Monday, February 22, 2010

A Weather Break in February

A Weather Break in February

 Through the truck passenger window I notice the green aqua marine color in the deeper sections of the flowing stream. Immediately I feel an exciting vibe run down my spine. The water color looks perfect. After over a month without fishing because of the abundance of snow and freezing weather, Jim and I decided to hit some water on this sunny, 32 degree Sunday.
 As I step out of the truck, the late morning February cold is felt upon my exposed warm skin. I take in a breath of the fresh air and even if I was blindfolded I would know I was near a stream! It’s just something every fisherman can smell when they are near clean flowing water. We walk on the packed snow upon the cabled wooden bridge that spans over the stream for a better look at the water. From above, the bright sunshine denotes, by reflection, every ripple of the gradual flowing water. Shelves of uneven edged ice extend from the snowy banks, layered with mounds of snow over the calmer water. Hopefully the trout aren’t hiding beneath these shelters. I notice the water is shallower than normal so it looks possible to wade between the ice edges and the deeper mid-section of the stream.
 Bare trees line the far bank as the hardwood forest rests behind with a few standing pine trees among them. The well groomed grass, of the Public Park, is now covered with pure white snow from the bridge to the dam, practically untouched. Even the parking area is only half plowed because of the lack of visitors this time of year.
 Turning downstream water rushes between boulders and rocks just below the bridge. My eyes look to the side of the turbulent water in search for an unmistakable shadow or tail fin. Through polarized lenses I search the shallow stony streambed for fish but nothing stands out in the clear clean water, even so, we know trout lurk beneath, somewhere. As we descend from the bridge, Jim, in his usual positive manner, comments that “we should be able to slam them today!”
Through my experience in winter and cold weather fishing for trout, it isn’t all that easy. The fish are lethargic and don’t feed aggressively. The left over fish, from stockings, are wary of fishermen and in clear water aren’t all the easy to fool. But I always like Jim’s positive attitude.
At the truck I put on my 3mm neoprene hip waders. Jim puts on a pair of lightweight breathable chest waders. I sure hope he’s wearing heavy weight gutchies if he plans on wading in the water. I assemble my 8’ GRF 1000 Cortland fly rod. I wasn’t sure if we were going to find open water on this wide stream or we would have to resort to a small brook stream in the ANF, so I brought this short rod instead of a longer rod.
 Jim heads up to the first pool below the man made rock formation that extends across the stream. I put a chew in and head for the second pool to begin my fishing. I stand in the water between a couple of snow covered boulders. The first cast becomes a familiar feeling from the past month of inactivity. I roll cast, than overhand cast to get the feel of the rod and rhythm of my stroke. I drift a weighted nymph, than realizing that any takes will be subtle from the lethargic trout, I attach a small indicator to detect any strikes. Through the cold water I slowly wade and nymph fish with my rod tip following the indicator. It isn’t too long before I forget about any other thoughts except for fishing and the area around me.
 My hearing is conscious of my suroundings, though the inactivity of winter is upon us. Water running and flowing over and through the boulders sounds like ice being stirred in a glass of Jim Beam and Squirt. Wavy water slaps beneath the ice shelves transmitting a soft gurgling noise that would normally be unheard if I wasn’t so aware of my quiet soundings. My eyes concentrate on the floating green tipped indicator among the glare of the rippling water.
 Time passes unnoticed with my concentration on fishing, casting, tying and wading in the peaceful setting. With each drift I watch for any slight, unnatural movement of my indicator. My peripheral vision is aware of any uncommon surface movement though I’m sure there will be no surface activity due to this cold winter time of year. My hands feel the brisk air, my feet, somewhat, feel the chilled water through my boots and heavy sox but my soul and body find warmth in my passion of trout fishing that I have missed in the past month or so.
 Continuing to wade downstream, in knee deep water, I cast just shy of the ice edges hoping to coax a trout from beneath. I work my way down to the next pool of water and continue my search. Downstream I work a triple threat slowly through the riffling swifter water. Below the riffles I tie on and convince myself a lime green latex caddis is the most tempting fly in my two fly boxes.
 I cast across and mend upstream. The green indicator slowly flows with the current downstream in the reflecting glare of the sunshine. I peer through my polarized glasses with squinting eyes trying to keep it within my vision. I catch a slight hesitation and the indicator starts to submerge. I lift the rod and with a quick wrist set the # 14 curved hook. I feel the fish on the other end and watch my line tension and rod flex slightly towards my catch. I give a holler to let Jim know I have one on.
 The girth of the 10” brown fits into the palm of my hand as I unleash the hook. I release the cold firm bodied trout into the just as cold flowing water. After releasing the fish I light up a Macanudo Ascot as a just reward.
After another ½ hour of loosening up the stiff joints, getting my rhythm back and fishing blood flowing more energetically, we decide to head back to the truck. We talk it over and head out for another stream in hopes of more open fishing water.

Oh, it felt good to get back into the water with the fly rod. Hopefully I won’t have to wait so long for the next break in the weather.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Return to the Bass Pond

Then I Found the Hawgs
(August 2008)

I shake off the last few dribbles and look up into the fuzzy star lit night. I climb in the back of the van. At 1:35 am I set the clock for 6:05 am. ‘Wow, going to be a short night.’ With a couple of mixed drinks of Capt’n Morgan Tattoo in coke, a shot of Goldshlager and a few beers at Ray’s earlier, I’m sure I’d fall fast asleep and sleep soundly.
I awake to daylight. I remember shutting the alarm off some time earlier. I step out of the van and look towards the sky for signs of rain. A blanket of grayish fog is layered above the treetops hiding the sky above. After getting dressed and a cup of hot tea, I finish packing my gear into my ProGuide 3 in 1 chest vest. I’ll have to remember to thank Fishenfool again. The float tube fits in the backpack vest with pump, flippers and wading shoes attached. The chest pack fits enough fly gear, including reel, to make it easier packing into the remote places.
Jeff wasn’t able to come along this time so the 45-minute ‘walk in’ hopefully won’t seem that long. I have all day so time is of no concern.
 As I step onto the gated lane, from the parking area, a proud grouse sees me and high steps it into the woods. The first field I come to I catch 4 deer off guard. They finally perk their ears up as they hear my footsteps upon the lane and three of the deer leap their way into the forest. The last one stands tall next to the trail, alert. He must have noticed I’m carrying a rod tube and not a rifle. The deer casually turns and heads towards the others showing his white tail. Just beyond that I come across 2 piles of berry eating bear dung. A little further on two bunnies, eating the tops of the grass between the tire tracked trail, see me and hop into the nearby thick undergrowth. Closer to the pond I catch a glimpse of a turkey running through the tall ferns. At the bend he and another take flight. Pretty cool, I haven’t seen this much game in one day in the ANF since, well I just never have in one day.
 I lift off the pack and look across the pond, they call a swamp, from above the bank. The blanket of fog keeps the light to a minimum. The water is still and the area around the pond is lifeless. A few crows caw in the distance and the constant sound of tree frogs is heard in the background. The weathered gray tree trunks are no better off than they were last month strewn out across the middle and far side of the pond. There’s no chill in the air, on this August morn., so the T-shirt I’m wearing will be sufficient throughout the day. Looks like a great day to fish, alone, in the peace and quiet.
 After pumping up my ‘new’ u-tube I put together my steelhead converted to largemouth bass rod. This time I’m prepared. I loop on a 6’ 8lb. Bass tapered leader. To this I surgeon-knot about 16” of frog hair 6lb. tippet and connect a fast snap. I have a theory about fishing big waters, I use big flies and even the fast snaps don’t sink the big Humpy’s, Trudes and cork poppers I use. The fast snaps make for quick changes of flies and streamers without all the snipping and retying.
 By the time I get everything together and start to embark on my quiet venture the slightest of a breeze turns the smooth surface water into a calm riffle.
 Finning towards the left bank I toss my homemade cork popper out into the quiet riffled water. On my third cast I connect with an 8” blue gill. That’s nothing, I proceed to cast along the shoreline and start hooking up with 10” blue gill. What a surprise!
 I watch an osprey fly above and perch itself, on a jutting out, old limb from one of the weathered tree trunks within the pond. Continuing casting I hear a big splash and turn just in time to see the osprey rise from the splash. Talons empty, the osprey takes to another tree limb. Again casting the popper I catch another 10” ‘gill and upon reeling it in another splash from beyond. The osprey again ascends from the broken water empty. ‘That osprey sure knows where the fish are’, I think, hopefully I’ll be more successful than it was! After releasing the ‘gill I cast again and turn my head to look for the unsuccessful osprey. Just wanting to see it dive towards the water would be neat. A splash, this time close by, I quickly turn and see my popper waving upon a rippled spiral of water. That was no blue gill! I retrieve my small popper and tie on a bigger home made popper Jeff made. This time concentrating on my own fishing abilities and not the osprey’s.
 Slowly casting into a small deep inlet the cork popper drops with a small plop. Two gurgles of the retrieving popper attracts a mouthed swirl and my popper’s gone. Jerk and set I hook into a ‘nice one’. (It sure is relieving when you know you are using the correct set up.) The bass tussles beneath the surface but my rod and line are too much for him to handle. Fighting the fish it surfaces near the float tube. “Ya, that’s what I’m looking for” I say aloud. A nice 14” largemouth lies upon the apron. Not belly fat but a good heavy one otherwise. I let the fish go and look out into the clearing sky. “That’s how it’s done” I comment to the unseen osprey. I snicker to myself.
 I fin and drift for the next couple of hours or so casting to shoreline shallows and towards the submerged tree trunks. I pick up a couple more of the big blue gills on the popper. My brown woolly buggers and humpy’s didn’t do their magic this time out but I did manage to catch a couple blue gills on a lime Trude. I returned to where I put in to relieve myself and to give my shoulder a rest from the constant cast and retrieval of my flies. Upon shore I look out over the pond and I contemplate my next float.
The sun now peeks out from behind the big cumulus clouds floating in the dreamy light blue sky. The warm air has settled and the crickets now click in unison around the grassy areas. The water surface is a wisp of wrinkles from the slight breeze. An island stands alone on the right from the shoreline. There’s enough of a channel that an outcropping of small lily pads string out hugging the island towards the right bank. I notice activity in the back channel and around the lily pads. To get there I’ll have to cross the deeper part of the pond above the overflow dam. ‘Heck, might as well give it a try’.
 I float out and snap on a white woolly bugger, clamp on a split shot for the deeper water and begin casting. I pick up a blue gill and seem to be getting hits through the deep water so I fin and drift my way through a couple of times. I latch on to something that doesn’t feel like a blue gill or a bass. It gets off before I’m able to bring it to the surface. Hmm.
 Closer to the island the breeze starts to pick up. With precise judgment I backcast high and shoot the bugger down forward into the wind. It lands just before the string of lily pads. The bugger sinks and within a ½ of a strip my line tightens and I set the hook. The fish fights its way trying to release the hook. Not a bass but bigger than a blue gill for sure. The white lips and body of a crappie comes into view. I rest the 13” crappie on my stripping apron. What a surprise and what a fight! I release the fish and have to fin my way back within casting distance as the wind drifted me away. ‘Where there’s one there’s usually more.’ I thought.
 I cast again towards the lily pads, feel the bump, set the hook and this time a 14” wide crappie comes to the surface. Releasing the fish I once again cast and sure enough another 14” crappie surrenders to me.
 I think ‘I should have brought a stringer.’ I guess the crappies might puncture the underside of the tube or carrying them back would be awkward with the other gear I have to handle. They are some nice looking slabs that’s for sure.
 As much as I like the feeling of catching fish on buggers there’s nothing better than watching and catching them on the surface. I tie on the cork popper and wing it over into the lily pad edges. It’s harder to cast the light cork directly into the wind. After a few casts and no results I notice a dark thin branch sticking out of the water surface out from the shoreline. The wind has drifted me within casting distance so I didn’t disturb the water by finning my way. With the wind now blowing slightly across I pitch the popper and it falls just below the bent limb. I strip it as soon as it lands when a swirl, with a glance of a BIG white belly, catches my attention. Another quick strip and pop and a whirlpool sucks in my popper. I heave back and set the hook. The fish tugs and pulls hard away from me.
‘This is the one!’
 Knowing I have the right line and tight knots I give him as little leeway as possible. The heavy fish won’t come to surface but I guide him in the opposite direction he wants to escape to. With each direction change of the fish the rod tip flexes and follows in the new direction. Palming my reel with good tension the bent rod starts to straighten as the fish finally turns toward me. While reeling in the bass, it surfaces in front of me and dives deep again. With the butt of the rod in my gut I follow the fish with the tip of my rod not giving him much line. The big bass comes to the surface again and I thumb him onto the apron. ‘Oh ya!’ the 16” full belly hawg lies before me. I feel my fishing blood run through my veins with warm excitement, my heart pounding a mile a minute. ‘That’s what I’m talking about in this pond they call a swamp.’ I angle my hemostats into the fish’s mouth and unhook the penetrated barb from the roof of its mouth. I put the big bass into the water. With a whip of it’s tail I release the fish to fight another day. I fin around back up towards the exposed branch and cast for another. Ready, but nothing comes up for it.
 The wind again drifts me closer to the shore but down some. A lighter color limb is exposed from the depth. I strip line out and cast the popper within an imaginary point I set my eyes on within reaches of the stick. I hesitate a split second before stripping. A BIG BASS explodes out of the water. I swear I set the hook while the bass is in mid air. It smacks onto and then submerges under the water. It takes off across in front of me, subsurface, from left to right as I follow it with my fly rod tip high in the air. The dark object races just below the surface leaving a riffled wake behind. The bass then submerges hard, my rod tip bends, I must let line out. In an instant I feel the rod tip relax and than the bass explodes upwards fully out of the water. It’s gills flared and tail erratic. It belly flops back into the water as water sprays outward from the turbulence. My tight grip holds steady as it dives than once more it surfaces only exposing its head trying to spit out the popper. He disappears in the broken water. I watch my fly line start to slacken as he drives around me. My tube, rod and I follow in a semicircle with its force. Hurriedly taking in slack the lunker surfaces near my tube and upon seeing trouble it tries to dive deep once again. Pinching the fly line I wait to see if the fish has enough strength for another strong escape. The bent rod tension is now too much for the tired fish. At the surface to my left he rises. Reaching down in the water I thumb the bass by the side of its big mouth. The 16” fat hawg lies upon the apron with the sun reflecting off its oversized belly. I dislodge the hook pierced through its lower jaw. ‘Two in a row, back to back!’ I released the lunker. Taking a deep sigh of relief of my success I feel my shoulder start to come into question as I now take notice to the slight joint soreness.
 The wind picks up and casting the popper into or across the wind takes more effort and less accuracy. Looking at the far side of the lily pads I decide to fin around the island and come in from the backside channel. As I fin around, the tall grassed island breaks the wind. I tie on the white bugger, without extra weight, and cast off near the island bank. I pick off an 8” largemouth on the lee side. On the backside of the island I find it shallow and my guess is right that there is a slightly deeper channel of water closer to the mainland. I cast into the channel before proceeding. Without any takers I slowly push my way, with the tip of my fin, through the channel. Stopping every once in a while to cast my bugger close to the lily pads. I’m not sure if my movement or closeness gives me away but no fish takes my fly. I see and cast to still water in a slight arc within the lily pads. My white woolly bugger sinks and my fly line jerks. Setting the hook I force in another 13”-14” crappie. I return to the point of the island and cast a few times around the lily pads without success.
With my shoulder feeling sore I fin myself in the wind so it can drifts me back to my exiting point. I relax in my float tube with my fly rod out and my woolly bugger trolling behind me.
After packing my gear in my 3-1 chest vest I take a last swallow of water I brought along. I remember and look at the old pocket watch I had stuffed in one of the vest pockets, 2:00. Standing on the small breast of the earth work dam I look out over the pond. A sun warmed breeze blows across my body. The smell of wild flowers of some sort passes my nostrils and I inhale the clean fresh air. I watch the surface of the pond water riffle with the force of a gust of wind. The white puffy clouds above me almost glow in the blue sky reflecting the bright sun rays. The pond is quiet, peaceful, and appears lifeless. The old weathered tree trunks stand like guardians in the water as if protecting the hidden life below. Looking around one last time for any forgotten gear, I leave the pond area as I found it. With maybe a little more sun shine.
 A quarter of the way back I stop for a breather, along the lane, in the shadows of a maple and forest tree. I take out a zip lock bag and pull from it a Cohiba. I blow into the cellophane and slide out the cigar. I wet the natural outer-leaf and nip off a bit of the rolled end. Holding the flame near the end of the barrel I puff slowly till it lights.
Proceeding on, I think about the day’s outcome:
‘The wild life I seen this morning,
10” blue gills, 14” crappies
Largemouth ranging from 8” to 16” with two being real hawgs!
Fishing alone in the peaceful and quietness of the scenic pond
and a fine cigar!
It can’t get much better than this on an August day’
‘Well maybe’
(A few bottles of genuine Coors await me back in the van, a cooler,
.........packed in ice.)


Monday, February 15, 2010

A Float Tube, a Bass Pond and The Fly Shtick!

Here is a two part story of my experience largemouth fishing back in the summer 2008. The second part will be published next week.
A Float Tube, A Bass Pond and The Fly Shtick!

With visions of catching my first Pa. largemouth with a fly rod, and good company, the 45-minute walk to the big pond, they call a swamp, didn’t seem too take that long. Besides that, the early morning hike was good conditioning for the ankle and leg joints for the next 4 hours or so of float tubing.
Standing along the breast of the small dam I started unpacking my gear while Jeff started inflating his float tube.
Looking down over the pond the weathered gray lifeless tree trunks are strewn out, individually, around the middle and far side of the pond. You just know there are big bass lurking deep along their sunken base. With the early morning stillness and knowing we are ‘back in’ made for an eerie feel. The water is calm and reflecting the cloud cover above. Rays of sun penetrate through the forest trees as it begins to rise over the hillside behind us. There’s geese honking in the distance wakening to their undisturbed domain. I notice ripples atop the water where fish are already scouring the shoreline shallows in search of food before the heat of the noon day sun.
After patching a small pinhole in my 15 some year old round float tube and refilling it with air, Jeff and I start down the grassy bank to begin our largemouth quest. Jeff fins his U-tube towards the strewn out crop of sawed off tree trunks as I head for the left shoreline.
 I tie on a #10 orange Humpy and cast to the first rise a distance away from the shoreline ripples. I lay a straight smooth soft cast and my Humpy drops on the water surface peaceful like. A little twitch and a quick response I set the hook and bring in a small bluegill. Finning a little closer to shore I drop the Humpy where the ripples were earlier without a response. Slowly I drift and fin my way up the shoreline casting into the shallows. Another soft landing and I watch a ripple in the water toward my fly. A small swirl and my Humpy disappears. I pull back and set the hook. This time it’s no bluegill. A small fight and I reel in a 9" largemouth. Not a big one but a largemouth no doubt. My first in Pa. with the fly shtick.
"Got one," I yell out to Jeff somewhere in the open water.
"Orange Humpy, ‘bout 9""
 I float out a distance from the shore and start tossing out a brown bead-head woolly bugger amongst the tree stubble around me. With each cast I concentrate on my backcast and then forward rod movement. The wrong timing and the heavy bugger may swat off my hat or worse yet latch into my float tube.
Watching my fly line sink with the weighted bugger my line starts to pull away. I already have my slack pulled in. I learned this from fishing down south last summer in a private lake.
Down in Virginia, My girlfriend’s brother-in-law asked if I wanted to fish Sunday morning in the small lake in the private development he lives in. I was hoping to fish the blue-ridge parkway but time wouldn’t allow it. Fishing’s, fishing so what the heck! We rowed out in his john-boat Sunday morn. There was a wind against us the whole morning so rowing into the wind wasn’t too fun. We’d anchor where the hot spots were suppose to be but not many largemouth cooperated. He lent me a spinning rod and I threw stick baits, rapala’s and spinner baits and other contraptions. He had his 3 or 4 rods in the back of the boat preloaded with his favorite lures. It wasn’t a contest by any means. Let’s face it, it’s his home waters and he’s a southern boy. They grow up warm water fishing. I, being a yank, just tried to keep things close. When the wind finally died down after a few hours I couldn’t resist piecing together my 5 wt. 4 Piece fly rod. A little under-power but like I said I had planned on fishing the blue-ridge for trout. We weren’t catching any big hawgs and I know how to play big fish anyhow. I tied on a beadhead brown woolly bugger and stripped out some line from my reel. He sat back and watched. I false casted until I got enough line out and shot the bugger in front of the rock shoreline. As my bugger sank I thought I had a strike but by the time I got the slack out and tried to set the hook, well no dice. After a few failures I figured the bass were taking the bugger on the way down, unlike most trout. I usually leave slack in the line until I get to the right depth and then let the bugger swing. Being in the lake I was waiting for it to drop and then I’d strip it in. I finally figured out to keeping the line tight at all times and being that the bass had big mouths and I was using only a size 10 bugger I must set the hook quick and hard. After catching on, I started to catch bass more often than we did earlier. It got to the point he just enjoyed watching me and rowed down the shoreline as I tossed the bugger to hungry bass. I didn’t catch any whoppers but I did show the southerner us northerners can catch bass too!!
As my bugger falls, my line pulls away, I heave my 9’6" rod up and back setting the hook into the fish’s jaw. The bass fights forward, surfaces, than dives deep towards the shoreline, still some distance away. The fly line runs through my tensioned fingers until the bass draws it to the reel. I let the reel drag take the fight along with the rod and occasionally palm the open spool. If I was wading I could put the butt in my gut for leverage but being in a round float tube I have to use both hands on the rod and stiff wrists. The bass’s force actually moves me and my tube towards him. Feeling the line tension in its mouth it turns to the left and proceeds to fight its way out to deeper water. Seeing the distance and tug of the fish will bring an exposed tree trunk between us. I struggle with my legs and fins towards the shallows to eliminate the trunk between us. I have no choice but to give the bass more line, as not to tension him too much that he will double back completely around the tree. With my fly line against the tree I reach my rod out towards the shoreline continuing to struggle around the tree.
It worked, the bass straight lined it enough I am able to get around the tree. Now it’s open water between the bass and I. I put the brakes on and let the rod bend putting pressure on the bass to turn. With a little struggle he turns and retreats towards me. Laying the bass on my stripping apron he ‘stretches’ out to about 15".
 Through the rest of the morning Jeff and I fin around casting in and around the tree trunks. I finally notice some riffles along a peninsula of flat grass jutting out into the water. I fin my way towards the peninsula and find I’m able to stand up in thick moss and branches on the bottom. I tie on a green cork popper and toss it over towards the shallows. I continue to toss the popper and slowly strip it in while twitching my rod tip to make it pop. Casting over to where I thought a deeper channel was that led to the shallow waters, I set the hook on an aggressive bluegill. Again I see riffles along the shore but this time I cast up and away from the fish in hopes he moves that way along the bank. I hesitate a second than slowly strip and twitch the popper towards me. A riffle starts to follow as I try to keep the same speed of the cork popper coming towards me. The bass inhales the cork and I set the hook. A little fight and I bring in another largemouth about 12" or so.
The morning ended with the sun high in the white clouded and blue sky. I thought at first it was the heat that softened my float tube but found out otherwise. The longer I tried to fish the softer the tube got and the deeper I sat.
"You look like an Amish straw hat in that round tube" Jeff blurted out.
 I turned around and back finned towards the shore where we put in. I could have finned my way to the closest shoreline but I found out last year fins in soft mud doesn’t work like snowshoes in snow!!
 The closer I got to shore the more the tube softened and the more water creeped over my bib chest waders under my armpits. Upon reaching dry land I tugged the tube up the hill and started pumping air in it to see where the leak was. Needless to say the more air I pumped into it, the small seam hole I found got bigger and bigger until it broke wide open. Whew, a close one. I couldn’t imagine being out in the middle in my neoprene chest waders with a sinking float tube!
The walk out took a little longer than the walk in with a few more rest stops. Jeff and I conversed about the usual things we do. Fishing and hunting and of course steelhead fishing. I guess I was so excited about catching my first PA. largemouth on a fly rod this morning I forgot to bring a cigar for the walk back!


Sunday, February 7, 2010

My 50 Day

My 50 Day

 This past Saturday I was driving home from my granddaughter’s 5th birthday party. Heading east on rte. 62, towards Polk, I took my time rolling down the winding country road. Nearer to Polk I’d glance over the guardrail, time to time, through the drab gray and brown forest trees. They stood strong, anchored in the ground, below the pure white mounds of snow. Their tall skeletal bare branches intertwined among each other below the soft wintry blue sky. During the summer and fall months the creek I was now looking for would be hidden behind these trees full of their green and colorful leaves. But now, during January, the forest trees stood naked revealing squirrel and bird nests within their branches. Now the curious driver can see through these obstructions and get a glimpse of the flowing Sandy Creek waters winding its way through the forest. White snow now covers the uneven creek banks and ledges. Straggly fallen branches overreach the land boundary, in some places, and reach out over the water. The top halves of these gray branches show the thickness of snow fall from the past few days. Occasionally I see a clump of snow, as if frozen, upon an extruding boulder within the water flow. A group of undersized fir trees seem to huddle together in their own section of woods below the taller Oaks and Maples. Their boughs bent downward from the weight of the previous fallen snow that gathered on their olive colored branches.
 Watching the silent peaceful waters flowing into wide open 9’ fly-rod casting areas brought back memories. Especially of my 50 day outing a few years ago.
 Sandy Creek was like a “home waters” back when I lived north of Mercer. I got to know the waters fairly well. Though hatches weren’t plentiful, when it got into June and July, dry fly fishing I found was rewarding with patience.
 Early, during trout season, the creek gets hammered pretty hard by all types of fishermen. In some areas bank fishing is almost impassible so there are sections the land lovers can’t reach with their ‘throwing rods.’ the only way to fish this stream effectively is with hip waders or chest waders. You can fish it with just Hip boots but there are deep holes throughout and I found hip boots can’t keep me in the water continuously.
Early season its buggers or nymphs but I like to take this creek on in June and July for dry fly action. By then bass season opens and this gets the bass guys and boat fishermen off the stream. Also by then the green enthusiasts are out chasing their balls all day trying to get them into 18 holes. Good for them I say, less guys befuddling the trout stream waters.
Though my 50 day wasn’t my best catching day I ever had on Sandy, the experience will be embedded in my brain forever.
It went like this;
A few years ago my birthday weekend started on a Friday. I was down on Mill Creek, near Fisher, with my 4 weight slowly wading downstream picking off left over brook trout from the week before, which was the first week of the season. On this mostly shallow stony creek my thunder creek shiners and buggers were keeping me content with occasional hook ups. Around 1:30 pm I drove over to the Strattenville truck stop to meet up with my #2 son. He had driven up from Ashville, North Carolina, to fish with me on my birthday. Unknowing to him I knew the main reason he came up for this weekend. You see my non-fishing, non-camping, un-outdoorsy and unadventurous mom and siblings were planning to have a surprise birthday get-together for me. Being I fish, usually alone, on my birthday, their primary objective would be quite hard in finding me. Usually on my birthday weekend I’m in the Allegheny National Forest along some dirt roadside stream. From where I park I can be anywhere 2 miles upstream or down. Even with a GPS, that they probably couldn’t use anyhow, would have a slight chance just finding my van. All in all they would have about a 1% chance of finding me in the wilderness.
They were planning this for some time, I heard through the grape vine, and though they were told they might not find me, they were determined. I figured I’d make it easy for them and told Giddeon that on my birthday, Saturday, we would fish Sandy Creek. Giddeon was the go between, complete with cell phone.
Friday Giddeon and I fished Mill Creek and Millstone the rest of the afternoon before heading back to my house.
Saturday morn we left Clarion in darkness. Arriving at Sandy Creek the sun was just rising through the motionless bare trees. We parked along rte. 965 at the RR gate. Giddeon’s big black truck and my van stood out so my family should not have any problem finding them. I figured Giddeon would suggest going back to the vehicles at noon for lunch and my family would be there waiting to surprise me, right?
My son and I walked up the old RR grade, pass the wood mill, and hit the creek. Like most 2nd weekends of trout season the leftovers would be few and far between. I always looked at these stocked trout leftovers like they were the ones that got away or the smarter ones of the bunch. White woolly buggers and yellow woolly buggers are usually a good bet fishing these rainbow waters in the early season.
 The early morning went smoothly as we both caught a few rainbows clustered in pockets throughout the beginning stretch. Just near the rope swing I was casting across and letting the white bugger swing down stream into a deep hole. A guy standing on a handicap ramp told me my bugger was too high and that I should add weight to get the bugger down deeper. I thanked him and upon my next cast, without adding any weight, I mended the belly of the fly line upstream letting the bugger drop deeper before it began its swing. When the belly of the line started to be pulled by the current the rest of the extended line didn’t seem to follow. I lifted the rod sharply as my line started to race upstream on the hook set. I kept the rod high and watched the line follow the trout. As the line straightened out the trout turned and swam downstream at a good pace. I hurriedly took in line with my left hand. Practically in front of me the rainbow exploded out of the water and reentered. Miraculously the hook set was solid and I was able to bring the trout to the net.
 My next cast was a little nearer to the opposite bank. Mending line upstream again, the bugger sank deep in the slow pool before swinging. This time a rainbow grabbed the bugger at the end of the drift.
“You know what you’re doing” the guy commented.
 I nodded as I spat a wad of tobacco juice to the side. After Netting and releasing the nice fat rainbow, I looked upstream and motioned to Giddeon about the hot spot. I walked carefully along the bank and continued downstream.
 About 11:00am I was standing in the middle of a long straight stretch of water while Giddeon was upstream working the riffles with his rod in one hand and his cell phone in the other. I figured he was giving the surprise party directions to the vehicles along rte. 965. About 15 minutes later I was concentrating, tying on a yellow bodied woolly bugger, when a chorus of voices started singing ’Happy Birthday to You”.
 Looking up the bank, through the bare trees and brush, there were a group of people standing there singing!! There they sang the complete verse of ‘Happy Birthday’ and waving, complete with balloons and a ’50 years old’ sign.
 Boy, I was glad no one else was in the vicinity.
 I turned to look at Giddeon. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say “I don’t know how they found us”.
 Walking up to the family of singers there was my 70+ year old mother, my brother and his wife from Pittsburgh, my sister from Ohio and my oldest sister from Erie. My daughter stood there laughing with my grandson.
 We walked up to the RR grade and then down to the vehicles to address my birthday. I pulled out camping chairs and set a cooler down so they could set my birthday blueberry pie on it along with a waxed number 50 candle!
 Every fisherman that walked near us, my sister would yell to them that it was my 50’th birthday.
 I figure, for all the years I’ve fished my birthday weekend, this was the first time I ever celebrated it with my family. I was surprised no doubt, being that I am the black sheep of the family.
Oh well, I hope I didn’t mislead you with the title of this story.

__________________________Families are Forever ~doubletaper

Friday, February 5, 2010

Orvis Sling Pack Review

Orvis Safe Passage Sling Pack

I’m not one to give reviews, mostly because I don’t have access to use similar products to compare the good and bad. I do know when I buy and use something what I expect of such product. If the product surprises me in function or exceeds my original expectations I’m incline to let others know from my point of view, of course.
I was recently looking for something to use to carry my steelhead gear during the winter months. My regular fishing vest just wouldn’t do. Even though I buy it large to fit over a rain coat or insulated shirt, putting the vest over a heavy winter coat leaves me with confined movement.
For the last few years I’ve used a fanny pack. This was fine on most days during the early season but again when I had to wear a heavy coat the fanny pack was bulky under the bottom hem of the coat. Spinning it around and searching for something in it with or without gloves didn’t work very smoothly. Oh, and I don’t care for those chest packs either. I like it when nothing interferes with my casting or retrieving a fish on my fly rod.
Well along came this Orvis sling pack. I checked the reviews, usefulness and design of this sling. It seemed it was what I was looking for and so I ordered one to try it out. On two winter steelhead trips, this season, I decided it was what I was looking for. It worked great! Without getting into much detail, you can read about it on, here is why I like it.
First off it fits over a heavy winter coat and with the adjustable strap; I can size it to fit. It does not, in any way, hamper my casting, fishing or retrieving abilities. The two main compartments ‘sit’ in the sling behind my left hip. The smaller, removable, fly box pouch can stay attached to the front of the other two zippered main compartments or clamp on the bottom front of the sling where it’s near by but out of the way. This smaller pouch is great for the more common fly boxes I use. The larger main compartments holds a world of other fly boxes and gear as needed. The inside is separated by black netting. Though I thought it would have been nice to have more inner netted compartments for spool tippets or lead split shot. I found my own coat pockets were just as convenient and just as handy. The smaller convertible pouch does have an outside Velcro net pocket for a variety of my quick snaps and chap stick for greasen up the fly line and rod eyes during freezing weather.
The only thing I see that may be a problem is those who carry a net on their back. I carry a helping hand net glove that clips conveniently to the ‘D’ ring on my waders so it doesn’t bother me.
It would have been nice if there was somewhere on the front strap for a fly patch but I guess you can’t have everything. I just attached a wool patch to the front of the small pouch that works well and handy.
Well, that’s it. I give the sling pack a big A for design, accessibility, carrying capabilities and staying out of the way when it’s not needed, like when I’m fishen! Great stuff for around $49.00

You can see the 'sling pack'  and wool patch in this picture!

....tight lines ~doubletaper