Thursday, May 21, 2009

When The Kettle's Cold

I stood their feeling the chilled, 5o-degree wind blow through me. Jeff stood on my left braving the white-capped water beating against his waders. He also was feeling the cold May weather. With our fly rods in the upright position the strong wind straightened our fly lines to pretty near horizontal, we stood there just waiting long enough for the wind to die down so we can cast to the ‘Bows darting up for Green Drakes being blown across the water surface. You would think we were on the Great Lakes or on the ocean beach surf fishing? Just a cold windy Sunday afternoon on the Kettle!!

For the past few years Jeff and I have been driving up to Kettle Creek, in late May, in hopes of hitting the Green Drake hatch at full swing. A some years back on a Sunday that we left the Kettle, the Green Drakes were still cruising upstream high above our heads, for fear of losing our jobs we headed home that evening. We never hit it just right but have come close in the times we’ve been able to get a few days off of work.
A few years ago I met Jeff on Friday along the stream. He was driving back down rte. 144 from the campground while I was headed up that way from my 2-hour travel from home. When I spotted him, I swung the van around and he slowed down and stopped for me to catch up. Needless to say I followed him to a pull off. We were fishing a section open to the general public bait-casters, spinners and everything goes. The May weather was around 55 degrees with the water depth looking good. It was about 6:00pm and I was eager to fish the weekend, no worries, no one to keep tract of, you know what I mean, FISH!!!

Jeff had been fishing earlier and I told him to go ahead and I’ll catch up after getting my gear on.
I finally hit the water, tied on an olive wooly bugger and followed him down the winding part of the stream. He said he was catching most of his trout on red copper johns earlier in the day. Now, I’m not much for throwing wired nymphs out into a rocky stream. Jeff on the other hand ties the copper johns in tandem with a dry fly. I’m not much on the tandem thing either. I have enough trouble keeping my line untangled on windy days let alone trying to keep weighted buddy flies from tangling. I caught a rainbow right off in the faster water and Jeff picked up one on his tandem set up. The first guy I seen walking up the bank, said hello and I asked him what’s the take. He said there’s trout all through this section. He got the most hook-ups on RED copper johns. Go figure!!! Ending the evening we caught a few fish on cream bodied Green Drakes and Olive body colored Drake patterns I had tied for the occasion. March brown dries and emergers came in handy also. Jeff was able to catch a few live flies for my viewing. I always take a long my tying kit when I come up this way!!
4:30am Saturday morning I was sitting on the floor of my van. My tying vise was clamped to the wooden crate I carry my tying stuff in, feathers and the like laying on the bed in my van. In a clear plastic container, beside my vise, is the drake Jeff gave me yesterday. My headlamp shining in the pitch black morning, upon my project. By 6:00am I got about 5 heavily barred winged Drakes finished along with a few #12 March browns and a couple of Brown Drakes. Jeff wakes up about this time and we eat a quick microwave breakfast and we’re on our way.
First this is a fishing adventure. We come here to fish, which is usually from daylight to darkness for three days. We bring the necessities and the food is quick and easy. Our day usually starts with microwave tea and coffee along with a doughnut or such. Lunch is a quick sandwich along the stream and at nightfall we’re back at camp cooking deer tenderloins or burgers over propane stove. We’ll eat supper with a bottle of wine. After we’ll relax while smoking a cigar and maybe a couple of beers and we’re sleeping by 10:00pm. We make sure we get a sight at the campground with electric. We’ll bring work lamps, extension cords, the small microwave and Jeff even brings an electric heater for inside his tent. I just sleep in my ol’ van. That’s it, nothing too complicated or time consuming.

By 7:30am we walk down the steep hill at the fly fishing only project and walk upstream to the long flat waters. By a downed tree I catch a few trout on wooly buggers and brown stoneflies. After fishing on the flat water Jeff fishes below me and hooks into a trout!? After Jeff net’s him I ask if it’s a brown. Jeff stands there looking into the net in the water dumbfounded.
“Jerry, I don’t know what it is, it looks like a trout but I don’t know” he mutters.
Now Jeff’s been fishing as long as I have been. He has fished for every species of fish here in Pennsylvania besides trout. He’s got ME puzzled now.
“What do you mean you don’t know” I slowly wade down stream along the bank to see this unidentifiable fish. To my surprise it’s a 15” tiger trout.
“That’s a tiger trout” I exclaim.
“Never seen one before or heard of one” Jeff says.
“I read about them on the PA Web sight when I was looking up about the Palomino’s we caught last year. They don’t breed them much but do release some fingerlings, I guess, to see how they adapt”
“Never saw one before” he says again.
“You got your camera, I’ll get a picture of it”?
“The camera’s in the van” he says.
“Oh well, don’t have the camera when you need it as usual”
Jeff releases the tiger trout and it shoots back under the submerged tree trunk.
Around noon we drive down to the Fly Fishing Only parking lot and get out our camping chairs, cooler and lunch eats. Four guys are fishing in the water below the bank we’re overlooking. It starts to sprinkle and than rains some. Jeff and I get on our raincoats and continue to eat outside while the guys fishing maybe put on a hood but continue fishing like nothing new is upon us. After our lunch we head down stream across the Clinton county line and park one vehicle at the swinging rope-bridge and one vehicle down stream.
Just after 1:00 trout started to rise to a nice gray fox hatch. The spin fisherman, upstream, casted in vain as I casted to every rise form within reach. Netting quite a few and missing a few. After the hatch died down I moved down stream where Jeff had been casting flies the whole time I was upstream. I figured he found a good lie of trout. When I reached him he was casting in a good rush of running water that was falling out of an under the road run off pipe from the mountain- side. He said he caught a few and told me to give it a try. Being that the water was running pretty fast I tied on an extra heavy hackled #12 March Brown. My very first cast creased the near side of the faster running water. A fish grabbed for the fly in an instant but of course I wasn’t ready and missed the hook up. The next cast I got him and landed the rainbow. Jeff was fishing the tail end of the pool with some hook ups and I continued to keep the trout rising to my March Brown for the next hour or so. I headed down stream when the rises slowed to a halt to some flatter slower water. There were two guys fishing down below where I wanted to fish so I stopped short of them and casted to some of the subtle rises. The one guy fishing upstream from a big fallen tree branch was doing quite well hooking into fish. Jeff finally waded down stream and fished a bit and we called it a day and headed back to camp.

Sunday morning we woke up early ate our microwave breakfast and headed out. We wanted to get an early start before the other fishermen splash around and spook the trout. The sky was overcast and spooky looking. We headed down to fish Kettle to where I now call windy straights.
From where we parked I walked up the road to where the guardrail stopped. Jeff dropped down from where we parked and crossed the stream to head up about half way. I fished my way towards him without a bite. Jeff wasn’t doing any good either so we fished our way towards the vehicles. The wind was picking up and it drizzled off and on. We slowly waded down towards where we had parked, where a couple of guys were doing pretty good catching fish the previous day. A fallen tree was half submerged along the bank with a few branches exposed out of the water. There was also another partial trunk a quarter of a way out from the bank below this with leaves on its branches. The wind was now blowing upstream so hard sometimes that the water surface was choppy and a few white caps started to appear. By the looks you would of thought the water was flowing in the opposite direction but the water against our wading shoes told us otherwise. The fallen tree logs blocked the wind so the water was a little, I mean only a little calmer. I was throwing, more than casting March Brown’s across the wind towards the fallen tree while Jeff was a bit upstream from me. The air was chilly and the weather along with the fishing looked bleak. I remember holding my rod in the air while my fly dangled and hovered over the water with the wind. I reached in my vest pocket for a chew and a rainbow leaped at my fly, missing. Wait a minute, we’ve been fishing for the past 2 hours or so without even a flash of a fish and now one jumps out of the water at my fly dangling in the wind? I put a chew in and kept my rod high enough to let the March Brown skip across the water. Bingo, one rainbow trout, I released the fish and tried again. Same execution, same result, another strike and another fish on.
“Hey, Jeff check this out” I said as I released the fish.
He watched as I casted only about 6-7 feet in front of me. I lifted my rod tip and let the wind skate the fly across the choppy water, a rainbow came up and grabbed the fly. I told Jeff what I was using. He circled behind me and started casting near the leafy branches from the submerged trunk. The trick was to hold your rod high and let the wind blow the fly across the choppy water surface, sometimes the rainbows would zero in on the fast bobbing fly and hook up but many a times they’d miss.
I watched a Green Drake blow up against the bank, rested, than wham, sucked up by a hungry trout. I tied on an imitation and false casted to get more line out. I lifted my rod high behind me and shot the fly forward and down into the wind. The fly landed across but downstream from the feeding trout. As the fly hit the water the wind drifted it up along the bank. Wham, fish on!!! The next couple of hours went by quickly. We weren’t exactly dressed for the chilled conditions with the wind blowing through us but the excitement warmed our blood enough to continue on.
“Jer, look”
Jeff was only a few yards downstream when he picked up his rod and let the wind drift his fly across the water. A trout, between us, came up three times after it before he connected with the fly and ended up in Jeff’s net. The longer we stayed out there the colder the wind got. A guy came out of his house and looked down at us from the bank in his backyard. His hands in his winter blue coat and a goofy smile while he shook his head with approval. He seen us catching trout and knew we weren’t locals. Maybe loco’s but not locals who can wait for a better day to fish.

Cars would beep their horns as they drove by catching a glimpse of us two nut cases fishing in the windstorm. I’m not sure if it was for approval to them that we had the heart to brave the conditions for trout, or a blast of their horns to let us know how silly we look dangling our flies in the wind waiting for the next calm moment to cast a line. What they didn’t know was that we were catching ‘bows’ on big #10 Green Drakes and March Browns.

The chill finally got to us and we waded out of the water to the vehicles to warm up and eat some lunch. With food in our stomach and a cold brew we looked at each other with a question neither of us wanted to ask, not knowing what the smart reply would be. It’s only noon, ya I know the conditions are terrible but we were catching trout that we weren’t catching the first couple of hours this morning.
“What do you think?”
“I’m in, got nothing to do at home”
Glance out at the white caps then the gray sky and the waving tree tops.
“I gotta put a sweatshirt on and my thinsulate Jones cap!”
“ You gonna wear your vest?”
“ Heck’s no, I’m only taking my big flies, tippet and my small fanny pack”

Jeff and I waded back into the unstable water. In position I tried a Green Drake and shortly after a March Brown. The wind was kicking up harder and with more force than previously. Both flies weren’t getting too good of results so I needed something that maybe didn’t sit so high in the air and blow across the water so fast. I tied on a poly-wing emerger. With the dark pheasant tail body on a 3x #12 hook gave enough length for the fish to key on. The white calf tail tied parachute let me track the fly on the white caps and in between the swells. It worked!! The fish started hooking up more regularly now though the casts I was able to throw out were decreasing. The wind was relentless and we were holding our rods in the air more often than not to get a cast in. I know nether Jeff or I wanted to give in but the weather got the best of us. We waded back to the vehicles being pushed out by the wind with the white capped water trying to capsize us.

At the van and truck we laughed at ourselves braving the conditions but knowing that we caught trout made this last day a learning experience. We bid each other good-bye and Jeff handed me one of his imported cigars. I hopped into the driver’s seat and unwrapped the cellophane. I whiffed the fine natural tobacco outer wrap and dampened it with my wet lips for an even burn. I backed up onto the main road, put the van in drive and headed for home. With the cigar tightly in the corner of my mouth I lit it up!
“Whipped’em again” I thought.

At the stop sign I turned left towards the small town of Hamersley Fork. As I crossed the bridge there were 3 guys casting their fly rods against the far bank. I honked the horn in approval!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First Day on the Big 'N'

After failing to call in, the answering, gobblers for my 11 year old grandson, we headed out at 9:30am to do some first day trout fishing. Driving down rte. 62 we passed campers and 20 some cars parked along the 2 bridges that cross over Cool Spring Creek. We continued on south through Mercer. When we got to Little Neshannock, at around 10am, there wasn't a soul there.

The fish commission claimed to have stocked the creek according to their web sight but first impression was that they hadn't. We visually looked over the bridge and we walked downstream a short ways only to see chubs and suckers in the shallower waters. We decided to give it a try anyhow but after an hour of only catching chubs and suckers we headed back to the van.

The sun was shining high and the air was warm which is uncommon for the first day of trout in PA. Considering the circumstances i felt the Big Neshannock, along rte. 956, might be a good choice for afternoon fishing. By now most of the fishermen should have their limits or breaking for lunch. Damon never fished in fast water for trout before, and since he remembered his hip boots, today would be a good day to teach him.

We passed the line of vehicles parked on each side of the bridge that crossed over the mouth of Little Neshannock. Continuing on we passed 'lunching' fishermen at their vehicles with still a few fishermen strewn out along the banks of the Big 'N'. Down the road i found a pull off just around a bend with only 1 truck parked off the side of the road. Damon took his bait casting fishing pole while i took my 4wt. fly rod with DT line.

At the creek i helped Damon and showed him how to fish fast water casting a meal worm and letting it drift into slower water. As i stood watching Damon fishing, a caddis hatch started to esculate and fish started to rise on the other side of the fast water and downstream within casting distance. I let Damon know I was going to try for a riser underneath a pine bough. I tied on a brown deer hair caddis and we watched as it drifted under the bough. On the third drift through we watched the fish rise and take the fly as I set the hook. The fish went deep as I handed the rod to Damon and I took his bait caster.
Damon already knew how to bring in trout on a fly rod from previous outings. He fought the fish calmly through the fast water and raised the rod high as I netted the fat 12" brown.
"Alright" I said "let me try again"
I casted some more and hooked into another trout within a few casts and handed the rod back to Damon. This time we netted a 10" rainbow.
"What do you think?" I asked "you want to use your pole or use the fly rod?"
"The fly rod pa-pa jerry!" he replied with a serious smile.
I took his pole to shore, leaned it up against a tree and returned back beside him. The next 20 minutes or so I taught him how to 'feel the rod'. Casting with my hand holding his so he got the feel of far to move his hand and arm as we back cast and forward cast. I showed him the proper hand positioning and how to mend line upstream to drift the fly correctly. It took him a while until he got a feel for casting. Of course i had to correct him occasionally because he wanted to forward cast too soon.
With a good cast and a good drift of the dry caddis we watched the caddis flow within distance of a feeding trout. As soon as Damon saw the splash he set the hook. The rod bent and he got excited hooking his first trout on a dry fly. He started to excitedly bring the trout in, in a hurry when i slowed him down, explaining to bring in his fish like the other two. He was so eager to get 'his fish' in I had to keep assuring him that this one wouldn't get away if he plays him correctly. I waded downstream from him as he brought the fish towards him with the rod held high. He then drifted the fighting rainbow into the net. The rainbow had to go at least 15". It slashed in the net as I showed him his catch. Damon's smile almost engulfed his ears as i unhooked the caddis from the 'bow's top lip. He clipped the rainbow on his stringer with the other two trout.
"I'm eating him tonight pa-pa" he exclaimed with proud joy!

He continued to dry fly fish the caddis to rising trout. At one point the fast water took his fly under and as it drifted downstream I saw the arc in the fly line tighten up. I quickly told Damon to set the hook and with a quick yank back he felt the fish on the other end.
"But I didn't see him take the fly" he said while fighting the fish in the current.
"He took the fly thinking it was an emerger"
I explained the emerger thing and how the fly line will tighten and quit its swing when a fish takes the fly.
Another rainbow was on his stringer for tonight's dinner.

The hatch died down so I began to teach him roll-casting and nymph fishing with a caddis larva imitation. Damon ended up catching and releasing two more smaller rainbows and finished filling his stringer with one 11" rainbow. As he rested on shore i continued to cast a dry caddis to rising trout. I kept 3 out of the 5 rainbows I caught and we called it a day.

Back at the van my grandson asked me what kind of fly rod we were using?!!

A few years ago Santa had left him with an 8'6" 5wt. rod. I think I'll be giving up my 4wt. 7'6" Powell rod soon if we continue to fish together!!!


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Another Birthday Memory

The cold mountain stream water weaves between and over the shallow pebbles and rocks of a wider section of the creek. The water than narrows into a nice rippling run flowing into an opaque deep pool. At the end of the pool small waves bounce against a bark stripped, half submerged, tree trunk that guides the water towards the opposite bank. From there the water flows against a four foot high mud bank, under an outgrowing bush, and continues weaving its way to a downed hemlock that lies across the creek. The water exit’s the hemlock between fresh pine boughs in wavy riffles. Below this, the main creek picks up a feeder mountain run off, and again flows over rocks, spreading over a wider section. The creek than narrows some as its waters flows around my hip boots. It enters a deep pool with a submerged tree branch against a seven foot high bank. The bank juts out like a peninsula down around the bend before me. The whole while, a drizzly rain sprinkles the water as the sun peeks out, now and then, from behind gray cloud cover adding a little flavor to the peaceful April forest.
I stand in ankle deep water roll casting a latex caddis in front of the protruding branch along the far bank. A splash and I instantly turn my head, downstream, to see a black furry, short eared, animal swimming across a deeper pool of the creek. Not more than 20 yards downstream, off the end of the peninsula, a black bear had plopped into the water. I watch as it doggy paddles across the pool towards the 4 foot sloped muddy bank. With a scampering hunched motion it makes its way up the slope and stands on all fours, motionless, as water drips from his sleek black coat. Water flings from the bears fur in every direction as the bear shakes its body like a furry dog after a bath. He looks both ways than lopes across the right-a-way access lane that runs from the main road, through private property, than into the Allegheny National Forest. The bear disappears among the pines and wooded forest.
I turn my head and continue to fish the waters on this weekday birthday outing. Just another birthday memory while fishing the ANF.