Wednesday, May 27, 2015

No Shortage of Good Days

One of my professors at Drexel described trying to grasp all the engineering fundamentals in our 10-week classes as " trying to drink from a firehose." That describes fly fishing in Pennsylvania in the month of May. Bugs are popping like crazy and fish are on the prowl for their next meal. If ever there was a sure thing in fly fishing, it's that if you can make it to the river this time of year, you're gonna have a good time. Finding the time to get a taste of it all is the hard part.

I've spent more time this year than any other searching for new water and running down the stories and tips I've heard about good wild fish around my area. In some cases it's paid off and in others, I've been left scratching my head wondering what I'm missing? One thing that's for sure is there is a lot of water I won't have to spend time dreaming and wondering about anymore.

Wild Sulphur Eater
Stocked Sulphur Eater
The biggest thing that has been on my mind, why do I get stuck in a comfort zone fishing? Why fish the same spots over and over, when I KNOW there are fish there? There are hundreds of miles of wild trout water that I have never seen. It's the time spent exploring and looking for that next good run that keeps me searching, keeps me hungry, wondering what's around the next bend? Sure, the fish may not be as big as they are in our best wild trout water but those big fish will still be there this winter. Right now the brookies are doing back flips trying to smash bushy dry flies and I just can't ignore that.

Musky Dom after small stream wild trout. I guess now I need to catch a musky?
Another highlight to the month of May is the annual God's Country Project Healing Waters Event. Project Healing Waters' goal is to expose Veterans to the powerful healing quality of fly fishing. It aims to heal the physical and psychological scars of war. For three days each year, the generous folks of Potter County have the honor and privilege to host Vets (usually 12-15) being treated at VA Hospitals mostly from Batavia or Erie, but some from all across the country.

The Event begins with a parade through the county where people from all around can greet the honored guests. They are then taken to the First Fork Lodge (First Fork of the Sinnemahoning) where they stay the next few nights. Over three days, they're introduced to fly casting and fly tying, and then they have the entire Trout Preserve at Big Moore's Run to match wits with huge brown and rainbow trout.

Every year, it astounds me how thankful these guys are. "You mean, you took vacation days from your job... to spend time with me... to teach me to fly fish?" In reality, it's us, the volunteers that have the honor of spending time with these heroes who risked so much to serve our country. A few hours spent giving back to these guys is so little in comparison to what they gave for all of us. It's because of these folks that we have the rights and freedoms we enjoy every day. It's truly been an honor to meet, fish with, and talk to multiple recipients of the Medal of Honor and Purple Heart Award.

Trying to get enough good fishing in the month of May really is like trying to drink from a fire hose. The hard part is taking a minute, stepping back, and appreciating how good it really is. One thing for sure is there are no shortage of good days. I don't think the trout will notice when we flip the calendar page. Enjoy the best time of the year.

Monday, May 18, 2015

North Woods

It was a pretty nice weekend in my neck of the woods. Most of it was spent shearing alpacas and messing with stuff around the house, but sneaking out for even just a few minutes can be pretty damn awesome this time of year. Soak up spring while it's still here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Pause Button

It's crazy. This is the time of year we spend all winter dreaming about. Our best hatches are under way, the weather is perfect, and the fish are finally waking up and getting hungry. For me personally, this time of year is also when I have more non-fishing things going on than the entire rest of the year. April and May seem to fly by so fast that I get caught in the middle of trying to keep things up around the house, yet still sneak off and fish the best hatches on all my favorite creeks, rivers, and stillwaters. It's enough to make your head spin! The biggest problem I have living in rural Pennsylvania, there's just way too much fun and good fishing to be had to get enough of any one bit of it.

It's hard to believe a little over a month ago, you could walk out the back door and hear nothing but the frigid, howling wind. Now, birds are belting out melodies in the morning, turkey's gobbles echo out of every holler throughout the day, and peepers start their lullabies just before dark and go all night. Not to mention, when you're close enough to water, you'll more than likely hear slurpy rises of trout stealing bugs trapped in the surface film.

I've been getting reports of Hendricksons being taken on some of our best water, my house has been covered in Blue Quills for the past few days, and I was lucky enough to fish a solid Blue Wing Olive Hatch on one of my favorite Brookie streams this past weekend. Unfortunately, fish were pretty reluctant to spend enough energy to rise. The fish I did get on top were the kind of mega slow-mo rises you expect to see from Cutties out west munching big foam Chernobyl Ants. It was pretty out of character for the usually greedy brook trout to be a bit choosy to snatch #14 Stimmies from the shade of hemlock trees.  As the sun warmed the water and the Olives emerged with more consistency, the small speckled torpedoes got a little more grabby when they saw my Zelon Nymph dropper helplessly drift by.

I wish we could hit the pause button and keep the month of May around just a bit longer. That not being the case, I guess I'll just have to drive my two-toned blue and backroad dust colored Subaru a little faster to soak up as much of this as possible.

Extra Credit

It was about this time last year I took part in a macroinvertabrate sampling seminar sponsored by the Potter County Conservation District and Potter County Water Dogs group. It's like a new sport to sample different in-stream habitat types and see what bugs I can find where. (Why not have another hobby that peaks in April and May?)

Golden Stonefly Nymph
A Brace of March Brown Nymphs
Pteronarcys Nymph
Hendrickson Nymph
I feel studying these creatures and how they behave under water has drastically changed the way I approach tying flies. Some guys have centered fly design around how fast they can get to the bottom. I've seen a lot of new streamlined patterns that cover bugs in nail polish or epoxy for less resistance in the water. While I won't disagree that you need to get your imitation in the zone, I feel some species (swimmers, burrowers, etc.) have so much movement and wiggle that a little movement in your fly can be irresistible. A little compromise between sinkability and built-in movement can go a long way. Just my 2 cents.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Tale of Desperation

Yeah, I admit it, I'm getting desperate for good fishing. We're really on the verge of hatches exploding and feeding fish. Just not yet. The water here in Northcentral Pennsylvania has been near flood stages for about 3 weeks. The beautiful weather Sunday, however, pushed me over the limit.

I paid a second visit to that unknown water I recently had a solid day on. When I got there it looked pretty damn fishy. I was blinded by optimism. As I slowly and stealthily crept up to the run I where caught a solid fish last time, the mud under my boots gave way sending me crashing on my ass and sliding into the creek. (Sneaky sneaky) To my unpleasant surprise, the water that I stood knee deep in two weeks ago was now chest deep and nearly over-topping my waders. Great. Well, wading was not going to be an option.

Refusing to give in, I bounced from spot to spot, looking for areas I could sneak a streamer or pair of nymphs through the branches and search the edges for brown trout gold. Let me just say, you've never lived until you've tried to tuck cast/curve cast a sex dungeon around thickets of willows from the bank. I continued on searching for the few gaps I where could get a double haul and shoot line to the far bank, mend, pray, swing, and try to not snag the bushes below me.

About three quarters of a mile up stream, I could barely see the S-curve bend in the creek I knew was there. I finally made my way in to where I could make an underhand swing of the fly with nothing but my 3 foot leader out of the end of the rod. Then it happened. A gold bar shot out of the submerged branches, slowed down to check out my offering, and pounded it! And I freaking missed him.

It wasn't a trophy. Probably a mid to high teener. That didn't matter. That was my validation and I blew it! Honestly, I'm not sure what I was thinking even fishing that spot. There was no way I could have landed that fish (See above photo). At least that's what I told myself so I could sleep that night. Damn it.

Pretty awesome how that jolt of energy from seeing a fish charge your fly can totally change your determination though. It was on now.

I covered a ton of new water. I've been scouting this stream from Google Earth for months now, so I had certain things I was looking for. I made it to where the stream transitioned from long-forgotten scrubby farm fields to forest canopy. As the day progressed, decent numbers of caddis were popping and stoneflies dive bombed the surface on their kamikaze egg-laying flights. What an encouraging sight.

I optimistically flogged the water wherever I could for about a mile and a half. I saw only 1 fish, but man did I have a damn good time exploring. I got my first sun burn on the back of my hands from high-sticking. Another good sign for the year!

Then I reached a sweet looking bend I've had my eye on for a while now. I spotted downed trees from aerial imagery adjacent to a good riffle. It was so cool to finally set eyes on it. I hope to spend some time here watching for risers soon.

Exploring a new home water like this is a blast. There are no books written about it, no articles, no hatch charts, nor does the name of the creek appear in threads of online forums. Huge thank you to the people I never met who fished it before me and left some good secrets to be discovered by those seeking piscatorial rewards in wild settings.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Trout Guardians

The warming temperatures have finally opened up fishing options here in Northcentral Pennsylvania. For the past 3 months the decision on where to fish has been "wherever isn't frozen solid." Well, not any more. I checked out a stream I had never fished but had been trying to get on since last fall. Taking the road less traveled totally paid off.

Probably a big reason this creek was home to such large fish is the WALLS of trout guardians - willows multiflora rose. I think every time a farmer kills a multiflora rose bush somewhere, 3 new ones pop up on the banks of this creek. It made walking the banks pretty miserable. (No wonder my waders leak like a sieve.) It didn't help that I decided to take 2 rods on this scouting mission. Whenever I'm scouting new water I usually throw nymphs, but with such great flows I really wanted the option to throw big stuff when I came to a big pool. The thorns love to reach out and grab fly lines and leaders. Jerks.

Another thing I have started making standard practice when I'm scouting new water is checking macro invertebrates. I always carry a net when I'm on the water. It makes landing and photographing fish a lot easier on them and me. A few years ago, I purchased a 3 pack of paint strainers at the hardware store that I slip over the net and do a few kick samples in different types of habitat. In this creek, I was really disappointed with the numbers of bugs I found but basically each site turned up different species of insects. The fish must be finding something to eat!

After just a couple quick hours, the water ahead of me looked like it only got better. However, I'd had enough for one day. Windburned and bloodied from thorns, I decided to make the trek back to the car. My cup was full and I saw no point in getting greedy - that's when bad fish karma kicks in (a broken rod, a dunked camera, etc.). These fish made me work. It was refreshing to get back out on unfamiliar water and try some different techniques to try to find what flies would fool fish in this new water. I can't wait to go back. Happy exploring.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Brotherhood

I've talked before about my early fishing days where I would spend hours in the middle of nowhere on my own exploring wild and untouched creek corridors. It's a type of fishing that can really help you disconnect and unwind. I do miss not doing that as much, but when you find your tribe, your inner circle of buddies to fish with, it's a team game. On the slow days you share the misery, but on the good days, the highs are so much higher when you can be just as excited when the guy next to you catches a fish.

It even continues off the water - sharing ideas of things to try at the vise, a new knot, new gear, or new tactics. It's awesome to have other skilled anglers to bounce ideas off of. On the water, whether you're wading or in a boat, you can try different tactics and hopefully find what the fish are on that particular day.

I'll admit, sometimes it's tough when you're in a slump and your buddy is catching a fish every time his fly slaps the water. You've just got to remember,  the team is greater than the individual. If you've already got a fish, give up the next good spot for your buddy or spend a little extra time on the oars. I promise, if you've found the right guys for your group, it's just as good seeing a bent rod in someone else's hand and taking a turn behind the camera.

Which brings me to my next point. I'm pretty tight-lipped when it comes to locations and specific water. It's not because I (or anyone else who withholds their fishing spot) am really that big of an asshole because of any personal conflicts or anything like that. It's the simple fact that we've put in too many countless hours scrolling over maps, looking for likely spots for big wild trout, getting skunked, and going back to the drawing board, to easily hand over precious information. It's not just for personal gain, it's for the brotherhood of the die hard flyfishers. Not just myself, or my close friends, but also for the guys who have busted their asses to find the same spot and call whatever water I'm on their home stream.

So, I apologize for not feeling sorry if this offends you. The best part of fly fishing is the journey - trying and failing only to pick yourself up and try harder to find that next great spot. Trophy fish are earned. You can go out and get lucky and pick one up now and then, but to be consistent you've got to put in your time.

Maybe one of these days I'll see you out there at one of your favorite spots or exploring new water. What you can expect is that if I do, you won't see details posted on Facebook. I hope I can count on you to show the same respect for the brotherhood.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Warming Sun

After one of the most brutal winters I can remember, the ice and snow are finally letting go and receding. I can't imagine how many times I checked the weather and river gauges knowing I was in for bad news - just searching for a glimmer of hope. Last week, we got it. We didn't let the opportunity pass.

Feeling the pull of the oars, the cool morning fog, and casting a line for the first time of the season is a feeling I really can't put into words. You forget the anguish of winter. All the snow covered roads traversed, ice chipped out of guides, and numbing temperatures are replaced by hope for a damn good spring season. Bring on the leeks, fiddleheads, morels, camping trips, dry fly fishing, and hungry fish charging big streamers. If you need me, I'll be on the river.