Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vacation

I love vacations. Even if I'm not the one on vacation!


This past week, my buddy that I ride to work with every day went on vacation. Which meant I could be on the river every day after work! I have to say, this is some of the very best fishing I can ever remember having in the middle of July.







Weeks like this remind me of a great blog post from the Troutbitten guys. A recent post of their's talked people telling them how lucky they are to live in Central PA near great fishing. They explained that luck had nothing to do with it. It's a choice to factor fly fishing into major life decisions. The truth is, it's not luck, coincidence, or any of that. I live where I live because of great fishing, great friends, and the proximity to family.


Loon finger... The only thing I don't LOVE about Loon's Deep Soft Weight
Flows are finally beginning to get back to their normal summertime levels, but the fish I've been seeing have been fat, healthy, and happy. Should make for a pretty good fall season! For now, watch the water temperatures and try to get some good Trico and terrestrial fishing in. It's time!

Don't forget to goof off a little.

Public Service Announcement

I'll be putting in another order of hats (see below).  Camo front, with a screenprinted logo, black mesh, and snapback. $18 each (plus shipping) If you're interested, let me know chaserhoward@gmail.com.
Screenprinted locally at Canoe Place Shirt Shack.

Deadline is Friday August 14.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

No Big Deal

A week or so ago, during an after-work tying session, my buddy Kris dropped a pretty incredible bit of knowledge on me like it was no big deal. Of the hours I've spent looking at topo maps and Google Earth for wild, secluded, undiscovered trout streams, I always keep my eye open for remote lakes or ponds in North Central Pennsylvania that might contain wild brook trout. Scratch that - I've looked for them in North West, North Central, and North East PA. I've found the odd beaver pond with a few tiny trout here or there and I've found some pretty good bass and panfish ponds. More often than not, when I follow up on good leads, I end up in swampy mosquito infested areas that are home to nothing but chubs.

So, we're twisting up bugs, I think we started talking about my pond or something ( I don't know, the information I was about to get pretty much wiped my memory). And then the conversation took an interesting turn...

"Have you ever fish Nunya Pond? It's got brook trout in it." (Like it's no big deal)

"What the..WHAT?!"

"Oh yeah, I used to go there all the time. We should check it out sometime."

Best. Invitation. Ever.

Pond name may or may not be legitimate. Reader discretion is advised.



When we both were free, we decided to try to get there after work. Getting there and having time to fish in a few short, post-billable hours before dark wasn't the easiest thing to achieve, but man was it worth it. Countless beautiful native brookies were caught on blue foam damselflies and quickly sent back to the frigid waters of the spring-fed, meadow pond.






There really are fantastic secrets left to be discovered here in the East. Sometimes a little help from your friends is all it takes. Kris, I owe you one brother.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Precious Time

Lately, my free time has been consumed mostly by parties, weddings, family gatherings, etc. It's been so great to catch up with people I haven't seen. My fishing time has been mostly short, after work trips. Short enough that I haven't even bothered with a camera (and what's a good trip report without pictures!)

With a hectic work and social schedule and keeping up on yard work, I was really craving some easy, relaxing, just plain fun fishing. Jess and I decided to take a day and fish a nearby PA State Park Lake. (Damn I love lakes!) She really is hell on the bluegill and largemouth bass! They have a terrible time refusing to eat little foam poppers and dragonflies.

Dragonfly Nymph
The Foam Dragon
Fish Food
Had The Lake All To Ourselves...






It was a pretty rare warm, sunny day for Pennsylvania this summer. I was glad to see that, when it was my turn to fish, there were a few willing trout in 15' to 20' of water. I hooked into a couple fish I fought all the way to the surface. They were camera shy and we decided long distance releases would be better for us both! :)

Pretty Much how I Felt, Too.
As summer settles in, it looks like I'll have more time in the weeks to come. Thankfully this rain has kept our drainages in good shape to be fished hard in the coming days! Trout beware...

Monday, June 22, 2015

Flat Water Clinic Part 2 - No Rules, No Problem

Evan with an absolute toad. Wonder why the Hungry Trout Facebook posts caught my eye!
I was sitting in frosty Pennsylvania a few winters ago, when I stumbled across some pictures on facebook of some of the most gorgeous brook trout I'd ever seen. They were caught by the folks at The Hungry Trout Fly Shop on a brook trout preserve in the Adirondacks called "Twin Ponds." I remember showing Jess and saying, "Someday... someday, I'm going to do this!"

I kept following the Hungry Trout via social media and in the winter of 2014, they announced that they would be hosting a 2-day clinic with Loren Williams on fishing stillwaters. The testing grounds for the skills being taught would be... Twin Ponds, the Jurassic Park of Brook Trout. There was no chance I was going to miss it. It was a fantastic trip and I learned more about targeting trout in lakes than I could have learned in years from reading books and trying on my own. Read more on that here.

Twin Ponds Map. Yes, everything I have that is paper has a coffee stain.
Twin Ponds is located within a 2,000 acre wildlife preserve. Brook trout were reintroduced to this lake through stocking of heritage strains of hatchery raised fish. As the story goes for brook trout populations in many other areas, development (habitat loss), acid rain, increasing temperatures, over harvest, and invasive species spelled major trouble for brook trout populations. In many lakes, they were completely wiped out. The state of New York has worked to reintroduce fish through stocking programs, but more in the "put-and-take" mentality; whereas the Hungry Trout stocked fish to develop a self sustaining population of wild brook trout.

I would say that in general, I'm NOT a fan of private "pay-to-play" water. For the most part, these waters are overstocked with obnoxiously sized trout that the particular stream they are in could not produce, nor can they healthily sustain. Twin Ponds on the other hand, is managed as a catch and release preserve with access limited to only anglers guided by the Hungry Trout. When it was observed that the lakes could sustain a healthy, reproducing population of these fantastic fish, stocking was ceased and Mother Nature was allowed to take over. Without excellent stewards like those that manage Twin Ponds, places where wild trout can live in peace are continuing to disappear.

I imagine Twin Ponds is what the Adirondacks looked like before the influence of man was so prevalent. Clean, clear lakes with shores covered in dense green woods, mountains jutting into blue skies, waters teeming with brook trout, eagles soaring overhead looking for their next meal, and the eerie laughter of loons reminding you that you are only a small part of the natural order of the wild environment.


I had such an amazing time at last year's clinic with Loren that I told my dad, "If we can get you a spot in this year's flat water clinic, you HAVE to go. You HAVE to see this place!" The clinic is restricted to only 6 people and, respectfully, was open first to those who attended last year. Fortunately, a few spots were still open and the two of us booked our spots. Due to a scheduling conflict, Loren was not able to make it this time. We definitely missed out on learning his style and observing his expertise on Loch-style fly fishing.

This time around, the class was taught by Evan and Jeff of the Hungry Trout. Though they may not have the experience of fly fishing stillwater all over the world for countless species, they have spent more time than anyone fishing this particular water for these particular fish. Also, Loch-style fishing adheres to competitive fly fishing rules. To me, fishing is purely meant to be fun. No rules, no problem.

In fly fishing competitions, trolling or casting your fly behind the boat is illegal. I don't think you'll ever hear me say, "Man, I can't wait to get to the lake AND TROLL SOME FLIES." It's certainly not the preferred way, but damn is it effective. Of the 6 fish I caught on the 3 different ponds, half of them were caught trolling flies while en route to where I was going to target structure. It's a great way to locate fish and see how they are behaving. In my mind, trolling is the stillwater version of nymphing. It's not the most fun, but it puts fish in the net when nothing else seems to be working.

The first morning, my dad, Evan, and I started on Little Duck Pond (See map), a short portage from the main pond. Prior to this trip my dad and I each bought FishCat Scout inflatable float tubes to use on stillwaters. The FishCat Scout boats are so easy to portage at only ~35 lbs, they slide over land with ease. I started on this pond last year and watched guys boat the two largest brook trout I had ever seen. I fished hard, but to no avail. So, this year it was my turn. I got into position and started casting my multi-fly rig on my type 6 sinking line toward the sunken deadfalls and counting down. I was covering water and varying my retrieve. It's going to happen...

It was about that time... my dad out in no man's land, not in position yet, yells "fish on!" (What! we just got here! You're not even fishing yet!) Bam! +20" Brook Trout. What an unbelievable fish - photographed, admired, and safely released. It's on!



I continued to bust it. Repeated casts, staying tight with my flies while the sinking line plunged them into the depths, starting my retrieve once I'd counted down to varying depths. I had a nice drift in the float tube, 60' from shore, dredging along drop-offs, freaking workin' it. Evan hooked up twice - another two brutes! The fish are here!


After many fly changes, it was getting closer to time to head back for dinner. Evan instructed my dad to go try a few casts under a large dead pine close to where we put in. First cast, BANG! My dad was into another trophy brook trout. After a solid battle, Evan nets the fish and says, "Uh, Chase, you're going to want to reel up and come see this one..."


Pardonnez mon Francais, but HOLY SHIT. I happened to have a tape measure in my boat bag for just such an occasion. 21 inches long, by 11 inches around. Three guys, floating on a pond, grinning from ear to ear, admiring first hand a truly beautiful animal. As my dad started to drift away, I had the pleasure (the best part, really) of releasing the fish. Wow.


I think by that time, the other two were feeling sorry for me a little bit. With a little time left before dinner we switched over to the main pond and rowed off in the drift boat. More casting, more working the water, and more nothing for me. Then finally, it happened. Trolling a couple flies near the Division, I picked up my first fish of the trip. A small foot long brook trout (only at Twin ponds have I ever thought that sentence made sense). It was time to call it a day, set up camp, and have some dinner.


After dinner, a few beers, and some apple turnovers warmed on the fire, there was time to reflect on an awesome day. So, I hadn't caught the fish I was after. I think it was even better seeing my dad catch those fish. Honestly, seeing Evan, who has probably caught dozens of fish like this, still get so excited speaks pretty highly for these big, wild, speckled trout. This truly is a special place. It wasn't easy to sleep that night with all the snoring and loons wailing, but that hardly matters on cloud nine.


The next morning, we were off to fish Big Duck Pond. I had never seen this pond and I remembered the year before, no one caught a fish there all weekend. The fact that I'd never fished it bothered me though. I love the challenge of new water. On the way over, I was trolling (of course), and picked up two smaller sized fish, but it certainly got my hopes up.





Three of us made the portage over to Big Duck and started searching for feeding fish. "Damn, this water looks good," is all I could think about. One shore is steeply sloped into a deep drop off, the other is more of a gradual drop, but covered in downed lumber (which I repeatedly had some of my best strip sets directly into). After one pass, I trolled back up and started the drift again. Same approach, and bang! Fish on. It's pretty hard to beat aggressive fish scarfing up flies on the strip. After a lengthy battle full of violent head shakes, I slipped the healthy char into my net. The fishing at Twin Ponds is not overly easy - these fish make you work for it. The rewards though, are SO worth the struggle.


With only a couple hours left in the trip, we all chatted over lunch about who would go where to finish the day. As plans unfolded, Evan looked at my dad and I and said, "Are you guys ok going back to Little Duck?" Dude, I thought you'd never ask!

We set off to the portage for our last session. At this point, the long drive, the few nights of sleeping in tents, rowing miles around the lakes, and two days in full sun and wind was starting to catch up with us. Fatigue overwhelmingly pales in comparison to the opportunity to catch giant brookies. As we dropped in, I noticed my dad was a little less giddy than I to catch a last chance toad. "Why don't you go ahead. I'm going to take my time and take a few pictures of the pond," says the guy with over 40 inches of brook trout after two fish.


Back at it, I notice my casts dropping a few feet shorter. My double haul is starting to lose some of its pop. "Fish!" I hear in my dad's voice. I couldn't help but shake my head and laugh as I rowed over to once again play photographer for another spectacular trout. Sometimes, you're just meant to be the guy behind the camera, not in front of it.


 Just for kicks, I put it on the measuring tape in the stripping basket in the float tube. It's amazing how perfect these boat are for this type of fishing, they're just not designed for Little Duck Pond because the tape only goes to 18". Yet again the fish was past the end. A solid 19" I'd say. (He CAN catch trout under 20 inches!!)

I love the types of fishing that can be almost zen-like. As much as I wanted to boat a trophy trout, I was beginning to feel content, thinking about a weekend full of floating around, shooting casts, and breathing in the fresh air. Stillwater fly fishing, to me, is damn fun. It's just totally different than what I've always done.

So, on what was nearly the last cast of the trip, I continued stripping into what I figured must have been another branch. Except this branch was doing the brookie head shake! "Fish on!" This felt like a heavy fish. As they seemed to do, the fish was coming right at me. Just as I got a glimpse, he must have seen me too. He surged toward the depths, peeling line and making my drag scream! A few powerful runs and he rounded out the battle with a series of death rolls at the surface before being scooped into the net. Dang...




We always dream that a fishing trip will fully live up to all the excitement you have during the planning phase. It's rare that the trip actually exceeds your expectations (flyfisherman are an overly optimistic bunch, haha). Twin Ponds sets the bar higher every year. Great destination, great people, and the fish we spend lifetimes dreaming about. I really need to get my stillwater fishing system dialed in for next year. Who knows what could happen!

A few more highlights... Who doesn't love great brook trout pictures?

***Huge thank you to Evan Bottcher for sharing his photos for this post***

Ted with a solid fish 
Chris with a healthy double!



Ted using his kayak to get at the fish
2015 Twin Ponds Crew