Today was a day of strange occurances. For starters, I took a day off of work to go fishing….. As my typical luck would have it we have been pelted by rain pretty much non-stop for a week. Then today the weather in Erie took a turn for even colder temps and we got snow. Yes folks, snow in April…. I’m over it too.
The creek was chocolate milk. High, fast, cold, chocolate milk to be exact. Now one might say that it’s hard to describe a 28 degree day in April on a blown out creek as beautiful, yet that’s exactly what it was.
CW and I walked a few miles of creek, made several not so safe crossings, and saw exactly ZERO people. For anyone who frequents the Erie tribs during steelhead season you know that rare is the day that you have a section of creek to yourself let alone the entire body of water.
Elk Creek is not known for it’s swinging opportunities in part to the makeup of the water but mostly to never really having much room. With switch rod in hand and smile on face I figured that this was as good a day as any to see if I could swing up a fish or two. I found a run that at lower waters wouldn’t have enough flow but today was perfect!
Snap T, swing, dangle, step down, repeat…….. Mid way through the run my fly approached the end of the swing and all of a sudden came tight. Head shake, head shake, game on!
While far from the largest steelhead I’ve ever buttoned up or even the prettiest, this was the first fish I have ever stuck on the swing on an PA trib so beautiful it was. CW managed a small hen as well and we both walked away feeling good and celebrating another day on the water.
I know I say it often, but I’ll say it again. Sometimes the most imperfect days are just…. perfect.
Tight Lines and Loose Pants,
I know that there are a ton of fishy folk out there that love our pursuit. I see you out there trying to carve out your own piece of solitude on a river, or scheming how to get more time on your favorite lake or pond.
What I often wonder though, is are you all as obsessed as I am with the process of gear prepping? Perhaps it’s a bad case of OCD on my part, but if that’s the case I will own it with pride because I LOVE gear prepping.
I started to run down a list of the things I do prior to a day on the water and I suppose it’s pretty funny.
- Fly box selection and arrangement
- Check all flies for barb and rust (sharpen as needed)
- Primary rod rigging
- Secondary rod selection
- Replace tippet from last trip
- Check tippet spools for any that are running low
- Pack water, snacks, toilet paper, etc… in the sling bag
- Make sure I have stripping guards, sunscreen, bug repellent, hat, glasses, etc…..
- Wax rod ferrules
- Pack appropriate net (which often never leaves the car…. love-hate relationship with nets)
- Check headlamp batteries
- Make sure I have spare polarized glasses in the car for multiple light conditions
- Convenience store stop for teriyaki flavored beef jerky, cheddar cheese combos, and a Mt. Dew as this combo is the appropriate homage to the fish Gods in order to increase the chances of a good day. If it is the second Saturday and just after a full moon a bag of powdered donuts is added to for potency.
- AM playlist cued up and ready on my iPhone to get in the right headspace for my drive. Often consists of Zac Brown Band and other feel-good tunes…… If the day turns out to be frustrating the drive home tends to be more like Social Distortion.
- Lay out clothing based on the weather report and placed either in the bedroom or living room so after waking Beth up with my 4:30AM alarm clock she can hopefully fall back to sleep without me fumbling around the room like a newborn giraffe.
- Pack bag with backup clothing for either a change in weather or the likely chance that I fell in the water.
- Remember to wear my lucky underwear
- Check flow gauges
- Call Carp Whisperer and geek out for a bit because it makes me feel normal hearing that he is as stoked as I am
- Double check bag for hand warmers
I could keep going but some of you might start to doubt my already doubtful sanity. I’d love to know, what are some of the ways you all prep?
Enough prepping! Let’s get out there and chase some fish!
Tight Lines and Loose Pants,
I have long envied fly fishers who have the luxury of flexibility….. meaning they can leave at the drop of a hat to fish when conditions are prime. They often have the best probability of epic days that become stories of legend. Insert guide speak……. “you should have been here last week”. Most of us, me included, were not born under such a lucky star. I have a real job, real bills, and four very real kids that require me to be a very real dad.
Once a year CW and I head up to Presque Isle Bay for a weekend of warm water fun. The beauty of the fishery is that it has such versatility that regardless of what is going on there are always fish to be had if you are willing to be flexible. It is not uncommon to have caught over 10 species of fish in a weekend of fly fishing…. No joke. We have had to work around early spawn schedules, late spawn schedules, shad kills, rain, wind, oppressive heat, back problems, leaky waders, marital issues, even gastro-intestinal issues…. All to chase fish.
This past weekend I think we finally hit the one variable that we had never had to deal with. Upon arriving at the bay it blew our mind to see the water levels to be over 5′ higher than normal. There was literally water creeping up into parking areas. Now if you are a fly fisher in a boat, no biggie. If you are a wading angler this is a major issue. Roughly 75% of the places we would ordinarily wade to get to fish were now off limits. Throw in a nasty algae bloom, some storm fronts, and a cottonwood fluff hatch that looked like a snow storm and it made for some crazy conditions.
I have long stood by the philosophy that what separates really good fly fishers from others is the ability to problem solve and persevere through less than ideal situations. I wish I could tell you that we overcame and kicked ass… Or that we caught that one fish of a lifetime and made it all worthwhile…. We didn’t. What we did do was got wet as water slipped over the tops of our waders, cast our arms off for 3 days, laughed at each other, drank beer, and oh yeah…. managed to scare up a few fish.
The largemouth were gone. The carp were nowhere to be seen (see tear rolling down my cheek). We didn’t even see more than a gar or two which is highly unusual.
Far from the bonanza that we had imagined in our heads. No worries. Sign me up…. I’m ready to do it all over again! See you on the water.
Tight Lines and Loose Morals,
Yes folks. It appears the rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Still alive, kicking and causing trouble every chance I get. Anyone that knows me can attest to the fact that despite attempting to be a well rounded fly fisher, more often than not I am stomping around in warm water haunts. I will be the first to admit that my trout kung fu is not as strong as many but better than…. well, not sure if it’s better than anyone but no matter. The point is that this weekend I got an invite from my buddy Tim to head out to central PA to chase some trout so I accepted the invitation eagerly.
We fished the catch and release trophy trout section of this particular river, the weather was perfect. The sulphurs and green drakes were going off, so we had hopes for some prolific action. We fished the lower section of river all the way to the mouth. My high sticking shoulder was numb and I thought it looked like a good place to huck a few streamers and maybe scare up a smallmouth or two. Tim and Scott were a ways upstream so I had some time to kill.
I tied on my go to sculpin pattern…. false casted a few…. and shot some line out into the current and let it swing back around. Once the sculpin crossed the eddy I began to strip it in with long deliberate strips.
I looked behind my fly and a ball of orange rolled up. Wham! fly hits a brick wall…. Did I just snag a carp? Head shake… head shake… head shake…. Nope, not a snag. Did a carp just wallop my streamer? I was beyond excited as my brown lining roots tingled. After a day of 14″ trout the idea of a heavy weight scrap on my hands was exactly what I was hoping for.
The fish took some line. I gained some ground. After a few minutes of a good back and forth tussle, the fish started to tire. As it came out of the depths I just about fell over. this was no carp. Not only did I just stick my first golden but it was an absolute toad! As I landed the fish, I could feel my hands shaking with adrenalin. This was the biggest trout I had ever caught. I looked around and I was alone on the river with this beautiful fish. Yes… yes… yes…. I know the “hero shot” is over done. Keep em wet.. I get it but I had to get a picture of this fish.
Now is where amateur hour ensues. The fish is now in the shallows with me tailing it as my other hand attempts to unzip my jacket, dig through my wader pocket, unleash my iphone, and hopefully take some kind of picture that does this beauty justice…. Epic Fail.
I have no exact measurements, no weight estimates, no grip and grin. To be honest, I really don’t even care. Every once in a while if you put in your time, the fish gods smile on you and reward you with an experience. For that I am eternally thankful.
So after three different friends sent me this link I figured it was a sign that someone had to post it so it might as well be me. Fair warning, this is NSFW! That means NOT SAFE FOR WORK… or kids… or spouses…. or jealous carp.
I mean seriously, I love carp. You know I do. And I’m not afraid to admit I have watched a little porn in my day. But can’t honestly say the thought ever crossed even my twisted mind to combine the two. It takes a lot to render me basically speechless but yep… Just don’t know what to say.
And just for the record… NO, I didn’t buy it… yet.
Tight Lines and Not so Loose Pants,
For those of you that have ever cruised in the “fishmobile” you know my love of fly fishing stickers. What can I say, I love to fly the flag of brands and causes that I support and associate with. So with being a recent glass man (Thank you Shane at Gray Wolf… more on that later!) I had to hit Cameron at The Fiberglass Manifesto up for some sweet TFM stickers. Right now it is spitting freezing rain outside so they will have to wait another day or so before making their way to the vehicle.
No disrespect to Cameron’s sweet sticker swag but the truly big news is that I am now the proud owner of my first custom build glass rod courtesy of Shane Gray at Gray Wolf Rods. So first a disclaimer. I have received nothing free or even discounted from Gray Wolf or from Carl at Swift Fly Rods down in New Zealand. I wanted to talk a bit about the build experience, the service supplied by both, and the excitement around how the rod turned out and the frustration of not being able to fish this beautiful stick yet!
Let me start with the blank selection first. I wanted to build a glass rod primarily for carp and smallmouth. I liked the idea of being able to load a rod in tight situations and make a smooth accurate presentation. (something that can be a bit more challenging with todays faster rod blanks) The rub was I also needed the rod to be able to throw a larger weighted fly than most trout situations mandated. No disrespect to the larger rod manufacturers offerings but I needed something heavier than a 5 weight, longer than 8′, and with a bit more backbone. After reading, and reading, and yes more reading, I came across a great review on the Swift Epic 686 that Cameron had done. It even came complete with a picture of the rod with a sweet slab of bronze attached to it.
If there is a guy out there that knows his glass from his ass, that would be CM so who was I to reinvent the wheel. I interviewed a couple of Rod Builders all of whom were great sources of information and I felt the best fit for me was Shane. He listened well, gave good advice, and was incredibly responsive to emails as well as calls. The truth of the matter is that custom rods are not for everyone. They are not cheap by any stretch (nor should they be for the artistry that goes into them) and they don’t typically carry the same type of rod warranty that you get with factory rods. The flip side is that you can get the exact rod you want… exactly how you want it…. from wraps, to reel seats, to stripping guides. Your rod, your way!
Which leads me to Swift. The Epic is categorized as “fast glass” which is not to be confused with “Helios 2” fast but is definitely more stout than many of the more traditional glass blanks on the market. (see Swift’s site for more technical details) I was a bit unsure of a line pairing so I hopped on their site and sent an email through their contact tool. I was truly a bit surprised when the response I got was from the Director, Carl McNeil. We had a great email exchange and he was extremely helpful in helping me choose a taper that matched my targeted species and casting style.
The only thing left is to take this beautiful rod on her maiden voyage. If you are in the market for a custom build I can tell you with absolute sincerity that you won’t be disappointed with what ends up in your hands from Swift or from Gray Wolf.
Tight Lines and Loose Pants,
I sat in my car…. wet, cold, shivering, smiling! It had been raining on and off since last night. The air was that cold heavy fall air that chills you all the way to your bones even though the temperature gauge would indicate otherwise. I had been standing in a cold river since 6:30AM making countless drifts and even more mends. My shoulder was sore but again I was smiling.
At one point I saw a group of guys behind me watching. I turned around to ask the omnipresent question that one asks whenever a stranger happens upon you in a river holding a fly rod… Do any good? Nah…. they shook their heads….. telling me it was too blown out and they were heading home. I gave them the obligatory wave and my internal smirk broadened. You see, I knew something that they didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the day was far from prolific and they were right. The creek was totally blown out. It was like fishing in chocolate milk. As soon as my fly hit the water it disappeared from sight.
Truth be told, I was struggling. I was picking up leaves on every third cast. There was so much debris in the water that it was almost impossible to get a decent drift. My secret was not that I had already hooked up with five good fish and landed two. (although I wasn’t about to broadcast that fact) Nor did I know about some secret stretch of water immune from the onslaught of rain and silt. I had no magic fly.
My secret (which I will share with you now) is the most valuable piece of advice that was ever bestowed upon me as a fly fisher. There are very few certainties in this great pursuit of ours (other than your guide telling you that you should have been here last week). But this is the Yin the Yang and the Kung Fu all wrapped up into one. So here it is…..
REGARDLESS OF THE CONDITIONS, GO FLY FISHING! and fish till you can’t make another cast.
Why? Why on earth would I want to do such a thing Lee? Because……. This is what will make you a better fly fisher. Anyone can fish a day with no wind, not rain, no high water, no unbearable temperatures, no swarms of biting insects, etc…. But if you do, if you can…. You will begin a journey to a place that far too few get to go. This is how you become a Jedi master. This is how we learn, how we evolve. Persevere and you will learn. The next time you encounter the same situation you will be rewarded with your experience.
We live in a society today that is largely built around a controlled environment. We air condition, sanitize, sterilize, safety check, and then consult with a large firm of highly paid individuals to make sure our logic is sound. Sometimes It’s OK to give it a go just to see what you can make out of a crappy situation. Falling on your face builds character and character is far too uncommon on the river or anywhere else.
I absolutely loved today. Although not quite as much, I would have loved today had I been skunked. So next time you are staring out the window and the wind is howling or the rain is spitting, get in the car and go fly fishing instead of going back to bed. I promise you that you will begin to surprise yourself and the things that you will learn will make you a better fly fisher every day thereafter.
I also wanted to wish everyone a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving and let all of you who follow and read this blog know how much I appreciate the support.
Tight Lines and Loose Pants,
So many of you might be in total trout, steelhead, or musky mode so leave it to CW and me to still be talking all things carp! (OK, I was fishing for chrome yesterday too but don’t tell anyone) We will be speaking at the Orvis Pittsburgh store on Saturday from 3:00pm – 5:00pm. We will be talking carp behavior, tactics, gear, flies, etc….. Look forward to seeing you all there.
Tight Lines and Loose Pants,