Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A visit to the Esopus

This weekend my wife and I shared a house rental with another couple and we ended up in Phoencia, NY for a couple days. Full disclosure: I had volunteered to find a rental house for this weekend getaway and just happened to find a great house conveniently located near the Esopus Creek, which I've wanted to fish for a long time. It also just happened to have a classic Catskills trout stream running right behind the house. So, I figured I should pack some rods. You know, just in case.

Thanks to some excellent insider info from Tom, I was prepped for a quick strike plan to visit two distinctly different parts of the Esopus: the lower portal-fed section in the morning and the upper smaller water in the evening. I was especially curious about the upper area, being the small stream fan that I am. Neither spot was a disappointment. Not only were the flows perfect this weekend, but both areas were just spectacularly beautiful. I haven't spent a ton of time fishing the Catskills, so I usually  feel a bit overwhelmed by all that big open water, but the pocket water I found in both areas was a welcome sight. The fishing was a little slow in the morning at the first location. I tried fishing an attractor dry at first, with no takers. I switched to tight line nymphing and picked up a nice brown at the head of a deep, fishy looking pool created by a gnarly log jam. I ventured upstream and bit and found some fast riffles and then a long slow pool that looked like excellent dry fly water. Naturally, there was already someone fishing there. After a quick hello, he generously encouraged me to jump in at the head of the pool. I took him up on it, with gratitude, but wasn't able to connect with anything on a dry dropper. I didn't see a single rising fish all day and nothing more than the occasional mayfly here and there. The fishing may have been slow, but the surroundings were really incredible. I'd love to return when the hatches are more active, it's just a beautiful place to fish.

That evening I took a quick drive to the spot on the upper section. Given that the Esopus is cooled by the somewhat controversial portal further downstream, which forms a cloudy and very cold tailwater, I had no idea what to expect of the section that is more of a freestone. I was happy to find water that was gin clear and cold- and much more so than our local Croton streams these days. And this area was even more beautiful. The narrow and rocky stream wound its way through a valley, with the lush green mountains in the distance. Though it's not far from the road, the sense of being in the wilderness was striking. The only footprints I saw were those of a bear and what I would guess to be coyotes. I was actually so enamored with it all I didn't even take any photos. And again, the variety of water was amazing. Years and years of flooding have created occasional log jams that form some excellent pools. Not to mention the many rocks that provide perfect lies for trout. I hooked and lost a couple small wild browns in the first pool and then made my way downstream. It didn't take long to find an absolutely perfect run. It took shape after a shallow pool flowed into a sharp bend- creating a narrow and deep run along a bank with overhanging trees. Textbook trout water, if I've ever seen it. Though there were almost certainly trout in there, and I worked hard, I just couldn't get one of them to take a fly over the next hour. I tried various nymphs at every depth possible and drifted some terrestrial dries under the branches, but I didn't see a sign of life. Even the occasional real insect that floated by got the cold shoulder. I rested the water for a while, after likely having put down any activity, but it didn't make a difference. It's tough when you just know they're there, but they won't bite. I finally admitted defeat and walked back to that first pool. I immediately hooked a small brown. A nice way to go out, sure, but it didn't exactly solve the mystery of that seemingly lifeless run I had just left. With a promise of grilling dinner to keep, I packed it up and hiked back to the truck. I can't wait to come back here.

The famed Stoney Clove Creek, right behind the house. This little pool was full of brown trout parr.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sneaky Pete

I've been meaning to bring this guy fishing for a while now, but I've been a little hesitant because I didn't know how well he'd do. Pete's a rescue from Mississippi, a Nova Scotia duck toller, and he's a nervous dude. He scares easily and when we first got him he was intent on escaping. And on a couple occasions he came pretty close. We don't know anything about his past, but he's clearly experienced some trauma. But he's come a long way over the years and I finally feel like we trust each other enough to go out in the woods without the leash and do some fishing together. I took him with me yesterday to a stream I knew we'd have to ourselves, and he just came alive. He loved the wading, the climbing through the downed trees and brush, and even seemed to understand the need to approach the water carefully. And he was psyched when I caught fish. What more can you ask for in a fishing buddy?

UPDATE: If you feel like supporting a good cause, vote for Pete in the Orvis Cover Dog Photo Contest.

Monday, July 14, 2014

On a Mission: Part 2

Had the bass been biting more on the previous day, I might have rallied the energy to get back out there for more at the crack of dawn. Instead, I decided to get some needed sleep and catch up on the yard work that was about a week overdue. I figured if I got on a stream by 2:00 I'd still get in a pretty full day if I fished until dark. So, after some work around the house and a quick lunch, I was on my way to the East Branch. I thought of revisiting Stream X, but I also wanted to cover more ground during this 48 hour binge. And this is the time of year when fishing options start to fade… only a few streams can really handle the summer heat. The EB is one of the most consistently cool ones around and I figured I'd have it all to myself on a Monday afternoon.

As I arrived, the only other guy there was just pulling out. Sweet. I rigged up two rods this time- a 5 weight for indicator nymphing and my 3 weight for dry flies. I'm still on the fence about a two rod attack. It's a bit of a limitation toting them both- you can't just wade as you please and absently worrying about leaving one stashed on the bank is a bit of a distraction. However, the ease of switching up tactics makes it well worth it. Many times I've spotted a rising fish and been able to cast to it with the other rod right away. I started this afternoon nymphing and worked down through the familiar runs to a spot that I realize I've only grown to love because it just looks nice. Sure, I've caught fish there. And one of them was huge. But mostly I get skunked there, just admiring the view and the scent of the pines that seem concentrated in that one area. I did connect with a trout there this time, but it got unbuttoned pretty quickly. I decided to move on to another favorite spot that actually holds fish. Or at least ones I'm capable of catching. This spot is a very non-descript section of water, but it consistently holds trout that will almost always take a dry fly year round. And no, that's not it in the above photo. I didn't see anything rising when I got there- but a couple blind casts with a trusty elk hair caddis and dropper rig provoked a take that I missed. I started making longer casts to the opposite bank and immediately connected with a fish that revealed its power right away. I gave it a second little tug to set the hook (a new habit that seems to be paying off) and gingerly fought a thick brown all the way to the net. I scooped him up with a sigh of relief. Admittedly, I haven't caught a ton of trout this year- but being over sixteen inches this was definitely the biggest of the season so far. So where's the photo? Well, there's a story. I wanted to keep it healthy and alive, so I left the fish inside my net in the shallows as I fumbled for my iPhone… turns out this fish could swim quite well in about  two inches of water. Of course. But then I got a second chance… somehow it got hooked on the dropper fly. I got it unhooked right away. And then it slipped from my hands into the water. I was cursing until I looked down and saw it calmly finning at my feet, the way large fish sometimes do after being released. A third chance. I tried to gently corral it into my net with my arm, but it swam away in a flash. Of course, again. All this bumbling just for a damn photo. I had just caught and landed a beautiful brown trout, on a dry fly even, yet it almost seemed like it didn't "count" because I had missed a chance to document it. Remind me again why I fish…

Pictures or not, it was another excellent afternoon and I had to decide whether to stay or go as it started getting dark. Unable to let go of somewhat of a fantasy, I left and returned to the West Branch. I still had high hopes for some evening dry fly fishing. Unfortunately, the conditions had degraded even further in twenty four hours. The water is officially warm. I did catch some fish- sunnies and a tiny smallmouth. Clearly, warm water residents have moved in now and the trout are in search of cooler water. I hope they find it. As it began to get dark, heavy clouds starting rolling in and thunder boomed over the hills. Time to move on.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On a Mission: Part 1

To quote a fellow fly fishing junkie, I needed a bender. I've been lucky to get in a decent amount of fishing this season, but like all debilitating addictions hobbies- it just never seems like enough. With the wife and baby out of town with family last weekend, I had forty eight hours to fish completely irresponsibly. So, for the past two days a bender is exactly what I got. Two posts worth. Here's day one.

First on the list was another boat trip on the reservoir for smallies… this is a habit that seems to be only getting more severe. It's tough to beat the action of hard fighting bass. And casting for distance without a branch in sight is worth the trip alone. Our little streams aren't exactly the place for a double haul. But this time the fishing was not nearly as action packed as it has been earlier in the year. My guess is that bass are seeking cooler deep water. They just weren't around the shorelines in any consistent numbers. Then again, maybe I wasn’t looking in the right place. I'm no bassmaster, that's for sure.Trolling some streamers over drop offs produced a couple decent smallies, but that's not exactly the thrill of casting to feisty bass I had in mind. It was a gorgeous hot sunny day, which made for a nice morning on the water though probably wasn't doing much good for the fishing. Time to move on.

After some lunch and break from the sun, it was time for trout. I won't name the stream I visited with the friend who wisely prefers to keep it quiet, and also for my own selfish motivation to do the same. What a beautiful spot. I had low expectations for early afternoon fishing in July… but right out of the gate I connected with a healthy and large rainbow on a WD40 nymph. And it was a wily one. When I got it within reach it swam a quick circle around my ankles, breaking the tippet and speeding off in one motion. If trout could laugh, this one would be cackling for sure. We fished upstream a bit and the head of a nice little pool produced this pretty little brown. It zipped up and down the pool when it was hooked until I netted it and got a quick photo. We stuck around a bit, but it was getting increasingly hot and that cooler of beer and water in the truck was calling our names.

Next stop: the more well known and heavily fished West Branch. I hadn't been back there since that last epic sulphur hatch I fished, and I'd been thinking about it ever since. Fishing there in the evening is one of my favorite places to be. This being the weekend, I expected the pull-off to be full, but surprisingly there was only one other vehicle parked there. It was late afternoon by then, and I was wondering if there would be anything hatching. The sulphurs may be gone with the crowds, but now is the time for caddis to take over and they were definitely around. Not in any great numbers, but enough to keep fish rising steadily for the evening. I rigged up an elk hair caddis and an emerger dropper and worked my way through the slow water. I've been concerned about the water temperatures here. I've heard conflicting stories about whether recent work on the dam had fixed the issues with the water flows. Unfortunately, it seems that whatever was done wasn't enough. The water was right around seventy degrees, which is definitely on the warm side for trout. It will only get warmer as the summer goes on and this stream will soon be out of commission for yet another year. What a shame. The action wasn't as intense as my last visit, but every so often a brown would grab the emerger with a splashy take. The dry fly was mostly ignored, with maybe a couple exceptions. Given that I practically yanked the fly out of the mouths of the takers, it was hard to tell which of the flies they were going for. I'm still working on taking that crucial little pause before setting a dry fly. The often recommended time it takes to say "God save the Queen" seems unbearably long to wait for an impatient guy like me. Couldn't be any worse than a missed hook set that ends up in the trees though, that's for sure. As it got dark it seemed to slow down a little more. The rises were scarce and nymphing wasn't feeling very appealing. Time to call it a day. At this point I was almost exhausted from a full day of fishing streamers, poppers, nymphs, and dries all over the place. I needed some rest. I still had twenty four hours to fish.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Snook in the surf

Another trip to Florida and another attempt at snook on the beach. Between the brutal summer sun and high winds from a passing offshore hurricane, the conditions have been tough and limiting on this trip. By 10am the sun is high and the wind and waves start to kick up, which puts a real damper on the fishing. The water has to be pretty calm to spot snook on the beach, this time of year their backs have lightened considerably and they seem almost translucent against the sand. If the waves cloud the water they become virtually invisible. I got in one early morning on the water when the wind was still low and wanted to make it count. Short version: I finally caught one. This snook was the first one I spotted and I thought I had spooked him- turns out he was actually lunging for my fly from a few feet away. I made sure to strip strike this time and was thrilled when my line tightened. It was a great fight, I let him take a couple good runs until I was able to beach him in the surf for a quick photo. I don't know if I finally did something right or just got lucky- but I'll take it either way.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day Bass

There's nothing I would like more than take my son fishing for Father's Day, but we have at least a few years until that's going to happen. At seven months, he's mostly into steady naps- between brief periods of mayhem. I do hope to strap him into the baby bjorn and fish a safe, non-wading stream for a little while one of these days, just to see if it can be done. In the meantime, this Father's Day I settled for some solo fishing before joining the little guy and mom at home for the afternoon. I first had to make the difficult decision of where to go. I've had precious little time on the Croton streams so far, just one evening session that was short but sweet. I haven't even been to the Amawalk yet this season. I love it there, but I don't always catch fish.  And catching fish was definitely the goal this time. A sunny morning on a pressured stream isn't exactly a sure thing. In the end, I went for the closest thing to guaranteed action there is and took the boat out on Kensico to hunt for smallmouth bass. I've had a lot success this time of year drifting the shorelines and throwing poppers and streamers. It's tough to pass up a sure thing. And being able have a cooler of  beer within reach while fishing on a hot sunny day doesn't hurt either.

I set the alarm for 5:30 and was surprised to see the sun well on its way up already. I moved quickly and by 6:00 I was on the water and rowing to my favorite spot. I usually troll a streamer as I row, and right after I spotted something on the fish finder the rod bowed deeply- just like I hoped it would. This fish was putting up a strong trout-like fight- especially considering this was a 10 weight trolling rod. The ultimate goal on Kenisco, which I have yet to do, is to catch a big reservoir brown on the fly and I thought this might be the day. I was completely shocked when I saw the bright colors of a lowly yellow perch. A big one, actually, but not a brown. Oh well.

I made it to the shoreline where I usually find bass and started casting a big deer hair popper. I had a couple missed strikes, but the bass were mostly pretty elusive for the first hour or so. Finally I tried a streamer dropper, using the popper like an indicator and suddenly smallies started coming out of the woodwork. I didn't see them just cruising around like I have this time of year, they were tucked way into the overhanging branches and waiting to pounce. They went nuts for the black wooly bugger, completely ignoring the popper.  I didn't bother counting, I must have landed well over 20 fish throughout the morning. They were mostly little guys, but there were four bruisers that were a blast to tussle with, complete with jumps and deep runs at the boat. I had the security of 15lb fluoro tippet and an 8 weight rod that gave me the bullying power to get them to the net quickly. As I was fighting the largest one of the day, another big one swam over and followed it so closely I thought for a second I had hooked them both. After I let the first one go, I made another drift past the same tree and that second one came back to take a swipe at my streamer that promptly landed him in the net as well.  By now, I was feeling pretty good about my decision to fish Kenisco, I've never seen that happen on a trout stream. Eventually wind kicked up, like it always does on the reservoir, and the drifts got shorter and harder to manage. It was an easy decision to call it a day- the whole morning had been perfect and beyond satisfying. I don't know how long to wait to take my son fishing, but when he's ready I know we'll have a day just like this one.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Magic Hour

You wouldn't know it from looking at this blog lately, but I have actually done some fishing this season. It's been an amazing springtime that has been jam packed with quality time with family, friends, and the rewarding new job of being a father- but fishing is still ever present in the back of my mind. It's just so much harder to find the time for it these days. I've managed a couple great fishing trips that were meaningful because one was with my brother, who I don't get to see often enough, and the other on the Delaware with a good friend who is slowly succumbing to the addiction that is fly fishing. Seeing him catch his first brown on the fly was better than catching one myself. My brother and I both had a fishless day, but we visited a gorgeous stretch of the Roundout that felt like being in Montana. The only fish we saw were a pod of tightly stacked up carp, who wouldn't touch the flies we put in front of them. I don't think I recruited another addict that day, but he did say "I can see why you like this so much".

This being mid-June, it's about time for the long awaited sulphur arrival. It's the hatch we wait for all year around here and the word is out. I saw a window of opportunity for a quick session on Friday evening and made a beeline to the stream that's a sure thing right about now. When I got there I was pleasantly shocked to discover an empty pull off. This place is no secret. It's been a long time since I could string up a rod on the roadside knowing exactly what fly to tie on and feeling certain I was about to hook at least one trout. I had it force myself not to sprint down to the spot I had been daydreaming about for months. I took my time, sort of, and walked up on rising trout and the sounds of birds settling into the evening. And the sulphurs were there too, some being chased by the swallows. It was like a waking dream, everything was exactly as I had thought it would be. In photography, the time when the sun begins to set is called the "magic hour" because of the beautiful and fleeting quality of the light. The same is true for this time on a stream. Not only is the fading light magical, but you can see and hear all of the creatures stirring and emerging from their hiding spots, including the fish. And of course the bugs come out... the trout had already gotten into the action and were rising up and down the stream, sipping on fluttering sulphurs and caddis. My second cast met with a small trout. It look little time to land and release it. I paused to tie on a fresh fly and wait for the water to settle until the fish would rise again. It didn't take long. As it got darker, and I caught more trout, they rose constantly and carelessly as the insects multiplied. It seemed like everything on the stream was taking advantage of this narrow window of time. I had a headlamp, but it was becoming too dark to see my fly among the rises. Instead of "one more cast" it was "one more fish" and it didn't take long to meet that goal. I walked back through the dark woods, taking my time now, just listening to splashing fish and the birds.