Monday, October 26, 2015

Chilly October

Chilly October

 When I woke up and looked out the French doors there was snow covering the back deck. I had planned on meeting a friend on Oil Creek around 9:00am. If it wasn’t for that I might have stayed home but I’m pretty reliable. At 8:00am I gave him a call to make sure that he was still planning to go fishing. He was just eating breakfast and said he’d be there in an hour. I had already eaten breakfast and the van was packed. I headed out, brushed the snow off the van and headed west alone the back roads.

Jeff had been up archery and squirrel hunting for the weekend. He lives in Pittsburgh and his plan was to fish Oil Creek before heading home. We’ve fished in some inclement weather before but not that I remember cold and snow in October.
 There wasn’t as much snow about when I got closer to the state park but there was enough in the higher elevations to question my sanity.
I mean we are only fishing for trout and I’m sure there will be warmer days ahead. The leaves weren’t even off the trees yet.

 When I got to the park I of course was the only vehicle in the parking lot. The snow feel in small wet clumps rather than the fine flakes of winter. It was cold, very cold.

 I walked down to the creek to check out the water conditions. The water had risen some since Tuesday but was still low. There weren’t as many rocks showing in the riffling water though. The water was a tinch stained but nothing drastic. It appeared to me to be in perfect condition.
 When I got back to the van Jeff was pulling in. after a brief conversation, mentioning the weather, we got our extra warm clothes on and waders.
 I selected my all purpose SAS Scott rod in these kinds of wet conditions. Not that my more expensive rods couldn’t handle it but the SAS does everything well whether I’m casting nymphs or streamers. It is a medium fast action and a little on the stiffer side. It does take a little more effort to get a long cast out but it doesn’t look like I’ll be doing any dry fly long distance fishing.
 We put our tossle caps on and headed down to the water. As soon as I got to the bank I knotted on a dry caddis anyhow. Even though it was cold, cold and the sun was behind the blue/grayish clouds, I thought just maybe. Believe it or not I did make a trout rise but it was just a swirl without a take. The wind picked up so I switched to a bugger. For about an hour Jeff and I couldn’t get a hit. I moved up in the shallower riffling water. It had some decent flow and there were some deeper runs about mid stream. Jeff was up creek some so I kept some distance between us and worked it over.
 I knotted on a San Juan worm to attract attention and a Hares Ear as my dropper. Within three casts I managed a take and a frisky rainbow fought through the riffles towards me.


 That one broke the ice. I stuck with the Hares Ear dropper and picked up a few more trout but there were long dry intervals between the catches.

 The air stayed cold throughout the day and there were times I thought about quitting. The cold wind was fierce and blew through my whiskers like wind through a lace veil. At times there were snowflakes that fell from the sky as well as small frozen raindrops. I was catching trout though and Jeff wasn’t giving up so I stuck it out. Occasionally the sun peeked through the cloud cover but not for very long. It was like when your mom would spy on you just long enough, because everything got too quiet, and make sure you weren’t getting into trouble. There was no warmth in the sun but it did feel good as the day brightened at the time. When the wind blew hard enough it was interesting to watch the water surface, from one side of the creek to the other, wrinkle like a shimmering cloth being unrolled on a table top.   

 This dropped leaves upon the water surface. There weren’t as many as the past Tuesday but it made casting between the leaves a little more precise. Every so often a trout would grab the imitation nymph and I’d forget about the cold, wind and snow fall.

   Getting late after noon the coldness was taking its toll on us. We weren’t catching a whole lot of trout and the day was wearing thin. Jeff finally suggested he was ready to quit and head back towards Pittsburgh. After a few more casts I decided to join him and we headed to the vehicles.
 We drank a beer and discussed next weekend plans while changing out of our waders. It was good getting together again on these rare occasions and I always look forward to sharing a drift or a hunt with Jeff. 


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Out of Place

Out of Place

 The only person with a fly rod I felt out of place. It was like bringing the lever action Winchester 30-30 to a long range shooting contest. I was lined up with a bunch of bait fishermen. I wasn’t hard to spot; I was the only one with a faded black cowboy hat at the tossle and ball cap convention. 

 It’s early steelhead fishing and without much rain the steelhead aren’t very far up the creeks. This means the fishermen are near the mouth or not too far up creek to where the majority of steelhead are concentrated. This creates crowds and lines of fishermen along the creek banks. I was one of those on Tuesday the 20th.

 I got to the creek early enough to get a spot between the few anglers along the bank. We were lined up but space between us that if one fell sideways it wouldn’t knock the next one over. In the tunnel it was a different story. They were crammed in there like a box of graham crackers.
 Come daylight it wasn’t very long before the yelps of happy fishermen and splashing steelhead was the morning norm. The bait fishermen were having a field day. They were catching fish to the left of me and to the right. Often I heard the muffled sound of a splashing steelhead coming out of the tunnel. I watched skein and egg sacs being reloaded on hooks. Every once in a while I saw someone picking single eggs out of a plastic medicine bottle container. I heard southern drawls as a group of guys from West Virginia were ribbing each other while catching fish. I learned a few fishermen were from Kentucky and even a guy from the Philadelphia area who is a Philly fan and proud of it. What was nice is they all knew what they were doing. There wasn’t anyone like I’ve seen at the wall at Walnut whereas the spinning reel is on top of the rod seat with left hander’s reeling the open face reel clockwise and right hander’s counterclockwise. They weren’t using baseball size or wooden bobbers. These guys were pretty good and considerate of each other also.
 There I was the only fly guy in the bunch flinging a fly line. To them I probably resembled some gray bearded old cowboy with a long buggy whip. I looked down stream and it also was lined with fishermen so I decided to just stay put and wait it out.
 I was tying on every combination and color streamer trying to muster a strike. As long as the others were using scented bait I felt I really didn’t have a chance on these fresh steelhead. As the morning wore on there were these unethical thoughts that ran through my brain. Since a fly fisherman can’t imitate smell on his ties these unethical thoughts kept suggesting to ask a single egg user if I can dip my sucker spawn in their container. I lit up a good cigar instead and those evil thoughts vanished.
 I watched time and again as steelhead were caught than strung on rope along the bank secured to heavy rocks. The guys and gals in the tunnel had their own hitching post. They carried fresh caught steelhead out of the tunnel and roped them on long ropes tied to a heavy tree branch on the bank. Once these master bait fishermen roped their limit of three steelhead they sat back and coaxed their pardoners on. This gave me more room to move around.
 After a long time I found a few steelhead whom were tired of the smell of fish eggs and wanted a real fish diet. I even found room to park myself on the ledge outside the tunnel for some time.
 I laid the Triple Threat streamer nicely against the blocks across creek. It drifted slowly with the current just out from the wall. The take was subtle. When I seen the floating fly line drop slightly I yanked back on the rod. There was a quick scuffle where the water surface began to churn when the line tightened. The steelhead circled down creek as the other fishermen brought in their lines. The steelhead didn’t force itself down creek too far and didn’t head into the tunnel. He had the upper hand for sometime as I held onto the grip tightly and waited for him to tire. It got to be a standoff bout for a time being in the imaginary box in front of me. I eventually got him to the bank and than released him.

 I got up on the tunnel ledge after a few guys left. My cast was down and across creek. The take was sharp as if the fish was making sure no other fish was going to grab the last minnow in the sea of fish eggs. It took off with a jar and I was able to feel its weighty mass as I tried to hold the rod upright. It continued to tug and jar the line as it darted up and down the waterway. In the tunnel it surfaced with head thrashes splashing water in all directions. Once I got the steelhead out of the tunnel I consciously stepped off the ledge into the water out from the stony bank. From there, while still fighting the husky steelhead, I carefully stepped over the roped steelhead lying around my feet. I backed up as I was getting the steelhead nearer to the bank. The rod arced under its weight as I circled around and landed it on the bank. It wasn’t till about a quarter to 10 that I caught my first steelhead but it was a big one. Its chrome sides shined like new silver spurs.

 I landed another smaller steelhead a little later on. When it got to the point the crowd thinned out and not too many fish were being caught I decided it was time for me to go elsewhere. I looked down stream and the line of fishermen had thinned out so I hooked the streamer in the rod hook and headed down yonder.

 There were a few guys fishing deeper runs along the bank. There were also few guys fishing a deeper hole about mid creek. One had just hooked up while the others watched from the stony bank. I took it as they were together and fishing there for some time. They at least had fly rods so I felt a little more accepted with this bunch. The guy who caught the fish followed the catch through the shallower water and they both headed down creek. I asked one of the on lookers if it was ok if I fished the area and they didn’t seem to mind. When the guy who caught the fish returned they all went down creek and I had the big pool to myself. I was able to see dark outlines of the steelhead in a few areas inside the pool and every once in a while I would see one swimming about. I checked over the situation and lit another cigar.
 I came to the conclusion, after showing them many streamers and buggers, that they weren’t interested. I started to show them many colors of sucker spawn and different nymphs and still no takes. I felt like an old time traveling salesman trying to get someone to buy one of my wares. I came to another conclusion those band of fly guys worked those steelhead over real good and they were afraid to bite on anything. I was at a disadvantage again like being at a hoedown without aftershave on and offering artificial flowers to the ladies. I couldn’t convince any to dance. 

 There was a guy with a fly rod up creek fishing a faster run along the bank. He caught three or four steelhead in the fast water. Before he got there I watched one other fly guy fish the same run for about a half hour or so and only caught one that appeared to be foul hooked. I wondered what this guy was using but kept to myself and didn’t ask. I felt I could figure it out for myself. After he left the area and fished down below me I casually waded up creek to the faster run. I was able to see fish moving to and fro in the oncoming current. There appeared to be quite a few and that was only the ones I was able to make out. I heavily weighted a streamer and swam it in front of them but they didn’t want anything to do with it. I finally got to the side and started drifting sucker spawn. I knew using an indicator would move the sucker spawn through the run too fast so I tried without one. Even mending the line upstream as it hit the water didn’t appear to be too impressive. Remembering some tactics, which a friend of mine used in Alaska, I decided to try it out. I knotted on, what I call, a Golden Nugget sucker spawn to the end of my 6lb tippet. Above that a ways I twisted on a lead strip with a small split shot to make sure the unweighted sucker spawn didn’t rise up too far in the current.
 I cast the sucker spawn in the soft spot right behind an exposed boulder breaking the fast current of water. As the sucker spawn tumbled in the current I continued to mend line up creek with the rod high trying to keep the weight from dragging on the bottom to long and possibly getting hung up. I thought I noticed the line not traveling out of the tumbling water as it should have and lifted the rod upward with hook setting force. I felt the rod arc and line tighten and than all hell broke loose. The steelhead tugged like a heavy weight at the sound of a gun that marked the start of a tug of war against an opponent. Than it took off like a wild mustang with a force of a steam engine down stream. All I could do is hold on as the large arbor reel spun and line shot off the spool. I gripped the cork handle tightly with my forearms locked trying to keep the rod shaft up as the tip bowed down creek. The steelhead had lots of room to roam around and took full advantage of the wide section of stream. As I fought the steelhead I slowly backed up towards the bank behind me which was about 40 feet away. After a hesitant stop and go headshake it turned and shot up creek. I reeled in line onto the large arbor while the rod flexed wildly with my winding and the steelhead fighting while swimming. Once it got into the swifter current again it jolted the line in quick intervals before turning right at me from the force of the rod tension. I had it coming towards me reluctantly. When it got to the shallow water and seen me it turned away with force. I couldn’t hold back any longer and palmed the spool as water flung off the wet fly line as the spool spun.
 This is when I start thinking about whether my knots were going to hold up or if the hook is going to let loose. Occasionally I’d glance behind me to make sure I wasn’t going to trip over any big rocks about. I kept the pressure on and never tried to hurry the big fellow in. He began to fight in quick tugs and pulls than fast runs so I was able to get him to cooperate more easily. I got him into the shallows where I was able to grab a hold of him and get him to the bank.

 Taking a break from the strenuous battle I took out my last cigar and lit it up. I relaxed and looked around as I puffed on the stogie. 

  The sun was out and the air was warm. There were very few people up by the tunnel and down creek I only seen one other fisherman. I checked the sucker spawn to make sure the hook wasn’t bent and went back to fishing. With the same technique I caught two more steelhead and got myself into another couple of good fighting battles with them.
 The bigger steelhead kept me on my toes as it swam nearer to the rocky bank and some of the downed tree branches. I had to keep the line from rubbing against exposed rocks and keep him away from the tangle of limbs. I succeeded and got him to the bank out of harms way.

 One of the other steelhead I caught had some jewelry attached in its lips. There was a guy that watched me get it to shore and we double teamed the fish for the operation of removing the extra hardware. After a little coaxing the fish swam off with good energy back across the creek to the deeper water.
 The guy that was catching fish before, in the spot I was now fishing, returned and fished up stream from me. He caught one more fish before he decided to call it quits. He asked me if I wanted the minnows he had left. I was puzzled because he was using a fly rod and I hadn’t noticed the minnows he had. When I asked him if that was what he was catching the steelhead on all that time he said he hooked the minnow on a Woolly Bugger. I told him no thanks and he was about to release the minnows just up creek from where I was fishing. I asked him not to as they would surely swim into the hole I was fishing. He said something about chumming and I tried to politely go along and said if I was fishing streamers I wouldn’t care. He went up creek a piece before he let the minnows go. You just never know!
 I told myself when I finished the cigar I’d quit. As the sun started to cast a shadow over the fast run I was fishing the fish didn’t appear to want to bite anymore. I did find one that took the sucker spawn. We battled it out for a bit and I began to force him towards me from down stream. He had a little more spunk than I anticipated and he ended up getting free. My sucker spawn was still on so I fished a bit longer till my cigar went out.

 On the way back to the van I felt a slight pain in my upper back I’m sure from standing in the water for so long. It was good to exercise my legs as I walked up the path instead of the short steps I take while wading. At the van I took a long drink of cold water and took out a few whole grain snack bars for the way home. I changed clothes and put the rod and reel away before getting into the drivers seat. I had about a two hour drive home and was trying to relax and condition myself for the drive. I had gotten up at 4:15 in the morning and it was now just after 6:00pm. I got to Erie and had been out fishing since about 7:00am. It was a long day indeed.
 After filling up with fuel I headed toward the interstate. I got on I79 and headed south. I found an AM station that had the penguin’s pre game show on. I tilted the captain’s chair back a bit, put down the arm rests and put the van on cruise control. It had been a fun day.



Friday, October 16, 2015

Seldom Seen

Seldom Seen

 It’s very seldom I can go to the project area on Oil Creek and be the only one there. Not sure why but when I arrived in the parking area, about 9:00am, the only other vehicle in the lot was a state maintenance truck and he was working on the kids playground area.
 The sky was bright but cloudy and there was a gust of wind now and then. Because of the wind I decided to use my 9’ 4 weight fast action fly rod with weight forward line. While I was putting my waders on the sun was peering out and it looked like it was going to be a fairly nice day so I didn’t wear anything too warm.
 When I got down to the creek I found the water level was lower than I ever seen it. I like fishing the faster riffles but the conditions looked so rocky and shallow I figured I’d be snagging bottom more than fishing.
 I walked the path to where the riffles emptied into the deeper stretch and strung up my rod before entering the water. I knotted on a Woolly Bugger and fished my way as I waded out further in the shin deep to knee deep water. I was about one third across the wide section of the stream when I felt comfortable that the last two thirds looked deep enough to hold a lot of fish. I also felt that, if need be, I could single haul the weight forward line pretty close to the far bank.
 I received a tip a couple of days before that there was a small hatch of Blue Wing Olives and some caddis in the early morning that fish were rising to. I didn’t see any BWO’s anywhere but I did notice a few, very few, caddis about. The current flow was slow and the water was clear enough that a trout wanting a top water meal shouldn’t have any problem seeing it if it could distinguish it from the drifting leaves and such.
 It wasn’t long before I noticed a rise across creek and then another. I didn’t waste any time or have any second thoughts about tying on a dry. The sun was shining at the time so I figured a dark body Elk Hair Caddis would be good to start out with. Though the few caddis I did see were small and a shade darker in the wings I decided to go with a size #14 instead mostly because it would be easier for me to see and I already was fishing with 5x tippet. Also without anyone else being around I figured the trout would be pretty calm and not wary of any fishermen.
 I missed my first trout while I was rolling up my sleeves. I had cast out a short distance and felt warm so I decided to roll up my sleeves. I left the caddis out there drifting and sure enough a trout rose for it. I missed my second trout also. It was my 4th cast near a previous riser. I looked away when I heard another splashing rise down creek a short ways. When I turned back to my dry there was an opening spiral where my fly should have been. I pulled back the line but I knew there was little chance of hooking him. My third miss I had him dead to rights but ended up empty handed. I began to think I would be counting missed trout instead of estimating the caught ones.
 For the first hour the wind was tolerable with only a few gusts. The surface current I was fishing was slow going and further towards the far bank it was slower yet but there appeared to be more risers over there. The sun was out briefly until the gray clouds moved in and the air began to turn colder. I dropped my sleeves and wished I would have put more layers on but I stuck it out. With the breeze and the sun gone I didn’t see any caddis about but a few trout would rise sporadically here and there. With the wind came more leaves on the water. With the clarity of the water and leaves my strategy was to drop my dry within seeing distance, maybe a foot or so, of any risers I spotted. I figured trout should be able to see it fall and be better able to distinguish it from the floating leaves and small debris. Long leader/tippet is a must in low and clear conditions to feeding trout. The trout will look at the first thing that hit’s the water within sight. A fly line smacking the water too close is more apt to scare the fish or distract it from seeing the small offering.
 Taking the wind in consideration I got a good straight line cast out and my caddis fell within a trout’s feeding zone. He took no time at all to swim right up to it and suck it in. I wrist back the rod and the trout jarred on the surface before scurrying about below. There wasn’t any current to speak of for him to take advantage of so I brought him in pretty easily without much of a risky skirmish. My first trout was netted at 9:45am. I lit up a cigar as a just reward.

That’s the way it went for a couple of hours. If I seen a rise I was on it. More than not I got him to rise to my dry and more than not he was fighting a tight line.

 If I did miss him I’d cast elsewhere and return to pick him off later.

The fights were pretty much the same. They would scurry about for a good running battle. Some more energetic trout would break the water surface in an acrobatic twit and tumble back down with an audible splash.
 Throughout the rest of the day other fishermen would come and go. They left me alone with plenty of room to cast without interfering. I only seen a couple trout the other fishermen caught but even with that no one stuck around long and most of the time I was by myself.

 Nearing noon the sky actually lightened up but brought with it a fine mist of rain. Any splashing rises ceased but I noticed a few trout sipping in the softer water just out from the far bank.
 I had switched to smaller darker winged caddis and was using 6x tippet when the trout were refusing my bigger caddis on 5x. It was a bit harder to see but I was getting less refusals.
 I was keying on the sippers in the slow pool across creek. I figured, by the different spots they were sipping, that there was maybe three different trout.
 I single hauled a long line out towards the sippers. The caddis fell to the water and dimpled the surface. It took patients watching the dry moving slowly atop the water; it was if it wasn’t moving at all. It was in a very visible spot without a leaf around it that a trout surely could see it. My fly line, out in front of me, was beginning to arc with the slightly quicker current. I held onto the cork grip with anticipation and watched the dry intensely not wanting to miss a take. The subtle swirl came without any notice and I pulled back the length of line and felt the line tighten and a wild tug on the other end. The calmer water beyond was now an agitated pool as the trout struggled with the line. With the rod tip flexed outward I brought him towards me alternating the line through my fingers. Nearer to me I took out my net and raised it beneath the struggling trout

 My cast was across and down creek a little further but still within the same area as the last. The Caddis fell with a little stronger landing as I had to use a little more force behind my cast to have my line cut through the cross wind. It fell near some fallen leaves but away far enough to be noticed. This time the swirl was unmistakable with a center slurp that I’m sure if I was close enough I would have heard it. I yanked back on this one and the long length of fly line rose out of the water, tightened and I felt a strong tug on the other end. This trout took no time in driving down creek in a hurry. He leaped out of the water in acrobatic fashion and returned with a hearty splash. From there he somehow turned quickly upstream and bolted through the water with the line cutting the surface just behind him. I took in line quickly keeping tension. We battled back and forth and when I had him near he would turn away with enough energy I had to let out some line. He was stubborn and determined to get loose but I wasn’t doing anything forceful that I felt was going to pull the hook from his grip. I finally got him turned towards me and he reluctantly came close enough to the net.

After that fight I didn’t notice any more risers for some time. I tried to nymph fish but the wind played havoc on trying to cast tandem nymphs and I kept getting snagged up in the shallow slow current. I decided to try streamer fishing for the time being.

 With a long cast towards the opposite bank the Woolly Bugger plopped through the surface. I was bringing in the slack in the arced line, caused by the wind, when I felt the line tighten after I got the line straightened. I jerked back the rod slightly hoping to dislodge the bugger. When the bugger jerked back it surprised me, for it wasn’t a snag after all. The weighty fish pulled line down creek with force but not with as much speed as the other trout I had caught. It never rose up to the surface but continued to battle beneath. I thought maybe it was a brown trout but I’d been catching enough trout that I felt this wasn’t one. With his strength it was becoming a contest as who was going to win out. I couldn’t remember if I still had 6x for a tippet or 5x at the time so I didn’t force him to me too strenuously. Within eyesight I seen his girthy body and knew I was fighting with a smallmouth. He finally got close enough after a couple of small back and forth skirmishes and I was able to net him.

 I stripped buggers and streamers for a while until I seen some risers down creek. I slowly moved from my spot and now I started to chase rising trout as there was no one around to get in my way.

 The wind had died down and the water surface got calm. The trout weren’t coming to the surface as often and when they did they didn’t appear to be interested in my caddis offering any more. I switched to a King River Caddis. It was harder to see with its down wing so I had to play vicinity if I didn’t actually see it touch down. I missed a couple of takes but did manage one before I gave up not being able to see it clearly all the time.

 The air began to chill a little more as the brightness of the sun, behind the gray clouds, was moving closer towards the hillside. There were still some risers but they wanted nothing to do with my surface caddis any more. The way they were rising was if they were taking emergers but I didn’t see anything coming up out of the water.
 I had a dark bodied elk hair caddis on when I figured I’d try to fish it like a wet fly. I added a small piece of lead strip up from the caddis and went back to fishing.
 I shot the line out across creek and found the caddis still wanted to float. I tip jerked the line towards me and the caddis went under. As the fly line started to arc I took in line trying not to let it get too much slack, the whole time I watched my fly line for any pulls. On the first drift through I thought I had a strike but it could have been the bottom. My next cast was more down and across so there wasn’t as much free line out. This time I felt a hard take and set the hook. The trout aggressively fought trying to free itself. I always felt a trout that took a streamer fought harder than those that took a nymph or dry fly, well this fish was carrying on like that. He came out of the water twice before I got him to the net. The caddis was entirely in its mouth so I took my time and surgically removed it without harming the fish. It swam off in pain I imagine but it did swim off in a hurry.
 I caught one more using the caddis as a wet fly before I decided to call it quits, almost.

 I hadn’t caught a trout all day on a bugger. Now, I consider myself a pretty good streamer fisherman as well as good nymph fishermen feel about themselves. So before I actually called it quits I knotted on a Woolly Bugger and gave it a shot.
 Last trout caught a 4:24pm
 When I got to the van a truck had just pulled up and a guy was getting ready to go fishing. I changed clothes while the van warmed up. I was pretty chilled by now and couldn’t wait to get in a warm vehicle. I took a big gulp of water and lit a stogie for the way home before I left the parking lot.
 It was quite an experience having the creek to myself most of the time and catching trout on dry flies on an overcast chilly day in October. I have to say that’s pretty seldom seen around these parts!


Monday, October 12, 2015

Decided to Take the Harley

Decided to Take the Harley

 I’m not sure if it’s just an urge I get sometimes, a whim now and than or some kind of calling that egg me on to want to trout fish. 

 After tying flies all day Saturday I was thinking about trout fishing on Sunday. I’ve been bass fishing and steelhead fishing the past few weeks and was thinking about trout while I was tying. The state had just stocked Neshannock Creek the past week and I figured this would be a good place to bend a rod. I called a friend and we agreed on meeting in the morning at the creek.
 It’s been typical fall weather here in Pennsylvania. 40 degrees something in the morning and 60’s to 70’s after noon. With the van giving me problems lately I decided to take the Harley.

 I put my 5 piece fly rod, waders and wading boots in the back pack and the rest of my fishing gear in the saddlebags and leather tour pack. I bundle up for the morning ride in warm clothes including a tossle cap, gloves and balaclava. As I pull out of the driveway it is 43 degrees in the shade but I knew it was warmer than that but not by much. The neon sign, at the custom Kitchen cabinet shop  down the road, reads 45 degrees. It will take over an hour by the time I get to the creek so I put a song in my head, take in the autumn scenery and motor on.
 I didn’t take the interstate but kept to the country roads. The smell of burning wood, in home fireplaces, is a pleasant odor. Along the way Amish buggies, pulled by horses, are on their way to a community home for Sunday services. Colorful leaves glisten in the trees, upon the rising sun, from the morning moisture. Fallen leaves litter the blacktop as my exhaust pipes clear the roadway for the next rider. Under my tossle capped ears the V-Twin hums along the lonely straight-a-ways but breaks the peacefulness with loud rumbling as I crack the throttle up hills and through bends. The small towns and sleepy villages I drive through are quaint with little human activity. Out on the country roads again, the fenced animals are grazing without concern of the outside world. Though chilly it is a pleasant ride.
 I pull into the fly shop parking lot about 10:30am. I was just putting my fly rod sections together when Randy pulled up beside me in his car. We exchange greetings and get ourselves ready to do some trout fishing.
 There is already a team of anglers lined up in front of the fly shop fishing nymphs. Up creek there looks to be quite enough guys fishing below the dam with one fisherman fishing the deepest part of the shallow riffles. The water is quite low and very clear except for the shaded areas. We decide to fish down creek away from the others.
 It feels good to be out of the heavy clothes I had been wearing. I fish in a T-shirt and a fishing jacket. The sun is still rising and gives more clarity through the water. As we fish acorns plop into the water from squirrels which play in the trees that line the creek. After fishing a deep hole below the bridge we leisurely fish our way down stream. I now cast across creek and let my streamer swing with the slight current over the bed of rocks and wedged sticks beneath the water surface. Smoke rises from my cigar and lingers until a cool breeze blows and then it follows and dissipates. Occasionally the sound of a motorcycle is heard on the distant roadway as more cyclists are enjoying the sunshine and warmer temperature.

 A trout tugs at the line on the second strip towards me. I pull the line sharply , lift the rod to the side and that sets the hook. The trout splashes in the distant. I hold the cork handle as if gripping my cycle grips as I bring the trout towards me. After unhooking him I let it swim to freedom and we continue on down creek.

 I catch a few more trout down stream. The warmth of the noon day sun, now in full view, penetrates my jacket and warms my body.

 We cast lines out trying to land our offering between the fallen leaves that slowly drift with the current. We fish for about an hour and decide to head back up creek. I figure if I left by 4:30 that I would get home before dark and before the temperature dropped again.

 When we get back to the fly shop it is 4:00. I can’t resist and end up catching 3 more trout in less than a half hour before calling it quits. 

 At the cycle I change into my jeans and pack my fly fishing gear tightly in the saddlebags, leather tour pack and back pack. I still wear warm undergarments as I put my Harley jacket on. Randy and I say our good byes. I put my skull cap on and fire up the Springer. She comes to life with a rumble at fast idle. I let her warm up some on half choke. After putting on my goggles I flip the kickstand up and cautiously roll over the gravel to the blacktop. Once on the road I feel that freedom again. Something I can feel when I’m on my Harley and not confined in a motor car. It’s feeling the wind in my face and the coolness of the air that creeps through my jacket and layers of clothing that makes me feel more apart of the scenery. The smell of fresh earth, farmer’s fields, pine and the smell of a forest puts a smile on my face. I crack the throttle on the open road and the Harley livens up, grips the hardtop and thrusts forward with V-Twin power. The wind in my face feels cooler, the blood in my veims appears to pump faster and an excitement comes over me like the feeling I get with a big trout on a tight line.
 Maybe it never got to 70 degrees as predicted but the ride home, in the 60's, is more pleasant than the chilling ride was this morning. The fall colors of the trees are more prominent as I get closer towards my home nearing more forested areas. Now fresh mowed grass litters the roadway. A few Amish, in buggies, travel towards their own homes.
 It’s a sense of freedom whether it’s on my Harley or on a trout stream. I’m myself with my own thoughts away from the hustle and bustle of daily and routine life. I pull into the driveway, safe and calm. With the engine stopped the quietness now surrounds me. The warmth of the V-Twin rises and I can feel it beneath my leather chaps and smell the heat of the warm engine…



Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Shaking Off the Dust

Shaking Off the Dust

  The indicator went under and I yanked back the 7 weight fly rod like I hooked a bass. The chrome steelhead took off like a wild stallion. It was if the fly line couldn’t cut through the lake surface water fast enough to keep up with the steelhead as it accelerated out towards deeper water. Line peeled off the reel spool as I kept a white knuckle grip on the cork handle with the rod tip arced and the butt in my gut. The guys to my right brought there lines in quickly and watched the show.
 The steelhead leaped upward, breaking the water surface, as did the rest of the fly line. I let the rod tip down hoping the hook didn’t dislodge. Once the steelhead returned to the water it didn’t take long before I felt the streaking silver bullet again speed through the lake. With the rod held high, trying to keep as much line above the surface as possible, I tried to guide it towards the shore. It continued out from the shoreline a ways to my right and I began to wade along the stony shore keeping the line above the bowing fishermen.
 The steelhead turned and shot up the shoreline towards me and I cranked the reel handle on the mid arbor while backing up on the bank trying to keep tension on the line. A fellow appeared beside me with a net and commented he’d net it for me. I tussled with the steelhead like a mad dog that keeps tugging at a rope and won’t let go. Nearer to the shore he tired a bit and did more splashing tugs than speedy escapes. I cranked in line when I could and continued to back up on dry land. Finally the other fisherman got the steelhead in the net with the goldish orange sucker spawn hooked tightly in its mouth. That sure did shake any dust off the rod and reel and put some excitement in these old bones.

 I fished till twelve and that was my only strike while fishing in the lake. I saw maybe a half dozen steelhead taken which is a slow day. I gathered up my stuff and headed to the van.

 After seeing pictures posted of early steelhead I started to get the itch and couldn’t resist but make the trip up no matter the conditions. The water in the creeks has been low, real low. We hadn’t had enough rain that amounted to anything big enough to get a good run of steelhead up the creeks. A few days that we did get some rain did bring some early fish in though. I heard that any steelhead that has made it up creek have been concentrated near the railroad and highway tunnels. Other than that I found a few scattered under overhanging branches where the fish are shaded from the sun and where the water is deep enough to hold them. Problem is most of these places where the fish are, are surrounded by fishermen and are spooky because of the clarity of the water.
 After walking up and down the creek looking for fish I finally found a pod, under some overhangs, that others weren’t paying attention to. I tried streamers and sucker spawn for some time without a take. I finally decided to do some slow bottom nymph fishing without an indicator.

I knotted on a Hare’s Ear and side armed my casts under the tree branches. I was getting some good casts landing the nymphs near the far bank ledge where the fish were holding. There was just enough current to slowly drift my nymph down creek through the pod of fish strung out along the ledge. After the nymph slowly drifted and tumbled down creek I started bringing the nymph in with a slow retrieving crawl and stopping the nymph now and then. The line pulled away and I pulled back immediately while lifting the rod. That’s when the surface water erupted like an underwater explosion.
 The fish swirled beneath and headed down creek leaving a wavy wake that followed her. I tightened up my grip and let the fish do the work fighting the spool tension. A rising surge noisily erupted the surface, down creek, with tugging head shakes. I backed up and tightened the drag a couple of clicks quick enough before she took off with another surging run. I was on the wet muddy bank when she decided to turn and head up creek along the far bank. I reeled in line as quickly as I could as she rushed pass me. When the other fishermen, up creek, seen the steelhead heading their way they brought in their lines and watched. After a short tugging battle I got her turned around with more tension on the line. The steelhead shot back down creek and I reeled in line again until she again passed me going in the opposite direction. She ripped off line but didn’t go as far down creek as before. She tired some under pressure and swam cross creek twisting her body now and then trying to lose the hook. I got the steelhead battling in the middle of the creek before me trying to get her to the bank. She countered with headshakes as we challenged each other like an all out tug of war. I walked through the mud back towards the water as I fought with her just down stream from me. I got her between me and the bank and got her into shallow water to handle her.

 I was crawling the nymph along the bottom as I had been doing.  I saw a few fish casually swimming down creek and watched one in particular. This one fish cruised just beyond and over my crawling nymph, turned abruptly and I seen it angle downward towards my nymph. As soon as I seen the line twitch I yanked back and I had another steelhead on the line. It too gave me a good running battle and I succeeded in landing this one also.

 My last steelhead grabbed the nymph as I was crawling it along the bottom. I actually felt a slight tightness as I was bringing the line towards me and my instinct pulled in the line sharply as I lifted the rod. The steelhead yanked the line with force before turning and ripping line off the spool down creek. This steelhead gave me a good battle also. Every time I got it towards me and thought I tired it out, with a tail swat that splashed water about, it took off again with force taking line out.

 After that I fished for another hour or so without a fair hook up. After finishing another cigar I headed to the van.
 After cleaning up and changing clothes I headed to Girard to fill up the tank. Rolling down the highway I lit my rewarding cigar for the drive home.
 For the many hours I was out I only hooked up 4 times. Those 4 battling steelhead made for a good day and got me excited that another steelhead season is upon us.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

6 Reasons to go Bass Fish

6 Reasons to go Bass Fishing

 I contemplated early Wednesday morning why it would be a miserable day to go bass fishing in the swamp. Over the weekend they called for rain Tuesday and clear Wednesday. By the time Tuesday came they called for 60% rain for Wednesday morning and 20% the rest of the day. The weather was to be in the low 60’s with wind gusts up to 15mph.
 Sure, I’ve fished in the rain before but I’m not too sure the bass would be looking for surface poppers. That and I’ll be in a Kayak in the open so I wouldn’t have any cover should it downpour. Wind isn’t a fly fishermen’s best friend. Trying to get a light foam popper cast through the wind can present real problems. Also the wind will blow the Kayak around unless I get into the lily pad beds to anchor. They weren’t calling for thunder or lightening which was good but you’ll never know. Being it’s a half hour through the forest to the pond wouldn’t be much fun in rain or a thunder storm. I go fishing to relax but if it appears it will be more of frustration I’ll wait for a better day.
  On the other hand I thought of 6 reasons that I should go fishing.
1. I got a fly rod.
2. I got bass poppers
3. I got a rain coat
4. I got a kayak
5. I got Cigars
6. I got the day off!
I went fish’n!  

 I got a late start. I had a big breakfast and after putting all my gear in the van, including my kayak, I was on my way. I was still trying to convince myself, as I drove north in the misty rain, that this wasn’t going to be a frustrating outing.
 It was near 10 am when I pulled into the empty parking area. I wasn’t as excited as I usually am about fishing the swamp. The rain had ceased but it was a dreary feeling wet morning. The overcast sky was hard to predict. I noticed the leaves were starting to change into their autumn colors. They didn’t appear to be bright and colorful like you see in pictures. The leaves and autumn scenery looked more like a drab fresh watercolor painting dripping as if still wet.
 I got the kayak on the dolly and started packing it with my gear. It wasn’t until I took out the 7 weight fly rod, as the sky was clearing up some, that I started to get a little spark in my disposition. I just had a good feeling finally that I was going to have a fun day despite the wind and weather.

 Anytime I had mentioned this swamp around Marienville I’ve heard stories of the BIG BASS that are here. I hear how they catch them. When on the water I’ve talked with fishermen and also overheard conversations of how “the last time we were here we couldn’t keep them off the line!” I’ve never had a glory day of big bass constantly being caught myself. All these folks are either bait or lure fishermen and they begin to tell me the best lure and how to work it on the bottom. I refrain from using a spinning rod and prefer my fly rod. In fact only my friend Jeff and I are the only ones I’ve ever seen fishing a fly rod. Maybe I’ll never have a bass glory day because of this but I’ve had some memorable times that I wouldn’t trade for a spinning rod.

 As I rolled the kayak down the trail, through the forest, I kept an ear for the force of the wind. The leaves tried their best to rustle up some crispy noise, as the wind blew, but being wet and all it was a soggy muffle. A deer appeared in front of me along the lane. She stood there and looked on like I shouldn’t be out on a morning such as this. I got a quick picture and continued on as it darted into the damp forest.

 When I got out from under the canopy of trees and got within sight of the swamp I was relieved. Though the sky was a cloudy grayish blue it didn’t look like any darker clouds would bring in any downpour. The wind was constant though but I was hoping it was a little calmer down on the water. I took the kayak off the dolly and drug it over the rough grassy field down to the water. 

 With the recent rain the water had risen that I was able to get the kayak into the water without stepping into the soft marshy grass. Also I didn’t have to step into the muck and silt to get my kayak into the open water through the lily pad grove.
 The wind didn’t feel any calmer at the water so I had to put in a little more effort in paddling the kayak to get it to track straight. The water wasn’t extremely choppy but the wind kept the surface a wavy puzzle of glare. I stopped, once I got out a ways, and it didn’t take the wind any time at all to spin the 10 foot kayak facing it back in the direction I came. Not sure if it was telling me something but I wasn’t giving up or letting this wind ruin my day. I had fished the swamp in the wind before and knew my best bet was to anchor in the lily pads to keep from blowing around. 

I drifted my way towards the lily pads to make my first few casts. I dropped the claw hammer anchor just shy of the lily pads hoping it would catch before the wind blew me too far into the pad grove. I already had a popper knotted on so I stripped line out as the kayak settled.

 My cast was a bit further out from the lily pads than I would have liked. I gave it a quick strip, for some noise, and let it drift with the wind and current towards the edge of the pads. As it drifted closer I started stripping it towards me. I paused for a second or two and gave a good tug and let it settle again. The bass slurped the popper with a gulp like a bigger blue gill would. I jerked back on the line and the surface swirl told me this wasn’t a big blue gill. The line drew taunt and the rod flexed towards the battling bass. I pulled the rod towards the open water trying to force the bass away from the lily pads. The bass followed the line away from the pads and with force pulled towards the open water to my right. The kayak actually pivoted with the force of the bass. It semi circled around me as I kept the rod high trying to force it to the kayak. After a bit more of a battle I got the bass near enough to the kayak to net it. I hadn’t been in the water for an hour and already had a nice bass in the yak. Maybe it wasn’t going to be that bad of a day after all. 

After I released it I dried my hands and reached in, under my rain coat, and pulled out a Short Torp Brick House. 
 I fished the lily pads along the bank but the wind kept guiding me into the pads. I decided to cross the pond and look for calmer water. Back in a cove I found some calmer water. Small fish were going after my popper so I decided to attach a smaller one on and have some fun while I enjoyed my cigar.

 I continued to fish along the lily pads fighting the wind. I couldn’t get any bass to come up so I paddled to the open water, between some lily growths that looked like a good spot to spend some extra time. I anchored in the lily pads to keep from drifted and knotted on a #1 frog popper. It was just afternoon and I was hoping the bass were coming out from hiding to find an easy meal. I looked over the wavy open pool of water and figured if I can get a clean cast, towards the far growth, I can swim the frog popper back towards me just like a frog would.

 With the wind at my back, I let line fly towards the far lily pads. The popper followed and touched down on a pad at the edge of the growth. After the line settled, a sharp twitch of the rod tip slid the popper onto the wavy water surface with a subtle splash. Two quick strips of the line made the popper gurgle and I was sure enough commotion to draw attention. I waited about two seconds and than stripped and popped the foam and feather frog aggressively towards me like a frog escaping from danger. A bass attacked it from the side with a leaping gulp. I waited just a second and than yanked back on the rod and felt the rod flex instantly and the resistance on the other end. As the bass dove deep I tightened my grip on the cork handle and tried to keep the rod sections up to keep the bass from taking me into the swamp moss below. After a quick swim towards me he turned and surged out towards my right with good weighty force that I let some tensioned line through my fingers while keeping a good firm grip on the cork. I was able to feel the kayak drift among the lily pads with the force of the pulls. We battled back and forth as I tired him out keeping him away from the lily pads. Once nearer the kayak he aggressively splashed with weighty body language until I was able to get a thumb hold in his jaw. The nice bass got my blood flowing again in anticipation of more to come.

 That’s kind of the way it went for the next couple of hours alone on the water. Aggressive stripping of the popper, with short pauses, created some aggressive takes. When things slowed I’d mess with the blue gill for fun. 

  I could tell it was getting later in the evening. The wind died down some and I found calmer water along the lily pad growth. I was getting more taps with blue gill but stuck with the #1 popper hoping for a sure bass. I wasn’t too far from my exit point knowing it was going to take time to get out of the swamp, pack up and get back to the van before dark.

 With only a cool breeze blowing now and then I kept the anchor out and let it drag along the bottom slowing me down some. The kayak would slowly drift towards the bank side lily pads but gave me enough time to get a few casts out towards them before drifting into them.

 My cast was aimed between the lily pads in a narrow stretch of open water that lead to the bank. It looked like an open path used by a muskrat. The popper fell with a plop. Within seconds a bass rose and gulped the popper before the rest of the line fell to the water. I yanked back and the slack line flew up in the air and tightened. The swirl, in between the lily pad growth, told me I had a hook into it but I wasn’t sure how deep. I pulled line in quickly, with my left hand, and gave an extra tug on the rod to make sure of a good set. The bass surfaced momentarily and swam beneath the lily pads. I pulled back on the rod and somehow got him out from the lily pad vines without tangling up. I had him in open water without the risk of losing him. After a short skirmish I got him to the kayak. 

  I cast out a few more times without a hit and decided to call it a day before it got any later. I paddled towards my exit point and got out on dry land without any problems.
 I found it easier to drag the kayak on the field grass to the lane instead of trying to keep it on the dolly over the bumpy terrain. Once at the lane I secured the kayak on the dolly and headed through the forest towards the parking area.
 At the van I took my time sorting things out and putting them away while sipping on a cold beer.

 Well, though the weather wasn’t the calmest nor warm it turned out to be a better catching day than I would have thought. I figured that this would be my last journey of the year to the bass swamp. My thoughts and preparation would now be for Lake Erie steelhead.