Sunday, July 23, 2017

July on Tionesta Creek

July on Tionesta Creek

  I stand here in water up to my shins taking a moment to reflect of the past few days. The stogie I hold in my hand spirals a layer of light gray smoke from the lit end. It feathers as it rises than disappears with the slight breeze that travels over the creek. I take a deep breath and inhale the fresh clean forest air filled with summer aromas you can only appreciate in a forest away from crowded civilization. The thick forest trees, with the fullness of their green leaf branches and tall grass muffle the sound of any motorists traveling down the distant roadway that twists and turns through the valleys of the hilly terrain.

 I look skyward and clouds move slowly like puzzle pieces set on a blue table cloth waiting to be connected. The afternoon is humid and I have felt the dampness upon my button down Columbia shirt for some time now.

 I take a puff of the stogie and reminisce.

When I arrived Thursday evening to set up my tent and camping equipment Tionesta Creek was flowing high and muddy. With the forecast of only an occasional shower on Friday and clear weather for the rest of the weekend, I knew the water would recede and clear up. After setting up camp I relaxed in the quietness with a couple of cold brews before going to bed.

  Friday morning my friend Wil showed up as planned. Because the creek was still on the muddy side we decided to kayak and fish Lake Chapman in Chapman State Park. Though we failed to take any bass or trout it was a relaxing outing upon the small lake.
 Friday evening we feasted on Venison Chops, a few more beers and topped off the evening sipping Eagle Rare Bourbon while talking of memories from our early years in the ANF.

 Saturday morning I cooked up venison breakfast sausage patties, two eggs a piece and black coffee to start the day. The early birds chirped and a few frogs croaked in the stagnate water back behind camp. The water level dropped some and though still a bit stained the boulders beneath were now visible in the sunlight.
 From the bank we watched a mother merganser and her young feeding along the far bank. I also noticed two rises as I was pointing out a good spot for Wil to try for bass and trout. He put together his spinning rod, grabbed his live bait and lures and headed upstream along the path. I strung up the fly rod and stepped off the bank into the cool water.
 Out from the bank, within casting distance of the two earlier rises, I looked about for any bug activity. I didn’t see any mayflies or caddis about or any signs of floating insects upon the water. I knotted on a caddis imitation and tried to make the fish rise again. I must have spent a half hour, and a half dozen dries, trying to get a fish to rise without success. Meanwhile Wil was having some fun hoisting caught trout and smallmouth on his smorgasbord of bait.
 When I finally decided to switch to buggers I caught a couple of small trout.
 We fished till 10:30am and decided to head down creek. We were planning on kayaking the stream but the wind got fierce at times so we decided to just drive and stop-and-go fish the rest of the day in hot spots I’ve caught trout before.

   Wil was doing quite well again with bait at the one section we stopped. 

 The trout weren’t all that interested in my streamers or the dry flies I was trying to feed them. I did end up catching a nice smallmouth in some slow moving water. He put up a good fight and had the 9’ 5 weight flexing like an early morning exercise guru.

  No matter where we stopped and fished if I seen a trout rise, on riffling water that might hold a hungry trout, I’d cast and float a dry fly. I suppose it was later in the afternoon Wil called down creek that there was a fish rising up where he was fishing. I didn’t hesitate too long before heading his way. Even though I hadn’t made anything rise to any of my dries yet I was still determined to at least catch one.
 I looked the riffles over and Wil mentioned that the trout rose a couple of times just downstream from a ledge beneath the surface. There was a slower pool of water that almost whirl pooled behind the ledge before running with the faster current. I threw out a caddis first but decided a big Wulff pattern might get more attention. I showed the trout a few Wulff patterns before knotting on an Ausable Wulff. The big dry fell in the riffling water just this side of the ledge. It drifted and wobbled upon the small waves keeping the white wing visible above the water. The trout rose with a splash at it and I quickly set the hook calling out “got him”! The rainbow gave me a good battle in the fast current and I got him to the net safely. That would be the only fish I had caught thus far on a dry fly during my camping outing.

 Saturday evening I cooked up some sausage patty burgers and corn. We sat around enjoying the evening before heading to Marienville for some entertainment.
 Sunday morning, after breakfast, we fished in front of the camp while waiting for Randy to show up. The water had a nice color to it and the level seamed to still be dropping. Once Randy showed we took off to another spot I had caught trout in the Tionesta.
 The sun was blazing hot but luckily the Tionesta stays cooler than most open rivers. With the canopy over a large part of the stream along with the many mountain creeks entering and cool nights keeps the temperature cool enough to hold trout all year. There wasn’t much of a breeze as I recall so getting my flies where I wanted them was pretty much spot on.
 It appeared to be my turn to shine. Each stop we made along the creek I caught one or two trout. There was nothing spectacular about any of the catches. I didn’t catch any on dry flies so buggers were the preferred choice of the hungry trout. I swung the bugger after a long cast and strip it in slowly against the current. Where I seen underwater boulders or downed logs I made a few extra sweeps with a little jerking finesse with the rod tip. A few times the coaxing worked and a trout would be tugging on the tight line. 

We continued fishing a few miles downstream from the camp till about 3:30pm. 

  By then I figured campers along the creek would be packed up and heading on there way home. After a beer break we headed upstream from our camp to a section of water along other campsites. I didn’t figure there would be many trout around, being it gets hit hard during the season, but there are always a few that avoid the onslaught of trout fishermen.
 Well, after fishing the main deeper water in front of the few campsites Wil and I decided to take our time and fish our way downstream. The water level was still a little high and with the brush and tree limbs behind us on the bank it was tough reaching the far side of the creek with the fly rod. The far side usually holds trout along the banks where it is shaded from the mountainside. Also there are a few places where cool mountain runoff water enters the creek in areas keeping the run along the bank cooler.
 The creek itself, when it has some color to it, is deceiving in its depth. You’ll wade to a section that shallows almost shin deep and looking down creek you swear it won’t get much deeper. If you wade far enough you’ll find there are many deeper pools that will hold trout, deep enough that it will come up to your waste in a hurry if your not paying attention. Again, we didn’t catch many trout but the few we did catch made for some entertainment and along with a good cigar to pass the time.

 After my friends left I was on my own again. I grilled some semi-thick venison chip steaks and with some diced new potatoes simmered in beer. It made for a tasty sandwich with BBQ sauce and a shot of hot sauce.

   I ended the day looking out over the water by the creek bank sipping on bourbon on the rocks and toking on a sun grown stogie.

  Monday I woke pretty early. I made myself a quick breakfast finishing off the breakfast sausage and hard boiled eggs. My plan was to fish till about 3:00 and than head back to camp and pack up.
 I had caught a nice smallmouth and trout where I started fishing this morning. After spending a little more time there I took a drive a few more miles downstream past Mayburg.

 The dirt lane I drove down was pretty rough going. I wanted to go further down the lane towards the creek but the mud was getting pretty thick. I seen the tread of the tire tracks, in the muddy lane, shown an aggressive pattern. There was no doubt 4 wheel drive pulled them through the mud bog. I didn’t have any fear that my own 4x4 Ram could make it but why get the white truck all muddied up? I knew it would be quite a walk to the creek but I had lots of time. I gathered my gear, lit a cigar and took the stroll along the lane and through the tall brush to where I wanted to fish.
 The water flowed over an abundance of rocks and boulders. The current was moving pretty quick along the wide section of stream. My casts were outward letting the bugger swing and stripping it in with hesitation. I slowly and carefully made my way further towards the middle of the creek. There was a shaded area up from a downed log against the far bank that looked like a good spot to drop my bugger. I added a little more weight to make sure I was going to get deep enough not knowing the depth. I waded out as far as I could without going over my waste waders. I let line out as the bugger pulled with the current down creek below me. When I figured I had enough line out I swept the bugger up out of the water, with force, over my head and left shoulder and waited for the line to load the rod. I then swung the rod tip around directly over my head and made my cast forward pointing my rod tip towards my target area. The line swung around in the air above me and quickly shot towards the far bank carrying my bugger. The Woolly Bugger fell upstream from the log and into the shadows. I had just enough slack in the line so the bugger would drop deeper before entering the water near the log. The take was quick, pronounced and forceful. I yanked back the rod immediately tightening the long length of line that shot up from the surface water into the air. The trout on the other end fought vigorously through the cross currents. I maneuvered the rod higher when he was near boulders but kept the rod nearer to the water surface most of the time trying to keep him submerged below the surface avoiding the obstacals. I coaxed him up creek when he was near and guided him into the net successfully. He was maybe the most memorable catch, besides the dry fly catch, of the camping trip. The long cast, the expectation of the take, the enjoyable struggle to get him to the net safely made it quite satisfying. 

   I had caught another trout and a small smallmouth before heading back up stream to fish the incoming current that entered a very long strait stretch of the creek. 

  So now here I stand enjoying the quietness of the afternoon. The sun shining behind transparent clouds that drifts ever so slowly across the sky. I hear a motor vehicle grunting its way down the muddy lane I was reluctant to take. The engine getting louder at times when more power is needed to make its way through the soft spots. I hear a splash upstream and turn and see what looks like a black lab swimming the shallower water near the bank heading midstream. In deeper water I can only see the black head and brown nose from the distance. I know it’s not a black lab but a bear which was evidently spooked by the noisy vehicle. The bear traveled through the high weedy grassy terrain making it to the creek bank for its escape. The same high weedy, grassy terrain I had walked through earlier without fear. I take out my camera hoping to get a good picture of the bear when it arrives on the distant shore. Seeing it angling for a cluster of big boulders and a shady area to exit I decide to take a picture of it swimming. Making a notation of the boulders, when I see the water disturbance and nose of the bear in my camera I snap a picture hoping for a noticeable shot.

 I watch as the bear exit’s the water in the darkness of the bank and I hear it climb the mountainside.
 I fish another half hour before calling it quits and head back to clean up camp. Another fine long weekend camping and enjoying what I love to do!



Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Rusty Outing

A Rusty Outing

 The MoJo fly rod flexed above me and I waited to feel the weight of the rod load. With a forward forearm motion I pointed the rod tip to the target area and the foam frog popper came within air-born sight heading towards the commotion along the bank. 

 During the past 3 weeks we’ve been packing boxes and unpacking boxes on the move to a new place to live. I haven’t fished going on three weeks and was finally going to take a day off of moving stuff and find a place to fish. One of my best friends gave me a call and he too hadn’t wet a line in some time and was looking to come up to the Allegheny National Forest to spend some time fishing and catching up on activities and life being we haven’t seen each other for some time.
 The downpours early in the week clouded the rivers and even were heavy enough to raise and discolor the small mountain streams that flowed through the forest. Our only chance of fishing was to hit the bass swamp that is tucked away back in the forest. Not fishing for bass in sometime I told Rusty what kind of lures he probably would need. He never got the knack for fly fishing so he’d be using his Ugly Stick spinning rod. Of course I was to use my MoJo Bass fly rod and with three boxes of poppers and a few streamers would be all I needed.
 The morning opened with clear skies and looked to be a great day to wet a line. When we got to the parking area in the forest we unloaded the Kayaks out of the back of my truck and loaded them with our gear. I strapped my kayak to my improvised kayak hauler and was ready to roll down the lane to our put in. Rusty, on the other hand, didn’t have a dolly to help getting it to the swamp. It would be about a 30 minute journey down the grassy lane that leads to the water. He loaded up his and we proceeded to travel on the vehicle lane, and tall grass, that leads to the water. It is mostly a flat trail with plenty of bends and no big hills or knolls to speak of. My cart rolled somewhat easily down the high grassy lane while Rusty drug his Kayak over the wet grass. We paused occasionally under the shade of the trees to keep from sweating too much and take rest breaks as the morning was warming quickly.
 Within vision of the swamp it looked peaceful and inviting to any bass fishermen alive. There was a kayak hauler already standing aside the lane and in the distance we could see at least one watercraft upon the water. I unstrapped the kayak from the dolly because it’s been easier just to pull the kayak down to the water over the bumpy uneven field than to try to roll it down.
 When we reached the water I noticed the water level was higher than I had seen it. The entry point was back from the normal level in which I usually put in.
 Looking out over the pond like swamp the surface water laid like a slightly wrinkled bed sheet. The outcropping of the weathered tree trunks stood tall in the distance as they have weathered many a storms and years gone by. The young lily pads sat upon the surface, not yet in bloom, stretching out from the banks and in shallower areas upon the water. The clean air that surrounded up was a mixture of fresh pines with summertime aromas of the many kinds of forest hardwoods. The huge puffy clouds moved slowly under the bluest sky like Macy’s Parade animated floats. On occasion the clouds would cover up the hot sunrays that seamed to laser down upon us and casting shadows over the mirror like water. In the distance we could see a couple of Osprey, high on one of the outcropping of tree trunks, guarding their nest of young ones.

 After stringing up the fly rod, and sitting a couple fly boxes in the open pockets of the kayak, I pushed the yak in the water and started to paddle my way to the open water. Rusty wasn’t too far behind after setting up his rod with a floating frog imitation.
 I started casting my poppers along the lily pads out from the banks in the more open and deeper water. Rusty, on the other hand, worked his way along the banks. Because of the high water there was about two or three feet of open water, minus a few blades of grass, between the lily pads and bank. We watched birds flutter and land along the grassy bank side but other than that there wasn’t much sign of wildlife. A few geese could be heard in the distance and a few crows cawed the morning sun rise. The osprey screeched occasionally as if in warning to us intruders of the swamp.
 About an hour went by without any hook ups. I caught some commotion along the bank as subtle waves rolled upon the water. Slowly I paddled within the lily outgrowth within casting distance. The MoJo fly rod flexed above me and I waited to feel the weight of the rod load. With a forward forearm motion I pointed the rod tip to the target area and the foam frog popper came within air-born sight heading towards the commotion along the bank. The popper fell between a few blades of grass sprouting upward out of the water. In an instant the water erupted around my disappearing offering. I yanked back the rod with force and the line tightened. Water boiled just out from the bank as the bass struggled with the piercing hook. The lily pad vines were thin and getting him to the side of the kayak wasn’t much of a vine twisting struggle. The 7’ 11” fly rod bent heavy as I lipped the bass and landed it.
 We split up after that and fished our way around the swamp for hours before catching up within talking distance of each other. I had caught one more small bass and missed one more take I was sure was a bass. Other than that a few bluegills would suck on the feather legs of my poppers and take them under far a split second. The hooks were too large to fit in their mouths but I’d still yank for a hook set occasionally. The popper would catapult out of the water and whip behind me free from any takers. Rusty mentioned he had a few bass that followed the lures he was using but wouldn’t commit in taking it. Though we weren’t doing much catching it was enjoyable being out in nature. The peace and quiet was relaxing away from the congestion of everyday life.
 Leaving Rusty again I figured on trying to lure some activity around the outcropping of tree trunks that were scattered in the more open water. Time and again I would cast a popper near the stumps and gurgle it back towards me. At times blue gill would grab at the feathered legs of the frog imitation and sink it momentarily. Other times the gills might hit the popper hard enough to cause a bubbling but it wasn’t hard enough to think it a bass. When a bass did hit the popper, even a small one, an audible splash and gulp would be heard.
 The wind started to pick up and the water surfaced roughened because of it. To keep the kayak from drifting away I would tie up to one of the stumps. When I was in the lily pads the wind was so strong it was still able to move the kayak. After about a half hour I got tired of fighting the wind and kayaked to look for Rusty in the calmer water away from the harsh wind.
I caught up with Rusty back a channel away from the more open water. He had already caught a couple of nice bass so I paddled my kayak in some tall grass and weeds to the left of the channel. This gave my right casting arm freedom of the weeds for a good back cast. I sat and watched Rusty quick wrist the spinning rod sending the froglike floating jig towards the pool of water up the channel aways. The silicone legs that were strung out behind the frog withered behind as the frog shot threw the air. The big lure plopped upon the pool and Rusty would begin his retrieve. We watched as the water erupted like the aftermath of a cannon ball plunge. I watched as the Ugly Stick flexed like a limp stick being swung by a small child.
 Now it was my turn.
 As I false cast, my homemade popper, I let line out calculating the distance to the pool. The popper landed shy of where I wanted it to land but I started to gurgle it back towards me anyway. Only about a couple of yards in front of us a bass rose and gulped at the gurgle and I yanked the MoJo rod back with hook setting force. The rod bowed and flexed as the small bass scooted around like a chicken trying to catch a flying moth. 

  Rusty and I took turns casting in the pool. He tried different lures, above and below the surface, as did I with my colored poppers and streamers.

 My foam popper landed just shy of the falling waters of the beaver dam. Two strips towards me and the audible sound of the take overcame the sound of the falling water. I quickly yanked back the long length of line and the struggle at the end put a smile on my face. I tightened my grip on the stogie I now held between my lips and raised the rod for the skirmish. I could tell this bass was a bit larger by the weight and he stirred the water in bigger swirls than the last. Within a few yards of the kayak he raised his big mouth to the surface and shook his head causing water to spray up and outwards above the surface. He turned below and started towards the weedy bank just in front of the kayak. I held the rod towards the center of the channel with tightness on the fly line. He swam towards the center of the channel and from there I was able to get him to the kayak safely.
 I’m not sure how long we spent there casting lures and poppers into the pool. When the bite quit we sat and talked about the good times and memories we shared in the past. The old days at Rays Hot Spot and how we’d close the place down and in the morning find ourselves parked along a trout stream ready to catch some trout. We brought back memories of our times at bike week in Daytona Beach. Listening to Rusty’s turkey hunting adventures the past years gave me some insight on things I should try during my own turkey hunting outings.
 We recalled the hunting experience in Maine where Rusty was the only one in the lodge that took a deer. It was only a five point but had a nice rack and was at least twice the length of the bear someone else had hanging on the lodge pole. At dinner you would have thought we had some kind of a contagious disease as other hunters looked at us as if we knew some secrete they didn’t. Afterwards groups of hunters were willing to trade their hunting areas as they felt there own hunt was void of game.
 Than there was the suspicion we received at the Canadian border were we had to pull over while the Canadian border patrol was going to search my van. Not sure what occurred when Tommy went into discuss the situation with ‘The Man’ but when he reentered our room he said “Let’s go” and we followed with no more ado.
 And how can we forget the surprise we got at the strip club we visited. It was way back off the beaten path. There were a few vehicles outside when we pulled in. The eldest guy of our group decided it was ok to touch one of the strippers in the inappropriate places. I mean she was shaking them at him and he decided to polish them. He didn’t mean any harm and was more naïve of the situation by his attempt and gestures. She stepped back and Rusty and I thought us group of 5 was all going to get thrown out when the bouncer started to come towards us. I suppose seeing the unawareness of our oldest member of the group and the harmless naïve gesture, the bouncer let him off with a calm warning. We laughed about it all the way back to the lodge and than some.

 We noticed a gulping rise along the grassy side of the pool. I was the first to cast an offering and he rose and inhaled the popper like his first frog dinner of the evening. The water erupted on the take and I was hanging on with another tight line attached to an angry hungry bass.  Just before I got him to the kayak the hook slipped out when he dodged into the weeds.
 Rusty already had on a rubber worm rigged up and threw it into the pool. On the retrieve I watched the line raise from the water as he raised the rod for the hook set. He was reeling the bass towards us when somehow it too released itself from the hook.
 Not getting any more rises on a floating popper I knotted on a brown bass bugger and cast it out into the pool of deeper water. Just after the bugger sank below the surface the line pulled enough I knew something grabbed it on the way down. I pulled back the slack line while pulling back on the rod.
  Rusty cast out the rubber worm again and hooked into one last bass before the pool went dead again. Not getting any more to rise or take anything underneath we decided to call it quits, besides, my stogie was down to the nub. We figured all the bass in the pool had sore lips and some even might have been pierced twice. We turned the kayaks around and followed the narrow channel back into the big pond like open water. While we were kayaking through the lily pads I caught a glimpse of an unnatural wave against the right bank between the lily pads and a few rocks. I stopped the kayak and picked up the fly rod. I figured I’d have one chance at the bass. I didn’t think it knew we were there as there was quite a distance between us and the bank. We weren’t paddling fast and the lily pads held back any water commotion caused by paddling.
 I made a few false casts to the side, letting line out, as to not cast over the feeding fish. With a soft loop in the air my frog imitation plopped just to the right where I seen the fish feeding. As I was trying to straighten the line and pull in the slack the water bulged and in an instant the popper disappeared with an audible gulp. I yanked back the rod, seen the line tighten and felt the resistance on the other end. The water bulged again and with a ferocious head shake of a surfacing bass the popper exited its mouth and into the air. I had lost my last cast at a bass.

 Back on the lane I strapped the kayak to my homemade cart. Rusty had already begun pulling his yak up the lane upon the high grass knowing I’d catch up to him being I had wheels under mine. A couple of times the handle rope broke while Rusty was pulling the kayak. In the meantime I’d pass him and stop a ways up further while he mended to rope handle. I’d walk back and help him carry his kayak up further before going back to mine.

 After we got the kayaks in the soft grass behind the truck I opened the truck doors to let the insides cool off under the hot sun. I reached in the cooler and pulled out a couple of cans of beer which was a relief after the long haul.  

 After loading the yaks in the back of the truck a decision had to be made. Do we go back to my place and prepare a meal or stop at the Kelly for wings and beer. It was a pretty quick decision!

 It was a good time out on the water with a friend I haven’t seen for awhile. We had lots to catch up on and it was fun bringing back some long time memories that brought smiles to our faces.

As they say, “It’s not all about the fishing!”