Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Last Train

^Fish tunes for your enjoyment.

The fall leaves have pretty much reached the peak here in Northern Appalachia. The days are getting shorter and colder and we all know what we have to look forward to over the next few months. I don't mind winter as much as some people, but I'd be lying if I said the beauty of fall wasn't bittersweet. Fishing larger water for larger trout is appealing to anyone who has ever held a fly rod and that's what the colder months bring for me.

The blazing yellow, red, orange and green hills, the falling leaves, and the crisp air signal a culmination of my favorite fishing. Technicolor trout attacking bushy dry flies like they might be their last meal of the year - nothing compares. Sure, the clear little rivulets you're following while kicking through the crispy leaves are no wider than the over-engineered graphite stick you're toting is long. That's the beauty of it.

The sole purpose of flyfishing is to have fun. You can't help but chuckle when the little brothers of the trout you're actually after do somersaults over your ginked up stimulator. Repeated splashy rises in a tiny riffle leave you grinning and shaking your head. Time to step up to the next run.

I had intended to do a little more exploring and fish a few different creeks, I simply had too much fun to leave. It's easy to get lost in time when you are getting rises in almost every fishy looking spot. I've done a lot of exploring different bluelines this summer and some really didn't pay off. So on this day that could be the last consistent dry fly fishing I see this year, I was happy to keep threading casts through more beech brush and low hanging hemlock branches as I got closer to the top.

There's no better activity to clear your head and recharge.  I climbed my way back out of the mini-canyon I was in and walked the dirt road back to where I parked the truck. A day like this gets you feeling so good, you turn on the radio thinking, "..the old '97's gonna make it this time."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Not Quite Yet

Good fall fishing is so close, but still has yet to arrive in north central Pennsylvania. Low flows and sudden drops in temperature have really made the big fish sluggish and disinterested. I've still spent plenty of time on the water enjoying the fall foliage. I've been kayaking a lot of new rivers in search of more floatable water for trout. By my estimates, there is just under 100 miles of floatable water within an hour of where I live. Some of it wild trout water, some stocked trout water, and some bass/musky water. One of the more shocking moments was floating directly over a musky that was at least 4' long - I knew they were there, but didn't expect to see one that close! Gotta break in that 10 wt. one of these days! There's simply more water than I have time to fish!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Branching Out

I love days that start this way.
We haven't really broken out of our summer conditions yet, but the temperatures are starting to drop. The rains that become more common as the cooler weather forces its way in have yet to materialize. So, our freestone rivers are still at minimal flows for floating. The ride can get rocky and you are forced into fishing small stuff - let's face it, throwing the big stuff from the boat is more fun than anything else.

My happy place, among the hills.
A not-so-distant tailwater (a section of river directly below a dam) that I haven't visited in far too long was up and I couldn't resist a visit. We were pleasantly surprised to see the numbers of bugs we saw hatching. Slate Drakes, Caddis, Bluewing Olives, and tiny Sulphurs were pretty consistent for this time of year. That's what makes the tailwaters so interesting. Typically, freestone rivers (those not controlled by dams or heavily influenced by springs) rise and fall dramatically. Also, they have a great variety of insect habitat which leads to a great variety of insect species. Regulated flows below dams lead to less of a variety of habitat and species, but much greater densities of the insects.

And they say rainbows don't eat streamers!
I'm pleased to say the trout have started to become more active. We saw pods of rising rainbows, caught a few rainbows on nymphs,  and we had multiple interactions with big brown trout. Not to be forgotten about, a handful of smallmouth bass were boated. It really completes the day to also share the river with so much wildlife. We were lucky enough to fish along side multiple eagles throughout the float.

 The biggest trout of the day was extremely camera-shy and accidentally fumbled overboard before he was photographed. Yep, that kept us laughing throughout the rest of the trip! (I should comment, I'd much prefer losing a 20" overboard without a photo than dribbling him off the bottom of the boat and causing more unnecessary harm.)

Haha, Fumble!
In other news, there is a nearby lake that I drive by every day and had never cast a single fly into. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was highly optimistic since a stocked stream with many tributaries containing wild trout feeds the lake.  It didn't take long for the optimism to subside. We rowed the boat to what we expected to be the deepest part of the lake and dropped the anchor. It was somewhere between 6 feet and 8 feet deep and the surface temperature was over 70 degrees. Not a good combination for trout. Needless to say, there was plenty of casting practice and no trout. Oh well, now I don't have to wonder.

Shooting line.
She kept the geese and ducks in order.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Offseason

PA Wilds
Sunset at Kinzua Bridge State Park
Things have been a little quiet around here - I apologize. I typically view late July to early September as the only off season. Creeks are low and clear, rivers are generally unfloatable, and the fish are usually threatened by thermal stress. This year, thermal stress hasn't been a widespread issue. It's been cold enough, but conditions have made the bigger fish less active. Therefore, it's been a good excuse to take care of things outside of hunting big fish.

The Sex Dungeon
Man Cave Upgrades
I've also been collecting data for the Unassessed Waters Initiative, which has led me to fish some new water.  The Unassessed Waters Initiative is a program established by the Pennsylvania Coldwater Heritage Partnership (CHP) to evaluate the streams across the state which the Fish and Boat currently has not surveyed for wild trout populations. The CHP has teamed up with Trout Unlimited chapters to volunteer to provide empirical observations of wild trout in these streams. Some streams I've hiked miles into and only found chubs, some streams I probably could have cast to from the road and caught brook trout. It's been enlightening to say the least!

Kinzua Valley
Beauty Among Tragedy

NOT the Intended Target

That's More Like It
Aw, Yeah!
I've also been preparing for the Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor Test with a prep class. The class has been led by Gary Kell, The Fly Fishing Coach. Gary is a Certified Master Casting Instructor for the Federation. It has been quite the eye-opener. I feel my casting has been adequate for most fishing situations, but this preparation has taken things to a whole new level. In just a few short weeks, my understanding of casting fundamentals and my ability to diagnose problems within a cast has greatly improved. It's been a lot of fun and moving forward I hope to be a lot better at teaching others how to improve their cast.

Eric with a Solid Rainbow
I was fortunate enough to squeeze in a float with the usual suspects a couple weeks ago the day after a thunderstorm. Flows were meager at best and, though we moved a couple bigger fish, they just wouldn't commit to eating flies. Oh well, it was great to get the boat wet and feel the pull of the oars. We each got into smaller trout with some bass mixed in. With all the hiking I've done for trout this summer, my blisters and callouses from rowing have faded. I'm looking forward to some fall rain and consistent streamer action. Get your streamer boxes filled!

River X

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bluelining Heaven

This summer I have put a pretty big emphasis on learning something new - flyfishing for trout in lakes and ponds. Though it has been fun testing the waters, my lack of experience has resulted in fewer fish than I would like. It's been a pretty tough pill to swallow!

So, I was really looking forward to getting back to bluelining - hiking away from the crowds to fish small, crystal-clear streams that hold wild and/or native trout. My dad and I made the trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park. He was headed to an optometry conference and I was lucky enough to tag along. "Wow!" is all I can say. I had never traveled west to fish before and I haven't been out that way since I was 4 years old. What a difference hiking is in the Rocky Mountains from the Hills of Pennsylvania!

Rocky Mountains
The first two days, my dad and I fished together on lower elevation streams so we could adjust to the elevation - I had the worst headache of my life the first day we were there! This meant shorter hikes, more people, and mostly brown trout. As we acclimated to our new surroundings, we hiked a little bit farther and got into more brook, rainbow, and ONE greenback cutthroat trout the second day. It was clear though, that if we were going to catch more greenbacks, we would have to wear out some shoe leather to do so.

Fly fishing

A greenback and a landlocked salmon in the same month for a PA guy... It's ok, I hate me too.

My dad was with a group at the conference that was also fly fishing. So, the last two days while he was in class and fishing with a guide, I was going to be making solo treks into the mountains. Since my altitude issues had subsided, I decided to swing for the fences the first day and hike back to a lake 5 miles in. The fishing was beyond worth it.

I love backcountry infrastructure

I was content with the day of fishing after a few short hours! However, this trip was partially about exploration for future trips. There was another lake 1.5 miles above the one I was already at that reportedly had bigger, less educated greenbacks in it. Let's be honest, I HAD to check it out and see if the fishing was as good.

Alpine Lake

At the lake 6.5 miles from the trailhead, if you could make your fly float, fish would eat it. Unfortunately, the fish I got into there were certainly smaller (but not less gorgeous!) than the ones I had found below. Oh well! You never hit homeruns if you don't swing hard - but sometimes it's a big whiff! (Just ask my Phillies!)

After the 13 mile round-trip hike, I was beat to say the least (my quarter sized blisters on each heel served as proof). Overall, I had caught enough fish and seen enough scenery that the trip was already a success. Damn, I still had 1 full free day of fishing in some of the fishiest, most beautiful country I've ever laid eyes on. What was I to do?

While I was exploring on my own, my dad was fishing a lake with a guide that I had read about before the trip. By his reports, it was fishing fantastic and it was only 3 miles from the trailhead! I laced up my tattered boots and decided to go for it. The hike in started out sunny and 90 degrees but soon turned into a thunderstorm with hail. It had subsided before I reached the lake and conditions were quite good. After I had time to scope out a few quality spots and nabbed a few trout, the storms were back; this time packing cold, blustery winds.

I tried to wait out the storm under a nearby thicket of pines and chowed down a sammich. 30 minutes of standing around in storms and seeing the high winds reduce all visibility in the lake and make casting a complete nightmare had me feeling pretty restless. Prior to traveling to Colorado I had read about the creek that flowed into this particular lake and how it was probably one of the most scenic and fishiest creeks in the park. So I decided it was time to dodge the weather and check this little drainage out.

Alpine Lake

Man, was it worth the extra hike and clouds of mosquitos. I can honestly say this was bluelining heaven. Flat glassy pools interrupted by braided riffles and plunges with mountains peeking over your shoulder. The kicker? These fish were really only interested in size 22 and 24 flies! What a blast. After plying this creek for a couple hours, severe lightning storms returned and I was forced to head out. Along the trail, I was hiking out right on the edge of the lake the earlier storms made unfishable. At this point, with lightning flashing overhead, there were fish rising about 5 feet off the shore. I made a couple cast and ended up with another beautiful greenback on my very last casts to cap off a fantastic trip.

We explored some fantastic new water and found some of the best fishing I've ever seen. Every pool held good sized, hungry, wild trout. For the most part big, buoyant stimulators were the ticket. It was so much fun to get back to bluelining. Why don't I do more fishing?

Out Take

If you fish bluelines, eventually you end up in the trees... with me hiding in the bushes chuckling.