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.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dynamic Nymphing 2.0

This past weekend, the Seneca Chapter of Trout Unlimited hosted George Daniel who presented his Dynamic Nymphing 2.0 program and showed a captivated audience how to tie his simple and extremely effective nymph patterns. The process of tight-line nymphing is the best way to effectively cover the broken water that trout love and cling to as conveyor belts for their food. That's what makes this approach so common in the competitive fly fishing world - it's just so damn effective. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, fly fishing competitively is not my cup of tea. However, the guys who are good at it break everything down to its simplest form and formulate the most effective way to approach any given situation. Whether it be nymphing, stillwater fishing, or just our approach to fishing in general,  we've all got a lot to learn from the comp guys!

So, other than our chapter fly tying classes, this was the first event I've ever planned. Man, do I have a new found respect for people who regularly plan big events! Our chapter was really happy to host such a wealth of information for our local fly fishing community, free of charge. A huge thank you to all of our chapter members for all their support and to members from our neighbor chapters, the Cornplanter and the God's Country chapters, and everyone else who was able to attend. It really helped to be working with someone as professional and flexible as George.

I would say to anyone looking for a guide, instructor, or any kind of information on fly fishing, George is without doubt one of the most knowledgeable, down to earth, and honest guys I've met in the industry (or anywhere for that matter). If you haven't heard, at the end of the month he's leaving his post at the TCO State College store and is starting his own guiding/instruction business. Be sure to check out Livin' On The Fly. If he's presenting in your area, do yourself a favor and make it a priority to be there. He's also got a highly anticipated book on streamer fishing coming out late summer/early fall.


On a totally unrelated note, I'm doing a special run of Dirt Roads and Blue Lines hats (see below). The cost is $18+ shipping. I'm just getting an idea on numbers to order at this point, so let me know if you're interested and I'll contact you when I have them ready to ship. Deadline to reserve one is Friday, March 13th.

Also, I wanted to share a few recent ties. For some reason, this is how I seem to always end up sharing flies on this feed. Someday I'll do better with sharing the fly tying stuff, but not yet.

Andreas Andersson's Deer Head Deceiver

My updated Articulated Green Drake Nymph

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Loon Hydrostop Review

One of my last posts scoffed at cabin fever. After freezing our asses off on our most recent float, skimpy wintertime flows, and most rivers being frozen, it's been a while since I've been out. (It was -22 degrees F on the thermometer on my drive to work this morning.) This post may leave you questioning my sanity and you may recognize some effects of the wintertime blues. Whatever. Don't judge me. (Ha!)

So, anyway, I posted a picture a few weeks ago of the process of pre-treating dry flies with a waterproofing agent. I've been doing this for years. I started with Watershed but because of my obsession and satisfaction with other Loon Outdoors products, I made the switch to Hydrostop.

After posting the picture, I was asked repeatedly if I thought it was worth it. In my mind, it is without a doubt worth it. Since getting in the habit of treating all of my non-CDC dry flies, I feel like they have floated noticeably better. BUT with a background in engineering, it's been bugging me to say "Yeah, I definitely think it works better!" That's not good enough. I want numbers.

I started thinking of ways to put it to the test. In the middle of one of my tying sessions, I decided I would consecutively tie 6 Stimulators and treat every other one (Small sample size, I know. This is a low-tech, part time operation, so bear with me.). I asked my technical assistant/wife to pick either 1, 3, and 5, or 2, 4, and 6 to get treated so I couldn't sway the outcome by choosing specific flies. After soaking the bugs for the recommended time limit, I let them dry for a few days.

In the mean time, I went looking to see if this or any similar tests had been done. I found a comparison of floatants tested against one another (here), but nothing on the pre-treatment process. So, I read through reviews on various sites. Almost everyone (using the product properly) who wrote a review raved about how well it worked. BUT no one had any data to back it up.

On with the test...

First, I individually placed the dry specimens into a jar filled with water and shook, sloshed, and spun the jar until the fly completely sank. I tried to agitate the jar uniformly with each test subject.  After I tested all 6, I performed the test again with each fly wet.

Somehow, I was not able to sink the first treated fly. It stayed afloat for 5 minutes until I finally gave in. (WTF? This is going to be a long test.) Well, that particular fly was an extreme out-lier and was excluded from this graph (but will probably be the first fly I tie on this spring!). I recorded the float time for each individual fly in seconds for treated/dry, untreated/dry, treated/saturated, untreated/wet. I then took the average float time for all of the treated and all of the untreated flies in both the wet and dry condition. Next, I compared the treated/dry vs. the untreated/dry and treated/wet vs. the untreated wet in the graph below. As you can see, the average float time for the treated flies in the dry condition was greater than the untreated - 25 seconds to 14 seconds. Where the gap really widened, was in the comparison of the wet flies - 20 seconds to 3 seconds in favor of the treated flies. Impressive Loon.

This observation lead right into my next experiment - the Saturated float test. I submerged each fly, squeezed it under water, shook off the excess water, and then dropped it back into the jar and observed which ones floated. The treated flies handily won 3:0.

My final test was a drop test with the flies in a dry condition. So, I had to wait for the flies to completely dry over night. Once they were ready, I dropped each fly repeatedly from a height of 33 inches, and counted the drops it took to sink the fly. Once again, the Hydrostop won quite convincingly.

In my mind, there is now no doubt that treating dry flies with Hydrostop is worth the extra step. Does this mean I will stop carrying my Aquel with me on the stream? Of course not. Eventually flies sink - especially when they're repeatedly pounded by hungry brookies. I certainly won't have to apply other floatants as often.

My test data is attached in the graph below. If you have any question on the test, or anything else for that matter, drop a comment. If you want to point out all of the human error that was ingrained in every bit of this experiment... SAVE IT! Haha, constructive criticism is more than welcome, too.

The next portion of this experiment involves testing the treated flies on fish. Hopefully, there will be spotted/finned results. Is it spring yet?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Skunk Appreciation

This past weekend, I had the chance to track down some open water. Things have been pretty busy over the last month. Work, fly tying, fly casting instructor prep class, and TU have kept me pretty busy. It was nice to set everything aside for a couple hours to wade and cast and hope for a tug.

The temperature topped out about 45 degrees Sunday so I decided to visit a piece of water that has been pretty productive in the past. I fished hard and well. I covered the water with everything from midges to meat. It felt incredible to fish with no frozen guides. After a few hours, I made the trip home with a dry net. To be honest, it was the most satisfying day I've spent on the water in months.

If you're near North Central PA, check out some of the events our TU chapter (Seneca Chapter) has going on. Tuesday nights in February and March are our fly tying classes. Sunday March 8th in Port Allegany, we're hosting a fly tying workshop and presentation from the Jedi Master of Nymphing, George Daniel. To round out our busy season, our Fundraising Banquet will be held Saturday, April 25th in Port Allegany. Come on out to help our chapter support fly tying and fly fishing education, as well as raise awareness about coldwater conservation issues in our area.