Thursday, January 16, 2020

Early Spring 2020

Early Spring 2020

  I couldn’t land all the wild brown trout on an #18 nymph in the fast current but it sure was fun trying.”

I put the last few items in the truck and headed for Spring Creek in central PA. It was 28 degrees when I left and as I drove East the sun was playing peek-a-boo through the gray cloud cover. The weathermen predicted high thirties for the day with cloud cover and possible rain in the afternoon. For Wednesday was to be in the 40’s and sunshine. I’ve been watching the water gauge and I saw the level was going down from the rain and snow run off from the past weekend. I was hoping to get some trout fishing in before the next freezing wintry weather came upon us.
When I got to the Milesburg exit my truck thermometer read 38 degrees. When I got to Milesburg and Spring Creek the thermometer showed 32 degrees at 10:00. I tried relaxing in the truck to wait for the temperature to rise but that only lasted a couple of minutes before I started to get my gear on and ready to hit the stream. I bundled up warm and took to the water.
The water was running fast but wadeable. The overcast sky didn’t bring much light to the creek and you couldn’t see through the water with polarized glasses except for about a few yards around you. The subtle surface glare and darkness made it tough to determine how deep the water was otherwise.
I started off with a Flashback nymph and a San Juan worm as a dropper. With the fast current I decided an indicator would be more of a deterrence than a helper. After a half hour or so of different combinations of nymphs I decided to go small. I kept the flashback as the top fly to attract attention in the fast current and knotted on a #18 nymph as a dropper. I’m not sure how the trout even see that small of a nymph and be able to grab it in fast current but they find it.
It took 3 lost trout before I was able to land one wild brown. Not a big one but it broke the ice.
 By 2:00 a mist of rain fell. It felt like the mist from Niagara Falls. It left small wet spots on my coat and I could feel the misty moisture on my hands and face. I headed back to the truck for my rain gear. After getting my rain gear on I was back out at it again. 
 Now that I found the right combination a little more fun started to happen. Hooking into wild brown trout is something to experience. I’ve caught brown trout before. Through my experience usually a brown will stay deep and use its forceful strength to test your line and rod. It will head shake harshly and I’ve had them alligator roll getting the line tangled up over them. These wild browns act down right crazy once hooked. They’ll shoot out of the water once hooked like a rainbow. Unlike the grace of a rainbow that will show you acrobatic skill and fine form out of the water these slender wild browns don’t seam to give a crap about what they look like in the air. They shoot up out of the water more at an angle as if ready to hop over obstacles on their way. Their bodies twist, wiggle and squirm erratically trying to get loose as they are air bound. It’s almost like they have been caught before and are pissed off that they were faked out taking an imitation nymph and are embarrassed getting hooked again. In the water they act more like a brook trout with sudden darting turns in all directions. It’s a quick enjoyable, rod flexing, fight positive encounter.

Back at the truck I enjoyed a cold Guinness before heading out.


1/15/2020 Wednesday

 By the time I got to the creek Wednesday morning fog was burning off the surface. In the distance, with the suns rays shining upon the water, looked as if the creek was on fire. The water had dropped some and was much clearer with the sunlight and I could tell the depth and some rock hazards from some distance away. The air was a bit chilly but the sun did provide some warmth beneath my layers of clothes.
  I had lost a few nymphs the day before but still had plenty of the #18 nymphs that were successful. I decided to go with a bead head Hare’s ear for my top fly to maybe attract attention and drooped the #18 nymph below. The creek didn’t appear as fast as it was the day before and was a much even flow. For this reason I decided to use an indicator. I felt this would be much easier to control my drift especially on distant casts. The trout had been taking the nymphs pretty aggressively so I wasn’t using the indicator as a helpful aid to detect strikes but more to control my drifts. Other than the Olive nymphs I’ve been catching browns on I did catch one nice wild brown on a peeking caddis. The browns I caught, or lost, were just as aggressive and wild as the ones the day before, flipping and twisting in the air like a short slim wind sock holding in the breeze by a few strands of twine.

 Now, I could have ended this 2 day outing with talking about the biggest trout that got away. One I wouldn’t have a picture of since I wouldn’t have landed him. I had the opportunity to break the line and maybe he would get free or take the chance of untangling the line and possibly still landing him. I elected to do the latter.
 I was just a few feet upstream from a few blocks of cement, in knee deep water, that water overflowed making a falls and turbulent water to the tail out. I was only a couple of yards from the bank to my right. Reaching out over the blocks was a downed branch that some of its twigs were submerged along the right side of the turbulent water. I reached out over the falls with the rod and began drifting the nymphs, under the indicator, through the current. It’s one of those times I don’t think of if I do hook a fish how am I going to bring him to the net? On one drift through I caught a glance, at the corner of my eye a streak of silver, like a lightening bolt, come out from beneath the twigs towards my drifting nymphs. He took the nymph with a sweeping take that the indicator skirted the water surface like the barrel when the shark pulled it away in the movie Jaws. I wrist set the hook but not too aggressive on the take. The top fly was knotted to 4x tippet while I use 5x tippet for the dropper. I do this in case that the dropper snags up I may lose the dropper fly but not the upper fly do to it being knotted to a heavier tippet material. Since the trout have been taking the dropper I was afraid to set the hook too strongly and breaking off. The rainbow, I assumed being the silver streak I had quickly noticed, fought towards the tail out taking line. He turned upstream and started with the head shakes and pulls. I could tell it was a nice size trout by his fighting. While this was going on I had to figure out just how I was going to bring him in.
  To the right was the submerged branch so bringing him towards the bank was no option. Trying to net him below the falls while reaching over wasn’t very practical or considered safe. My choice was to swing him towards the middle of the creek and try bringing him through the less rougher current just left of the block wall of the falls. I turned the rod to my left and I had him fighting his way towards where I wanted him to follow. He must have seen the submerged branch as I was bringing him in and darted deep and towards the submerged branches for cover. Now I’m not sure if he was some master mind in line twisting or knot making but he accomplished getting the line twisted in one of the submerged twigs. My rod was arced towards the submerged twigs but I could no longer feel the trout tugging. I looked over the blocks and into the deep water and I saw the rainbow struggling, still attached to my tippet, about 3 to 4 feet away from the branch. I lowered the rod tip section into the water and tried to untangle the line but it didn’t work. I still couldn’t feel the fish tugging. Now, I could have ended the ordeal right then by breaking the line and hoping the rainbow can free itself. My other option was to some how carefully, cautiously and maybe dangerously try to grab the branch and break it off. (The danger part was falling in and hurting myself.) I chose to live dangerously and not have to worry if the trout ever got loose on its own.
  I carefully knelt on the moss covered blocks and felt secure. I grabbed the branch and raised it to see how far the tangle was. I got the branch raised enough that I could see the tangled mess the trout got us into. Meanwhile the rainbow would fight a bit with the line trying to break free. I was surprised that if he had taken the dropper that he would have broken it by know. I grabbed the branch a little further out and was able to reach the tangled twig. I twisted and bent the twig till it broke free of the branch. The trout pulled away with the piece of twig but I could tell he didn’t have much energy left. Luckily the twig came free of the line that I didn’t have to deal with. Since I was already secure on my knees I brought the trout close enough to the block dam and reached down and netted the rainbow. I got to my feet, behind the blocks, with the big rainbow in the net.

 I found that the rainbow had taken the bead head Hare’s ear that was knotted to the 4x tippet.
  Well, the biggest trout of the 2 day outing didn’t get away after all until I felt him forcefully slip out of my hand, over the brim of the net, and into the current.
I caught a couple of browns later on but by the time I fished my way to the truck I was satisfied and ready to head for home.


Friday, January 10, 2020

Tight Lines

Tight Lines


 The Clarion River was voted PA’s 2019 River of the Year. From swimming, kayaking, canoeing, float tubes and fishing are some of the water sports enjoyed on the river. Just relaxing under the sun in a beach chair in the river on a hot day enjoying a cold beverage and enjoying the scenery is enough to forget about time! From rte 36 at Cooksburg all the way to Hallton one can follow River Road along the river and enjoy the forest and scenic river on a well maintained blacktop road. I would say this is one of my top motorcycle rides to get away from the hustle and bustle of common day life and traffic.

Did I say fishing? I have caught smallmouth bass, walleye and trout in the river with both fly rod and spinning gear. There’s nothing like float tubing my way downstream with my fly rod in hand casting poppers along the shoreline for smallmouth bass. Catfishing is a lot of fun also. Whether I fish in waders or wet wade it is always enjoyable.

 I pulled onto the gravel area along the forest. I specifically bought my Winston 6wt Vapor rod for fishing the river. The 9 footer casts weighted streamers as well as foam/cork poppers. Also when I’m fishing for trout it will cast dry flies without any problems at all for some distance even under windy conditions.

I pieced together the Winston rod and fit it with an Orvis reel and weight forward line. I packed my vest with streamers and poppers for smallmouth as well as Caddis, terrestrials and some big Mayflies for trout. I never know what’s going to be active so I try to carry enough stuff for both.

 I walk down the path, through the forest, to the river. The water is flowing peacefully without a human in sight between the green forest hardwoods as far as the eye can see. The sun is shining brightly with puffs of clouds slowly floating under the bluish sky above. Uncontrolled currents develop, clear across the river, with the flowing water over rocks and submerged boulders. I light up my first stogie and take in the setting that surrounds me. The constant melody of the tumbling water and birds chirping in harmony makes for a serene place to spend the afternoon.

 I take my first step into the river and water flows around my boots and wading pants. The water is cool and not as warm as I would have expected in September. The chilly nights and occasional rain has kept the water at a nice temperature for fishing as far as I am concerned. I wade along the shoreline upstream to where the riffling water exits the more turbulent flow. My intentions are to trout fish up river in an area across stream where I have caught quite a few rising trout in the past. The water looks shallow enough in places above the faster current that I should be able to wet wade over towards the far bank without it being too risky. For now though I fasten a Woolly Bugger to my 4x tippet and cast out into the riffling tail out below the more aggressive flow. Within three cast I feel a hard grab and the line tightens. As I play the fish, through the riffling water towards me, I can almost bet it’s a trout by the way it fights. Well, I’ll never know as it gives a hard head shake and I’m left with a limp line and no fish.

 Within five more casts I watch as my floating line swings the bugger through the current. The floating line shows signs of slack in the cross currents. I look for any sign of a take. As the line finishes the swing downstream I start to take in slack and the line shoots towards the bank. It draws tight and I can feel a fish swimming aggressively with the bugger. I pull back on the rod to set the hook and play him in the shallower water below me. I can see it’s a nice size trout. He fights for his freedom in the shallows and somehow gets himself unattached from the hook. I watch as he darts back into the main flow of the river!

I stick around for another 10 minutes or so trying to coax any more fish but am unable to convince any. I wade out and look upstream. It’s about 50 yards to where I want to reenter the river to be able to cross to the other side. Between that point and me is a section of calmer water that rolls and waves over near surface boulders and rocks like wind rows of an ocean tide. Not the ideal place for trout but a better place where a bass might be holding. As I walk up the bank, on dry land, I stop now and then and cast a line out into the open water. I watch a small bass chase the bugger within a few feet of me but isn’t aggressive enough to grab it.

 Upstream I step into the calmer current and begin wadding across the river to get within casting distance of the far side shore. I have had good success with catching trout in the section of water and had some great dry fly action as well. I take my time and keep conscious mind to the river bottom beneath my felt wading boots. As I cross, the river water comes up to my thighs in spots though the undercurrent isn’t as noticeable as when I am in the shallower sections below my knees. I keep on the upstream side of the faster rumbling current as I cross. When I get to within casting distance I feel for a good foothold and contemplate how to fish the area.

 The smokey white clouds above move slowly beneath the blue sky letting the sun shine through without much shadowing upon the water. Upstream the water surface is calm and bright but ruffled like wrinkled satin bed sheets. 

 I start with a Woolly Bugger and add weight as needed to get my bugger down. My casts are across stream toward a downed log. They are overhand casts with a big loop. Someone watching would probably think I wasn’t very good at casting since I wasn’t throwing tight loops. The idea of large loops is that when the weighted streamers fall in faster current the weighted streamer will drop deeper before the current grabs a hold of the fly line and starts it in its swing. I add weight to the leader as I see fit to get the Woolly Bugger deeper yet. It takes some time off the clock before I finally get hold of a nice rainbow that takes the bugger. I carefully play him out of the faster run to my left and get him coming in on my right in the slower but deeper water. He is pretty frisky but the 6 weight keeps the pressure on him and he comes in quite calmly.

 For some time the trout don’t seam to be cooperating. I switch over to a Clouser Minnow pattern. To my right, looking downstream, is shallower but with faster current and deeper pocket waters behind boulders. I cast the Clouser into the shallower flow with rocks and riffling current keeping the rod tip up so the weighted barbell eyes won’t drag the bottom and snag. As the line and Clouser swing to the tail out I drop the rod tip and let the Clouser swing deeper to the end of the drift. From there I make a couple quick strips like the Clouser is getting away. About my forth cast the line tightens with a sweeping tug and the rod tip arcs towards the tight lining fish. I can feel the weighty fish pulling the tension line through my fingers and reel and hold on to the cork grip keeping the rod high and arced. The fish doesn’t change directions as quick as the rainbows but more of a forceful pull almost forecasting in which direction it is going to take the fight. I am pretty sure it is a smallmouth just the way it acts. I take some time playing the frisky fish and calming him down. Like most smallmouth once they tire out they don’t have much energy left for a forceful get-away escape once they see the net like a nice size trout has.
 As it gets long in the day and for the past couple of hours the air temperature is heating up with the glowing sun. I notice a few small caddis appearing now and then and it isn’t until I see my first rise that gets my brain telling me “it’s time to coax some fish on a dry fly!” I mean, this is why I came out today for and I’m not going to end the day without casting a few dries. I see one riser isn’t too far and easy casting distance from where I stand. It is rising along a seam on the far side of the faster wavy run about a foot or so this side of the fallen logs. I knot on a #14 caddis and loop the offering to him. The rises are so sporadic I’m not sure if he is all that hungry or just the temptation is too much at times he can’t resist. I spend about 20 minutes trying to coax the fish to take any of my caddis offerings to no avail. Down from the wavier current I catch sight of two other risers. They are pretty far downstream and it will take long and accurate casts to get to them. They also are rising sporadically. There still isn’t many caddis about so I’m really not sure what these trout are taking. I cast downstream and pull line out of the reel letting my fly line and dry caddis drift with the waves like a pinner would do just letting the spool spin free with the current. I try this a few times and observe just how the current will take the dry downstream in the flow. With enough line out I make a strong back cast and the line and leader springs free from the surface tension and into the air. I pull down on the line and single haul for more speed. I turn my head and look behind me as the fly line extends and starts to straighten with the tapered leader following. When the time is right I bring the rod high over my head and forwards and watch the weight forward line shoot through the air towards the sporadic rising trout. After a few more casts I come to the conclusion that the trout aren’t interested in my caddis dries.

The distant trout still keep rising on occasion more so than the one closer to me.
“Maybe a big ole hopper might get their attention?” I think.
 It is a hot September day and the grasshoppers have been coming out in the evening back home. The fish aren’t rising all that far from the bank and I am pretty sure they know what a grasshopper looks like and what they taste like. I open my hopper box and pick out one of my parachute hoppers. I knot it to my 4x tippet and douse the body with a good bit of liquid dry fly dope. I noticed with the caddis earlier that it would drift away from the wavy seam and into a slow eddy to the right. There it would drift slowly until a much stronger surface current would push it downstream without warning. Occasionally this was where one of the trout would rise.

 I first make a few casts near the down log not too far away. I have plenty of slack in the line so the hopper will drift in the slower current some before the wavy faster current grabs the fly line and push everything down river in a faster dragging pace. Nothing appears interested so I bring the hopper back to my hand. I dry it as best I can with my handkerchief and dab a little more ointment onto the body. With a couple of lengthy false casts, and a single haul, I watch the weight forward fly line take the leader and offering down river through the air. The hopper lands on this side of the wavy seam and I watch the hopper surf the waves like a kid on a boogie board surfing the low tide. Instead of the hopper turning into the slower moving swirl it continues on some and starts to drag. I lift the line out of the water and proceeded with another lengthy cast more towards the slow eddy. This time the hopper touches down with a plop into the eddy. I can’t hear the plop from where I stand but fishing these hoppers often I know it plopped with a little sound effect. It is nerve racking watching the hopper sit on the surface as it drifts ever so slightly until a wave pushes it beyond and start to drag on the surface. I move my rod tip towards the faster run on my left before bringing the hopper back into my back cast. I don’t want to drag the hopper and fly line across the eddy where the fish are occasionally rising and spook them. Time and again I attempt to tempt the fish with the hopper. Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results or something like that. I don’t think he ever fished.

 I watch the hopper get pushed away from the wavy current and lazily drift into the eddy. The splash is a noticeable gulp on the surface. I rear back the rod high in the air as far back as my arm can reach. The long length of fly line rises instantly and I feel it tighten at the tip of the rod. The fish dives deep and rattles the rod with head shakes. I can feel right away this isn’t an average size trout. He keeps deep and battles beneath swimming with force in different directions at will. Line peels off the spool at times as I grip the cork trying to keep it steady and arced. The trout takes a turn into the wavy current and then turns and shoots across stream into the slower deeper water. I move the rod in opposite directions trying to keep side pressure on the fish to tire him out more quickly. He finally stops straight down from me and gives a few head shakes trying to dislodge the hopper. I start to reel in some line and he slowly moves in my direction. I have him coming to me reluctantly so I reach back for my net with my left hand holding the line tight against the cork grip with my other hand. As I drop the net into the water the trout shoots away from the net and speeds by me like a Daytona 500 race car. I see the silver sides of the trout zoom pass me and the pink lateral line is a quick blur like the sponsor logos on the Daytona cars as they speed by right in front of you. He moves into the slow moving water upstream. I’m not sure when he’s going to stop so I keep the rod up and let line slip through the reel letting him fight the drag and pressure of the arcing fast action rod. He holds up and I’m sure I got him now. I slowly reel in some line until I get about an inch or two of the fly line exposed from the tip top. I grab the net out of the water and figure I’d just back him into the net as I raise the rod. As I get him closer to the net he turn swiftly and with force swims pass the net avoided it. The leader rubs against the wooden sides of the net. Upon seeing that I reach the rod outward hoping that it didn’t do any damage to the tapered leader. I can feel my arms getting tired from the long day casting and fishing and my wrist is weakening under the pressure. I drop the net again and grab the rod with two hands.

 There’s always a time when fighting a good fish for a lengthy time that you wonder if you’ll get him to hand. Even if you are going to release the fish unharmed back into the water. There are times that success is achieved in just fooling the fish and hooking him. At times a satisfying reward comes just having a good battling fish fight before it becomes unhooked and swims away. At other times the ultimate success is landing the fish!

 The trout doesn’t swim too far downstream before turning around facing me. The tugging has virtually stopped and it is as if I can feel the fish swaying its tail side to side in the oncoming current. I hold tight to the cork grip with one hand while I reel in line bringing the trout towards me. I keep the rod about level with the surface water until I have about an inch or two of fly line exposed out of the tip top. I grab the net with my left hand and hold it underwater to my side. As I raise the rod tip up and behind me the rainbow rises from its depth and I’m able to successfully get him into the net. He splashes a bit in the net then settles for a picture.

 I carefully unhook the hopper from his mouth and make sure he is strong enough to swim from my firm grip on his tail before letting him swim free.

  Well that is worth a rewarding cigar. Relaxed now I notice the warmth of the sun. I reach into my vest and pull out a cigar and lighter. I take a few puffs and enjoy the aroma. I flex my arms and arc my back and look downstream.

 I use the hopper, casting it out, a few more times before tying on a weighted Woolly Bugger. I make one long cast of the bugger and my fly rod folds. I’m not talking bowed or arced, it folds like a collapsible wading staff. When I get everything within sight and in my grips I notice that the male ferrule of the tip section is still intact. As I look at the female ferrule of the next section it is split down the side. The only conclusion I can come up with is the two joining parts were loosening from casting the weighted buggers and fighting that big trout. Finally the loose fitting sections couldn’t handle the load of the cast and instead of the top section slipping out on the forward cast it flexed the shaft, causing the split. I’m done!!! I have no way of patching the rod to keep using it. I grab the rod pieces and wade back across the river current to the bank.

 When I get on dry land I stand for a long moment puffing on the stogie. From being in the water for hours with the current constantly pushing against my legs, I feel as if I am still moving. Even while walking through the forest and up to my truck my legs feel wobbly.

At the truck, under the sunshine, I drop the tailgate and pop open a much wanting cold beer. I change clothes while enjoying the cold brew while finishing off the stogie. The Winston Vapor rod has a lifetime warranty and I’m hoping it can be fixed. I sure am going to miss it if it can’t be and a replacement isn’t the same!


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Early Christmas Steelhead

Early Christmas Steelhead


 The fly rod arced like a candy cane as I got the steelhead nearing me. Then all of a sudden she turned and dashed away like a deer on the run. My wrists were locked and I had a death grip on the cork handle like the grip one would have on the cross bar of a roller coaster car ready to descend down the fist steep hill and into the first banked turn…

  I usually go up to Erie on Christmas for some steelhead fishing. It’s usually void of crowds and being I’m alone on Christmas it passes the time. Since I’ve been unemployed for the past month and haven’t got out to fish I needed to and decided to take my Christmas steelhead fishing a couple days early.

  I parked along the side of the road behind the only other truck there. It was already 39 degrees at 7:30am when I arrived. The weatherman projected in the 50’s later in the day but I still dressed as if it was going to be a foggy cold winters day. I assembled the 7 weight 9 footer and threaded the fly line and leader through the guides. I attached a Triple Threat to the 6 lb fluorocarbon tippet and attached the hook to the hook keeper. I made sure I had plenty cigars for the days journey and slung the sling pack of fly gear over my shoulder. It was going to be a long walk through the woods just to get to the creek but I was wide awake and excited to go fishing.

Snow crunched and small sticks kringled under my wading boots as I traveled down the path. A fox squirrel hurriedly climbed down a tree, along the ridge, and scurried away upon my approach. I continued on down the snowy trail following a posse of old boot tracks that had melted some and bulged at the outer imprint. There was a slight breeze that whisked through the trees now and then which caused weakened limbs to creak and groan under the circumstances. The closer I got to the unseen creek the greater the sounds of the rolling water over rocks became and the more excited I was getting.

  I got to the bank and looked up and down the creek. There were shelves of surface ice that hugged bank side objects and laid upon dead pools of water. Within the water small chunks of ice clung to surface protruding boulders and on the shallow stones along the banks. The water was pretty much crystal clear and any oblong fishy looking object beneath would be quite noticeable even in the riffling ankle to knee deep wavy water. I crossed the creek carefully and my cleated boot soles kept me steady upon the stony creek bed. It wasn’t long before my feet up to my knees began to feel the coldness of the water. I slowly, where I could, waded down the bank side peering into the water looking for those oblong fish shapes. It took some time and a long walk before I came across a couple of steelhead, as if cooling off, looking upstream in the middle of a run. Upon seeing me they darted under an ice shelf that was frozen to a downed tree branch and the cliff side shale. I tried to coax them out by showing them an assortment of streamers and sucker spawn to no avail. I waded down creek a bit and crossed over to the far bank. In conscious effort I began to break the ice along the edge and up to the tree branches as far as I could reach in hopes of diminishing the steelheads hide out. After that I recrossed the creek and saw the two steelhead in the middle of the creek facing into the current. I was behind them now and they didn’t appear to be spooked or at least I was hoping not. I made a few casts, with the Triple Threart, into the current way ahead of them and swam it back towards me. On one of the casts one of the steelhead evidently liked what was coming towards him and took the minnow imitation. Upon the hook set I immediately pulled the rod towards the bank putting pressure on the fish so it wouldn’t turn towards and under the tree branch. It instantly turned down stream and passed me by rapidly heading down creek with the current. I lifted the rod high keeping tension on the steelhead. Down creek he gave a couple of head shakes as I seen him clearly from my position. He turned towards the cliff side with force and for some unknown reason he freed himself of the hook as the line went limp. Oh well! The other steelhead disappeared and I figured it took shelter under the ice that clung to the branches.

  I turned downstream and continued my journey, peering into the water, slowly and cautiously where I was able. In the flat steady water I couldn’t see any steelhead for some time. Pretty far down creek I was slowly moving along the stony bank when all of a sudden I saw a dark shadow, within the water, disperse like a group of friends all of a sudden disperse the area from an unknown, silent but deadly fart. I backed up and stood still watching to see if they would return. Sure enough they came back. Apparently the chunk of ice that flowed over them caused them scare as I noticed this on occasion. I began to show them sparkling sucker spawn in different colors like displaying fashion jewelry while trying to get any young women in the group to pick one out for Christmas. To no avail, but still present, I backed up and walked up the bank a bit but within casting distance. I knotted on a Triple Threat and swung the streamer in front of them trying to coax one to take the attracting offering. Swimming the Triple in front of them it was too much of a temptation for one to bear and one moved forward from the group. She took it with a subtle but noticeable grab and I set the hook hard with confidence. The rod arced towards the fish, with a tight line, and momentarily we were as if waiting to take a still picture, before the steelhead knew it was hooked. It took off down into the middle of the stream of water and at the same time the other fish took off as if there was an explosion of some kind beneath them. My steelhead took to the far side and skirted the cliff edge before turning upstream and trying to hold steady in the current. I moved the rod towards the bank putting on some side pressure and she decided to battle it out in the deeper water with tugs and quick moving maneuvers like a downhill slalom skier. The hook up held tight and the pressure of the rod flex and reel drag finally tired the fish out and I got her close to the bank to land her.

 Well, after that first landed steelhead it was time for a light up. I took an Undercrown Maduro from my coat pocket and unwrapped the cellophane wrapper. I took a good whiff of the outer wrapper and the dark tobacco had a nice mild/bold air to it. A bit smokey on the light up but the draw was smooth and tasteful. I had been so concerned with looking for steelhead that I didn’t take the time to really look around and enjoy my surroundings. As I puffed on the stogie I relaxed some and did just that.

 By now the sun was casting it’s rays over the cliff on the far side of the creek. Dark shadows covered half the water surface before me and sparkled the wavy current like tiny lights blinking on a Christmas tree. Clusters of snow and icicles hung from the cliff shale like frozen fallen streams of water from the last thaw. Scraggly bare branches reached out over the edge as hazards to any high faulty casts. The sky was bright and a shade of cool blue with long streaks of clouds reminding me of the white cotton looking fabric attached to the bottom of Santa’s jacket and cuffs. A hawk screeched just above the tree tops maybe looking for a partridge in a bare tree. Smoke rose from my cigar and encircled my head like a wreath. I could feel the warmth from the sun now on my body as I stood on the bank but I also felt the chill, as if cold blood ran up through my veins and bones from my ice cold feet.
  I peered into the water and the steelhead were no longer visible. I didn’t think they would go too far and thought maybe they had moved upstream in the faster current. I slowly walked up the stony bank and discovered the dark gray mass beneath the faster wavy current. Getting the streamers down in front of them, and keeping it there, was going to take a few extra split shots. I moved upstream and swung the Triple Threat in front of them. It took time to get enough weight on the leader to get the right depth in front of the steelhead. The problem was no fish were interested. I switched tactics and started to drift sucker spawn. This appeared to enrage them and they swam away in all directions like the aftermath of a brawl when the authorities show up. It was now going to appear we were going to play hide and seek. I took a few extra puffs on the stogie and counted to 10 before my search.

  I slowly waded down creek, upon the stony bank, trying to discover where the steelhead disappeared to. As I went I casted out and let the streamers swing along the rock ledges underneath the water surface. After getting so far down creek, where the waterway widened and the shallower water began, I headed back up creek. The steelhead still hadn’t returned and I couldn’t find them anywhere. I walked upstream further to where I was able to cross the stream. There was a shallow ledge that water, on the far side of the deeper water break of water I had been fishing in. I slowly waded across the creek until I was just ahead of the small waterfalls. Looking downstream a steelhead spooked and darted off. I stood motionless and focused my vision where the shadow on the cliff met with the sun rays. There were steelhead just along the edge of the shadow as I was able to see their tails gently swaying behind. The water couldn’t have been more than calf deep but they were holding in a tight line within the juncture of the clear and shadowed waters.

  I already had a Triple Threat on the end of the tippet. I took off a couple of split shots because of the shallower water I would be dealing with. An easy cast into the shadow near the cliff, I let the bait fish imitation swing into the seam. A couple of twitches to liven up my offering and I saw the line twitch and felt a hard tug. I reared the rod handle back, the rod arced good, the fish jerked the line, turned and the skirmish was on.

She bolted downstream with the current. I had the drag set a little on the lighter side so the spool spun wildly spitting line out towards the fleeing fish. I palmed the spool to put a little more drag on the line trying to slow the fish down. She turned eventually down creek and held up, with tugs, in the deeper bright water. The water was much calmer towards the cliff and it looked as if I could wade the water below the cliff without much problem. I was able to tighten the spool drag and then I carefully waded to my right towards the cliff bottom ledge. The steelhead was busy trying to figure out just how to undo himself struggling with head shakes and other antics fish just do. I continued down along the bank, holding the cork grip tight and rod high, feeling my way along the submerged ledges. The steelhead hadn’t moved much out of the position it was holding in so I slowly continued wading down along the ledge towards shallower water. Whether the steelhead finally saw me or decided she had rested long enough but she all of a sudden bolted upstream through the deeper water run. The rod arced in her direction and she finally gave in to the pressure and more calmly swam down creek. I reeled in some line and had her coming towards me. The fly rod arced like a candy cane as I got the steelhead nearing me. All of a sudden she turned and dashed away, dashed away, like a deer on the run. My wrists were locked and I had a death grip on the cork handle like the grip one would have on the cross bar of a roller coaster car ready to descend down the fist steep hill and around the first banked turn. She didn’t get too far before the pressure was too much and started to flop around in the water in front of me. I had enough room to swing the rod closer to the angling cliff side and reached down and tailed her with my glove net.

What a battle and nice looking steelhead.

   I caught one more steelhead when I was back on the stony bank with another Triple Threat. The sun now was in full view and casting glare upon the crystal clear water. I spent a little more time fishing the area, without catching, before heading back upstream.

   During the long walk up the creek I still looked for fish but none were visible. When I got to the downed tree, where I broke ice off earlier, I didn’t see any steelhead present. I offered a few of my streamers and sucker spawn in the deep water but it became useless. It got to be as boring as trying to find that one burnt out Christmas light that was making the whole set not to light up. I gave up after a few minutes or so and continued upstream.

  Following the long path, through the woods up towards the truck, I came across some huge deer prints. They were so big I thought maybe some reindeer may have been in the area. I took my time as I went along and felt the strain I had put on my aging body. Walking up hill the rest of the way wasn’t any relief. I wasn’t complaining to myself as I knew this was going to come with age. My love of fishing still gets me excited and my body still can endure the physical aspects of each encounter. I’m love’n it and can’t wait to enjoy my next outing when such occasion arises.

 Back at the truck I changed into more comfortable attire as the heater warmed the inside. I so much wanted a beer but I had over an hour and a half drive home. Getting up at 5:30 am, this morning, I wasn’t sure how the beer was going to effect me in the long run. Instead of taking the interstate I took a much unhurried way home. It was a bit longer in time but I relaxed with a dark Odyssey Maduro between my teeth and lips.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Walk Softly and Carry a 300

Walk Softly and Carry a 300
Nov. 30th, 2019

 Jeff dropped off at the gas line where he had seen doe the day before while hunting turkey. I continued a bit further and then turned right heading up the hill. Walking on the crisp morning leaves was as noisy as walking on corn flakes 3 fold. I swear the forest animals could hear me a ½ mile away in the darkness. I continued on until I found the orange ribbon marker around a tree trunk. From there I took a compass reading and followed the direction I had hoped to bring me to the spot I wanted to stand that I checked out the day before. Even if I didn’t find the couple of trees I’ve hunted this area before so I knew I’d be in the vicinity.

  I supposed I was on the second bench from the top when I decided to find a place to make a stand for the morning. It was getting light enough that I was able to see clearings in the forest so I found a tree, scraped the fallen leaves from the base, and made my stand. This is when I realized I had lost my belt hanging bottle holder. I still had another bottle in my fanny pack but I was sure going to miss the holder.

  The woods was deathly quiet with no wind to speak of. There was just enough light to make out tree formations and unknown objects. It reminded me of a Thursday evening just before Stations of the Cross. There would be enough moonlight filtering through the stained glass windows into the dark empty church that the pews and statues were obstacles to avoid walking into though no defined features were visible. The only thing missing was the scent of the burning waxed candles.

  The sun was to come up on the backside of the mountain. When it did get light enough to see any distance, the already chill in the morning air got colder. After searching my surroundings I took off my orange parka and brown button down and put on a sweat shirt. I buttoned up the brown shirt over top and wrapped the scarf around my neck and zippered up my parka. I felt as snug as a bug in the upright position.

  Until ten o’clock I hadn’t seen or heard anything near by to get me too excited. I saw one hunter moving up the mountain side and heard some rustling in the distance but nothing I could get an eyeball on. I had heard a couple of shots that seamed to come from Jeff’s direction that I was thinking maybe Jeff got a buck.

  A little after 10 I felt as if the deer weren’t going to find me so I’ll have to search for them, crunchy, noisy forest floor or not. I made a semi-circle on the hillside and then dropped down to the gas line to see if Jeff got a buck. He said it wasn’t him who shot and the only deer he had seen was a few that were sneaking through some brush quite a distance away. He couldn’t get any good looks at them. I told him I was going to retrace my steps in the morning and see if I could locate my water bottle. From there I was going to probably still hunt the hillside and maybe end up down to the road near the bridge at the end of the fire trail that ran across the top of the mountain.

  I hadn’t found my water bottle by the time I got to where I was standing in the morning. From there I climbed to the next bench, still hunting, moving as softly as possible. I’d stop for 10 to 15 minute intervals to search in front of me before moving on. The dried leaves that covered the forest floor were still crunchy and the hidden sticks beneath sounded like a half empty plastic water bottle crinkling and snapping when you grip it in your hands. I kept my ears tuned to any changes in the natural quietness of the forest and my eyes open for any sudden movement.

  While still hunting across the mountain side I caught glimpses of a couple of gray squirrels and a deer running too far off to get a good view of. I watched chipmunks appear and disappear under the leaves and fallen timber about. Pine squirrels were most abundant as they scurried up and down trees, along pine boughs and tree branches giving some lively activity to the calm day around me.

  It took some time but I finally came to the fire trail a bench down from the top. It was a bit quieter on the fire trail being it was well used and softer underfoot. I still took my time a few feet at a time, stopping and peering into the forest as my ears stayed tuned to the noises around me. There was a bit of a breeze now and again that fluttered and rustled the tan colored beech leaves that still clung to their young trees.

  For the past three years I had spotted a buck in the vicinity I was now in while turkey and squirrel hunting. I hunted pretty hard in this area last season but never came across him. I wondered whether he would be still around this year but I’ll never know….or would I?

  Looking down the left side of the fire trail was thick with downed trees and brush. A batch of young beech trees, with leaves, were clustered together before opening up further on into open forest of scattered trees and pines. There was only about 50 yards of visibility to my left of flat land before the forest dropped down the mountainside. It was a steep drop and I wanted to avoid that at all costs.

  I slowly made my way a few yards to my right, off the fire trail, and leaned against a half rotten, weathered standing tree trunk. I could see well over 200 yards in spots. If I should get a buck on this side of the mountain would be fine because this side drops down to the road eventually and it’s all down hill.

  There’s always a dull quietness in the woods just after you stop walking and stand still for about 5 minutes or so. It’s as if the wildlife heard you coming and appear to be nonexistent till you pass by or are quiet for a period on time.

  Soon chipmunks started to appear and disappear. Pine squirrels scurried along branches and chirped noisily on occasion. Small Chickadee's soon flew about as if on a scavenger hunt for seeds and edibles among the small bushes, saplings and on the forest floor. As I always said, and most hunters would agree, it’s just not all about the deer!

  While standing there I heard a little commotion on the other side of the fire trail but didn’t get too excited. The forest seemed to come to life with the few small four leggers scurrying about and with the Chickadees and slight breeze rattling the beech leaves it didn’t sound like any deer walking through. I did glance over to the other side now and then just to make sure.

  Woodpeckers started to knock at hollow standing trees in rapid succession like a scared teenager, in a horror flick, slamming the door knocker repeatedly on a vacant house for help. I'm sure the sound carried for miles.

  I suppose it was about 15 minutes or so when I decided to head down the fire trail a little further to where I came across a buck a year ago while hunting turkeys. As quiet as I could I made my way to the fire trail and only took a couple of soft steps down the trail when I heard rustling within the cluster of the leafy beech trees on the far side of the trail. I had a good feeling this wasn’t any anxious squirrel! I raised my 300 Savage on the ready and stood motionless waiting. A deer popped out of the beech trees broadside and began that wary gait. Not quite a run or a walk. Almost like a slow trot knowing something is wrong but not knowing where. It was immediately that I saw his white tines above his head and I brought the rifle up easily against my shoulder. My right eye moved behind the scope and I moved the rifle till the cross hairs were behind the moving bucks shoulder. I whispered “goodbye” under my breath and pulled the trigger. The 300 Savage boomed breaking the tranquil calm forest. The buck flinched in a crouched bent knee position but didn’t fall. He stood momentarily as if he had a sudden stomach ache or sudden abdominal pain. Unconsciously I had already chambered another round in the lever action should I need it as I stood and stared at the buck. I knew I couldn’t of missed being only about 35 yards tops. He turned away from me and walked crippled legged before falling to his belly, head up, motionless. A doe popped out of the beech trees in the same manner and stopped just short of the fallen buck with her ears searching for another sound. The buck was frozen as if in a daze wondering what just happened. Now I made a mistake.

  The hillside was only about 20 yards from where the buck laid on its belly. I took a few steps off the trail into the woods towards him. The doe turned its head and took off over the crest of the hill. I figured the buck was down for good and not going to get up. Wrong! He raised up on all fours and unsteadily headed for the hillside. In no way I wanted him to reach the crest of the hill and drop down the other side. I raised the 300, targeted his left shoulder and again the 300 broke the silence. The buck fell and shimmied its way to the crest only being stopped by a 6” in diameter tree limb that ran parallel with the crest of the hill. I stood motionless not wanting him to get spooked and go any further. He laid with his head half raised for a few seconds and then managed enough energy to kick his rear legs which toppled him over the limb. I could hear the rustling of leaves on the other side as he descended down the slope.

  Quietly but hurriedly I moved to where I last seen the buck but didn’t get close enough to the edge to look down over the hill. I could still hear some rustling in the leaves below. I was hoping he didn’t continue on to the bottom. The slope is quite steep and getting out from the bottom was going to be questionable.

  After hearing a few gasping grunts I quietly moved to the edge and looked down the hill. He had came to rest against 2 tall trees keeping him from rolling down the hill any further. The rustled, upturned blood stained leaves told the story of the path that lead to him. I cautiously made my way down to the buck. I took off my orange parka and put it over the muzzle of the rifle that I then leaned up against a tree. I took off my brown button down and put that in the back pouch of the Parka. My orange HD t-shirt and orange Jones cap would keep me identified as a hunter for all to see. I looked at my watch and it was 2:15.  I unsheathed my knife and the working part of the hunt begins. 

  Field dressing a deer on a slope isn’t an easy or neat task. Not that field dressing a deer is easy to begin with but on a slope it is much more time consuming and awkward.

  They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That might be true but it’s not always going to be the quickest or easiest way. I looked up the slope of about 15 yards or so. I grabbed the buck by the antler with one hand and dug the side of my boots into the slope and tugged upwards on the deer. With all my strength I took another try or two and advanced up the slope. My heart was now racing and my face felt beat red. I looked back and the tail end of the deer was only about 5 feet from the gut pile. This wasn’t going to work going straight up the slope.

  I never considered myself one of the strongest 62 year olds or even in the top 50%. I'm not in the greatest of shape to speak of but I can hold my own when needed. I’m not very much overweight, meaning my belly doesn’t hang over my belt, but trying to tug this deer straight up the slope isn’t something I should attempt to do even if I thought I could.

  Still keeping a good hold on the antlers, for fear it might roll down the slope, I looked for another way of getting the buck to the top. I spotted a downward narrow path that angled its way to the top. I dug my boots in the earth and again started dragging the deer to the crest. Each boot digging foot hold, each knee straightening, leg forcing tug was a chore. Each tensed arm pulling muscling the buck upwards was strenuous and aching. By the time I got the buck over the crest of the slope and on flat ground I was pretty much tuckered out. My heart was pounding through my 3 layers of sweat dampened shirts. My knees were weak and ready to collapse. I put my hands on my knees gasping for breath. I could feel a cool breeze swipe across my sweated forehead. My head was pounding and I ached to relax. Maybe 5 minutes or so I rested before I overcame the strenuous chore.

  I walked back down the hill and removed the liver from the gut pile and placed it in an over-sized zip lock bag. I clipped my fanny pack around my waist, grabbed my rifle and coat and climbed up the slope for the last time. The drag to the fire trail was only about 15 yards or so. Once I made it to the fire trail it was mostly all down hill. It was a long way to the bottom but I had lots of time before dark and being down hill shouldn't be that strenuous. I put the rope around Clyde’s rack, the buck, and I descended down the hill with him in tow.
Once at the bottom it was another 100 yards of mostly flat, muddy, stony, branch ridden old ATV trail that lead to the road. I could have left Clyde along the trail and waited for Jeff to help me along but once I start something I aim to finish the job and I considered it wasn’t finished till I got Clyde to the road.

  It was just about dark when Jeff showed up with the truck. We lifted the buck on the cargo carrier and headed to camp. Jeff hadn’t seen anything to shoot at. 
 I stuck around till Wednesday morning trying to push a buck to Jeff on Monday and Tuesday but it didn’t happen. Wednesday I loaded up my gear and got Clyde in the bed of the truck.It was time to take him home.

  So what if it was 8:00 in the morning. A rewarding cigar was in order for the ride home.