The Clarion River was voted PA’s 2019 River of the Year. From swimming, kayaking, canoeing, float tubes and fishing are some of the water sports enjoyed on the river. Just relaxing under the sun in a beach chair in the river on a hot day enjoying a cold beverage and enjoying the scenery is enough to forget about time! From rte 36 at Cooksburg all the way to Hallton one can follow River Road along the river and enjoy the forest and scenic river on a well maintained blacktop road. I would say this is one of my top motorcycle rides to get away from the hustle and bustle of common day life and traffic.
Did I say fishing? I have caught smallmouth bass, walleye and trout in the river with both fly rod and spinning gear. There’s nothing like float tubing my way downstream with my fly rod in hand casting poppers along the shoreline for smallmouth bass. Catfishing is a lot of fun also. Whether I fish in waders or wet wade it is always enjoyable.
I pulled onto the gravel area along the forest. I specifically bought my Winston 6wt Vapor rod for fishing the river. The 9 footer casts weighted streamers as well as foam/cork poppers. Also when I’m fishing for trout it will cast dry flies without any problems at all for some distance even under windy conditions.
I pieced together the Winston rod and fit it with an Orvis reel and weight forward line. I packed my vest with streamers and poppers for smallmouth as well as Caddis, terrestrials and some big Mayflies for trout. I never know what’s going to be active so I try to carry enough stuff for both.
I walk down the path, through the forest, to the river. The water is flowing peacefully without a human in sight between the green forest hardwoods as far as the eye can see. The sun is shining brightly with puffs of clouds slowly floating under the bluish sky above. Uncontrolled currents develop, clear across the river, with the flowing water over rocks and submerged boulders. I light up my first stogie and take in the setting that surrounds me. The constant melody of the tumbling water and birds chirping in harmony makes for a serene place to spend the afternoon.
I take my first step into the river and water flows around my boots and wading pants. The water is cool and not as warm as I would have expected in September. The chilly nights and occasional rain has kept the water at a nice temperature for fishing as far as I am concerned. I wade along the shoreline upstream to where the riffling water exits the more turbulent flow. My intentions are to trout fish up river in an area across stream where I have caught quite a few rising trout in the past. The water looks shallow enough in places above the faster current that I should be able to wet wade over towards the far bank without it being too risky. For now though I fasten a Woolly Bugger to my 4x tippet and cast out into the riffling tail out below the more aggressive flow. Within three cast I feel a hard grab and the line tightens. As I play the fish, through the riffling water towards me, I can almost bet it’s a trout by the way it fights. Well, I’ll never know as it gives a hard head shake and I’m left with a limp line and no fish.
Within five more casts I watch as my floating line swings the bugger through the current. The floating line shows signs of slack in the cross currents. I look for any sign of a take. As the line finishes the swing downstream I start to take in slack and the line shoots towards the bank. It draws tight and I can feel a fish swimming aggressively with the bugger. I pull back on the rod to set the hook and play him in the shallower water below me. I can see it’s a nice size trout. He fights for his freedom in the shallows and somehow gets himself unattached from the hook. I watch as he darts back into the main flow of the river!
I stick around for another 10 minutes or so trying to coax any more fish but am unable to convince any. I wade out and look upstream. It’s about 50 yards to where I want to reenter the river to be able to cross to the other side. Between that point and me is a section of calmer water that rolls and waves over near surface boulders and rocks like wind rows of an ocean tide. Not the ideal place for trout but a better place where a bass might be holding. As I walk up the bank, on dry land, I stop now and then and cast a line out into the open water. I watch a small bass chase the bugger within a few feet of me but isn’t aggressive enough to grab it.
Upstream I step into the calmer current and begin wadding across the river to get within casting distance of the far side shore. I have had good success with catching trout in the section of water and had some great dry fly action as well. I take my time and keep conscious mind to the river bottom beneath my felt wading boots. As I cross, the river water comes up to my thighs in spots though the undercurrent isn’t as noticeable as when I am in the shallower sections below my knees. I keep on the upstream side of the faster rumbling current as I cross. When I get to within casting distance I feel for a good foothold and contemplate how to fish the area.
The smokey white clouds above move slowly beneath the blue sky letting the sun shine through without much shadowing upon the water. Upstream the water surface is calm and bright but ruffled like wrinkled satin bed sheets.
I start with a Woolly Bugger and add weight as needed to get my bugger down. My casts are across stream toward a downed log. They are overhand casts with a big loop. Someone watching would probably think I wasn’t very good at casting since I wasn’t throwing tight loops. The idea of large loops is that when the weighted streamers fall in faster current the weighted streamer will drop deeper before the current grabs a hold of the fly line and starts it in its swing. I add weight to the leader as I see fit to get the Woolly Bugger deeper yet. It takes some time off the clock before I finally get hold of a nice rainbow that takes the bugger. I carefully play him out of the faster run to my left and get him coming in on my right in the slower but deeper water. He is pretty frisky but the 6 weight keeps the pressure on him and he comes in quite calmly.
For some time the trout don’t seam to be cooperating. I switch over to a Clouser Minnow pattern. To my right, looking downstream, is shallower but with faster current and deeper pocket waters behind boulders. I cast the Clouser into the shallower flow with rocks and riffling current keeping the rod tip up so the weighted barbell eyes won’t drag the bottom and snag. As the line and Clouser swing to the tail out I drop the rod tip and let the Clouser swing deeper to the end of the drift. From there I make a couple quick strips like the Clouser is getting away. About my forth cast the line tightens with a sweeping tug and the rod tip arcs towards the tight lining fish. I can feel the weighty fish pulling the tension line through my fingers and reel and hold on to the cork grip keeping the rod high and arced. The fish doesn’t change directions as quick as the rainbows but more of a forceful pull almost forecasting in which direction it is going to take the fight. I am pretty sure it is a smallmouth just the way it acts. I take some time playing the frisky fish and calming him down. Like most smallmouth once they tire out they don’t have much energy left for a forceful get-away escape once they see the net like a nice size trout has.
As it gets long in the day and for the past couple of hours the air temperature is heating up with the glowing sun. I notice a few small caddis appearing now and then and it isn’t until I see my first rise that gets my brain telling me “it’s time to coax some fish on a dry fly!” I mean, this is why I came out today for and I’m not going to end the day without casting a few dries. I see one riser isn’t too far and easy casting distance from where I stand. It is rising along a seam on the far side of the faster wavy run about a foot or so this side of the fallen logs. I knot on a #14 caddis and loop the offering to him. The rises are so sporadic I’m not sure if he is all that hungry or just the temptation is too much at times he can’t resist. I spend about 20 minutes trying to coax the fish to take any of my caddis offerings to no avail. Down from the wavier current I catch sight of two other risers. They are pretty far downstream and it will take long and accurate casts to get to them. They also are rising sporadically. There still isn’t many caddis about so I’m really not sure what these trout are taking. I cast downstream and pull line out of the reel letting my fly line and dry caddis drift with the waves like a pinner would do just letting the spool spin free with the current. I try this a few times and observe just how the current will take the dry downstream in the flow. With enough line out I make a strong back cast and the line and leader springs free from the surface tension and into the air. I pull down on the line and single haul for more speed. I turn my head and look behind me as the fly line extends and starts to straighten with the tapered leader following. When the time is right I bring the rod high over my head and forwards and watch the weight forward line shoot through the air towards the sporadic rising trout. After a few more casts I come to the conclusion that the trout aren’t interested in my caddis dries.
The distant trout still keep rising on occasion more so than the one closer to me.“Maybe a big ole hopper might get their attention?” I think.
It is a hot September day and the grasshoppers have been coming out in the evening back home. The fish aren’t rising all that far from the bank and I am pretty sure they know what a grasshopper looks like and what they taste like. I open my hopper box and pick out one of my parachute hoppers. I knot it to my 4x tippet and douse the body with a good bit of liquid dry fly dope. I noticed with the caddis earlier that it would drift away from the wavy seam and into a slow eddy to the right. There it would drift slowly until a much stronger surface current would push it downstream without warning. Occasionally this was where one of the trout would rise.
I first make a few casts near the down log not too far away. I have plenty of slack in the line so the hopper will drift in the slower current some before the wavy faster current grabs the fly line and push everything down river in a faster dragging pace. Nothing appears interested so I bring the hopper back to my hand. I dry it as best I can with my handkerchief and dab a little more ointment onto the body. With a couple of lengthy false casts, and a single haul, I watch the weight forward fly line take the leader and offering down river through the air. The hopper lands on this side of the wavy seam and I watch the hopper surf the waves like a kid on a boogie board surfing the low tide. Instead of the hopper turning into the slower moving swirl it continues on some and starts to drag. I lift the line out of the water and proceeded with another lengthy cast more towards the slow eddy. This time the hopper touches down with a plop into the eddy. I can’t hear the plop from where I stand but fishing these hoppers often I know it plopped with a little sound effect. It is nerve racking watching the hopper sit on the surface as it drifts ever so slightly until a wave pushes it beyond and start to drag on the surface. I move my rod tip towards the faster run on my left before bringing the hopper back into my back cast. I don’t want to drag the hopper and fly line across the eddy where the fish are occasionally rising and spook them. Time and again I attempt to tempt the fish with the hopper. Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results or something like that. I don’t think he ever fished.
I watch the hopper get pushed away from the wavy current and lazily drift into the eddy. The splash is a noticeable gulp on the surface. I rear back the rod high in the air as far back as my arm can reach. The long length of fly line rises instantly and I feel it tighten at the tip of the rod. The fish dives deep and rattles the rod with head shakes. I can feel right away this isn’t an average size trout. He keeps deep and battles beneath swimming with force in different directions at will. Line peels off the spool at times as I grip the cork trying to keep it steady and arced. The trout takes a turn into the wavy current and then turns and shoots across stream into the slower deeper water. I move the rod in opposite directions trying to keep side pressure on the fish to tire him out more quickly. He finally stops straight down from me and gives a few head shakes trying to dislodge the hopper. I start to reel in some line and he slowly moves in my direction. I have him coming to me reluctantly so I reach back for my net with my left hand holding the line tight against the cork grip with my other hand. As I drop the net into the water the trout shoots away from the net and speeds by me like a Daytona 500 race car. I see the silver sides of the trout zoom pass me and the pink lateral line is a quick blur like the sponsor logos on the Daytona cars as they speed by right in front of you. He moves into the slow moving water upstream. I’m not sure when he’s going to stop so I keep the rod up and let line slip through the reel letting him fight the drag and pressure of the arcing fast action rod. He holds up and I’m sure I got him now. I slowly reel in some line until I get about an inch or two of the fly line exposed from the tip top. I grab the net out of the water and figure I’d just back him into the net as I raise the rod. As I get him closer to the net he turn swiftly and with force swims pass the net avoided it. The leader rubs against the wooden sides of the net. Upon seeing that I reach the rod outward hoping that it didn’t do any damage to the tapered leader. I can feel my arms getting tired from the long day casting and fishing and my wrist is weakening under the pressure. I drop the net again and grab the rod with two hands.
There’s always a time when fighting a good fish for a lengthy time that you wonder if you’ll get him to hand. Even if you are going to release the fish unharmed back into the water. There are times that success is achieved in just fooling the fish and hooking him. At times a satisfying reward comes just having a good battling fish fight before it becomes unhooked and swims away. At other times the ultimate success is landing the fish!
The trout doesn’t swim too far downstream before turning around facing me. The tugging has virtually stopped and it is as if I can feel the fish swaying its tail side to side in the oncoming current. I hold tight to the cork grip with one hand while I reel in line bringing the trout towards me. I keep the rod about level with the surface water until I have about an inch or two of fly line exposed out of the tip top. I grab the net with my left hand and hold it underwater to my side. As I raise the rod tip up and behind me the rainbow rises from its depth and I’m able to successfully get him into the net. He splashes a bit in the net then settles for a picture.
I carefully unhook the hopper from his mouth and make sure he is strong enough to swim from my firm grip on his tail before letting him swim free.
Well that is worth a rewarding cigar. Relaxed now I notice the warmth of the sun. I reach into my vest and pull out a cigar and lighter. I take a few puffs and enjoy the aroma. I flex my arms and arc my back and look downstream.
I use the hopper, casting it out, a few more times before tying on a weighted Woolly Bugger. I make one long cast of the bugger and my fly rod folds. I’m not talking bowed or arced, it folds like a collapsible wading staff. When I get everything within sight and in my grips I notice that the male ferrule of the tip section is still intact. As I look at the female ferrule of the next section it is split down the side. The only conclusion I can come up with is the two joining parts were loosening from casting the weighted buggers and fighting that big trout. Finally the loose fitting sections couldn’t handle the load of the cast and instead of the top section slipping out on the forward cast it flexed the shaft, causing the split. I’m done!!! I have no way of patching the rod to keep using it. I grab the rod pieces and wade back across the river current to the bank.
When I get on dry land I stand for a long moment puffing on the stogie. From being in the water for hours with the current constantly pushing against my legs, I feel as if I am still moving. Even while walking through the forest and up to my truck my legs feel wobbly.
At the truck, under the sunshine, I drop the tailgate and pop open a much wanting cold beer. I change clothes while enjoying the cold brew while finishing off the stogie. The Winston Vapor rod has a lifetime warranty and I’m hoping it can be fixed. I sure am going to miss it if it can’t be and a replacement isn’t the same!