild browns but I haven't had the chance to see that yet. These early signs of spring culminated in seeing the signs of staging/spawning fish at my local carp flat.

The shallows were muddied and erupting with carp as I eased my way into the water. As I got closer I could see packs of fish charging into certain areas, swirling around in tight circles and causing other fish to scatter violently. I was quite surprised to see this happening but it made sense with the prolonged period of high temperatures we are having and the likelihood that the water temperatures are probably getting into the right zone. But, it is still so early...

When I began catching the fish cruising off the shallows, many of them exhibited battle wounds and swollen egg-filled stomachs, other signs of spawning. This is turning out to be a weird year, but I definitely am not complaining so far. Just rain every now and then, and I'll be a happy man.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Perfect Day

Every now and then a day comes along that is perfect to be out on the water with good company. This past weekend produced one of those days. For an entire Sunday, we had a mile of water completely to ourselves. The skies were cloudless, the suns rays pierced through the trees, and a slight breeze kept us from sweating from the long hikes throughout the day.

These conditions illuminated the canyon, where large boulders interrupted the flow of water downstream. Overhead, a canopy of trees provided long shadows on top of the water while the silence was only interuppted by the sound of rushing water. The water was cold and clear, the product of a bottom release on the dam upstream. The only sign of imperfection was flowing downstream en masse after being uprooted by higher flows: didymo. Nicknamed rock snot, the nuisance lived up to its nickname by sticking to our flies and knots.

Our admiration for the surroundings was periodically interrupted by something else: wild brown trout. Completely pristine and out of place compared to the large metropolises a half hour away, they are small slabs of gold, brown, and red. Perfect in their own little way. My brother once described them as appearing, "like a vein of gold mined from the black granite boulder I was huddled over". I couldn't help but think about that line, as we made our way up the canyon, mining for brown trout gold, under a cloudless blue sky.