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,
As fly fishers, we have already accepted that in most situations we will catch fewer fish than our bait chucking cousins (second cousins twice removed) and for most of us we are just fine with that. My steelheading roots are here in the heart of Western PA’s Steelhead Alley along the shores of Lake Erie. Most of the fly fishers tend to dead drift eggs, nymphs, and small streamers under an indicator for two primary reasons. The first is that some of the tributaries we fish are just not big enough or are too crowded to swing flies. The second reason is that you flat out hook more fish. So why with runs that “aint what they used to be”, crowds that are ten fold what they used to be, and mother nature making life even more difficult…. why would you want to chase chrome on the swing?
I thought you’d never ask. Up until this year, I had always looked at spey casters and two handed rods with equal parts envy and ignorance. I had no idea how to do it and I had never figured out where to start. It seemed less complicated to run a drug detox program for Lindsay Lohan that it was to incorporate an entire new dictionary with terms like grain weights, skagit, single spey, double spey, snap-t, perry poke, sustained anchor, yadda yadda yadda…. (you yadda yadda’d over the best part, oh I mentioned the bisque) So last year I purchased a switch rod, a skagit set up, took a class, watched a bunch of video, and have practiced as much as I had time to. Do I look like Simon Gawesworth or Ed Ward? Ummmm, not really but I am starting to get the hang of it! I owe a big debt of gratitude to Bob and the guys up at International Angler for my intro spey class. I also owe a huge shout out to April Vokey over at Fly Gal Ventures for an outstanding class on intruder style flies and teaching me how to tie tubes.
So the past 12 months has bought a few pretty cool firsts. Back in the fall I caught my first salmon on the swing and I felt like there was perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel. This week was huge as I caught my first steelhead on the swing. It was far from the largest steelie I have ever caught and with near arctic temps the fight was a bit subdued as well but I have to tell you…. THE TAKE WAS ABSOLUTELY FRIGGING AMAZING!
As my 10 feet of T14 and intruder came to the end of the swing, I paused on the dangle. Not because of my spey casting prowess, but because my fingers felt like they were about to fall off. It was 21 degrees not including the wind chill. As I attempted to breathe life into my frozen fingers my rod lurched forward and was almost ripped from my hand. I recovered and after a spirited battle, my first steelie on the swing was complete.
So after losing my swing cherry, I took a day to meet up with CW in Erie. It was supposed to be cold so I figured the crowds would be at a minimum. As I drove through Ohio, the snow began to fall and fall it did. It came down so hard and fast that I sought shelter off the road and waited it out till morning. Morning came and it was still coming down. By the time I met up with CW, this is what the parking lot looked like….
Yes, those are the cars of two crazy fly fishers who for most of the day were the only people on the water. Why were we the only people on the water? Well it wasn’t really water at that point. The best way I can describe it is attempting to fish in a slushee. Nine casts out of ten I couldn’t get my three split shot or my fly to sink down below the slush. Other than foul hooking a sad looking hen, the day pretty much went like this….
Ice cubes anyone????? The day was still a win as we took a beautiful walk up miles of snow covered creek, talked like old friends do when they haven’t seen one another for some time and laughed about crap that only guys spending the day without their wives/girlfriends can laugh about. So if you have yet to pick up a two hander, give it a try and remember…
The swing is the thing, the tug is the drug, and ice pretty well just sucks.
Tight Frozen Lines,
So it began a few weeks back. I made an early season jaunt up to the Erie Tribs as some chrome had pushed up despite water still being low. If I ever needed a reminder as to why I hate fishing for trout/steelhead in PA this was it. I got up to the creek before first light. By the time the sun started to come up, there were close to 40 guys stacked up in 50 yards of creek. It looked a bit like…. well exactly like this….
At one point, I hooked into a small buck and brought him to hand. The water was low and clear and not many fish were being caught. Next thing I know a guy decked out head to to camo chucks a bobber right in front of me. (literally) I gave him a sideways dirty look. 30 seconds later, he does it again. I turn to him and let him know that I understood that the creek was crowded but that he still needed to give a guy his fishing space within reason. He grins at me and reveals that he did not have a single tooth in his head… not a one. So a minute later… PLUNK…. the bobber splashes right in front of me as I am about to lay my line down. I had had it. I turn to the toothless moron and tell him that if he does it again I am going to cut his line. He walked away looking at me like I was some kind of jerk, which at that point I was but every man has his breaking point and that was mine.
My fly fishing time is my sanctuary and is supposed to be relaxing and this was anything but. In stark contrast was an evening I was able to spend on the Milwaukee River. The run of Kings was well underway and the weather was pretty nasty…. cold… spitting rain… in other words, PERFECT! Well perfect for me because it virtually assured a relatively uncrowded river. To my surprise I had it basically to myself. I was working a pod of Kings in a riffle and two guys come marching down the river and I am thinking “here we go again”. Much to my surprise they stop above me and say, “Hey, do you mind if we work down river from you about 40 yards?” It was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me on a river. Stream courtesy is not dead! Comatose maybe but not dead! So thanks guys for taking a pic for me as well as being a couple all around good guys on the water.
The super cool part of the day was catching my first salmon on a swung fly. I bought my first switch rod this year and am slowly learning the two handed art. Still a Padawan and far from a Jedi but I love the art of it and have even started to bring some of it into my single handed strategies. I snagged quite a few fish and lost a few others but I finally got one to eat and managed to bring it to hand. It was probably the smallest one of the bunch but I could care less…. If you have never tangled with a salmon, I highly recommend it. Damn strong fish to say the least!
As the evening wore on, the rains started to come down in buckets but I was in a zone. By the time I actually noticed anything the river was a blown out mess and the only thing that brought me back to reality was the good sized log that smacked my upstream hip as it sped down stream. It was time to go and I could feel my feet getting pushed down stream as I attempted to make my way towards shallow water. Luckily that is about as interesting as the story got but it was a reminder to pay attention to river conditions especially when you are on waters unfamiliar to you and wading by yourself.
A big thank you to any of you that have stream courtesy, fish courtesy, and love chasing fish with the long rod! Hopefully I will see one or two of you on those Erie tribs once the weather turns super nasty and the temps drop below freezing! 🙂
So I found myself recently on The Grand River in Ohio. It was the first time I had ever fished it and after working a run that produced nothing I made my way to the car searching for answers. It was still pretty early for much in the way of Chrome to be in but it was worth having a go.
As I walked up past the bank to my car there was a guy observing the run and he looked like he knew what he was up to so I asked…. “Hey, I’m not from around here, would you be willing to help a guy out?” Now most would shrug and maybe point you to the one or two areas that I had already fished which were too obvious not to. As luck would have it I was asking the question to Nate Miller who is a guide at Chagrin River Outfitters. Now mind you, I had not hired Nate for the day, nor had we ever met yet he was helpful, informative and helped me try and salvage my evening with a few creative spots to go fish. If you happen to be in the Ohio/PA area and are looking for a guy to help you get on some chrome, look up Nate Miller over at www.chagrinriveroutfitters.com and thanks again Nate for helping out a newbie on The Grand!
Damn…. I can’t believe how long it as been since I posted. I am truly sorry but life has had a funny way of getting in the way of my fun lately. So where were we? I have quite a few things on my mind today so this will be a bit of mish mash all thrown together… consider it like fly fishing chili… a little of this, a little of that in one tasty bowl.
So I have managed to hit the creek a few times but sadly the conditions have just been down right crappy for sight fishing so carping was pretty much out. On the other hand, the smallie fishing has been somewhere in between steady and prolific. A few weeks back CW brought about 20 to hand in a couple hours with some very nice sized chunkers by creek standards. One of the things I love about our local creek is that is is such a pot luck fishery. We were swinging and stripping streamers and mostly expecting the smallmouth bite to be on. CW had an early morning walleye surprise.
Not to be outdone, I ended up with a drum that just about ripped the rod out of my unprepared hands as I was swinging a streamer through a shallow run.
So other than a few trips down our local creek, life has been crazy but good! I started a new job that entails some travel again and I have managed to make the most of my evenings on the road.
A few weeks ago I was in Michigan and managed to fish both the Grand and the Muskegon. I had the pleasure of spending an evening on the Muskegon courtesy of the good folks over at Mystic Fly Rods. (more on that later) Fish were rising and we had a bunch of fun fishing dries to rising browns and bows. Sadly it was too early for the salmon to be in yet but that didn’t stop me from giving it a good college try.
The next evening, I fished the Grand River around Grand Rapids for kings and summer run steelies. Unfortunately for me I was early but some ever cooperative smallies made what would have been a fishless day slightly better. As I was fishing the riffles in town my swung fly came to a dead stop and we were hooked up. As I was attempting to clear my line, my slack got looped around my reel handle and before I could say fudge monkey it was over. All I was left with was this cruel reminder to never fish for kings with a streamer tied on a light gauge bass hook. (note to self made)
So back to Mystic Fly Rods. So most of you who know me are painfully aware that I have made sure that this blog does not turn into an advertising forum for the highest bidder. I have not monetized the blog and I do not intend to. I don’t work for any fly fishing companies and have no financial commitments that obligate me to say anything about anyone.
Having said that, if you are looking for an extremely well made fly rod, that casts beautifully, and won’t cost you a mortgage payment, you MUST check out Mystic. They are an American designed and made product that is not your typical value slot rod company. The M series is a sweet stick with a fast or med-fast action depending on the model. I have thrown their 5 wt for trout and their 8 wt for chrome and both feel fantastic in the hand.
One of the more interesting things about the rod is the length. They come in 9’3″ and 10″3″ in the rods I used and I don’t know if it was the taper or the extra 3″ but I loved them both. This of course beckons the age old question as to whether size matters and does an extra 3″ actually make a difference. I was not in a good position to answer so I did what any good journalist would do and called in an “expert”. So I called…. No, not Lefty Kreh…. Not one of the Rajeff brothers… Nope, I called my wife (who by the way has never picked up a fly rod in her life) and she assured me with her best spousal grin that a rod can be too long or too short depending on the water you are fishing but in most cases an extra 3″ can make all the difference. In any case, you can check them out at www.mysticoutdoors.com.
Hopefully it will not be this long before my next post as I am heading out this Saturday with the good folks from www.internationalanglers.com to learn how to spey cast! It has always bothered me that I had not learned so this is my golden opportunity to change that. In the mean time….
Good Luck, Tight Lines, and don’t worry about those extra 3″!
As most of you can attest to by my lack of blogging the past 7 months have been pretty rough for this rabid foaming at the mouth fly fisherman. The twins have been amazing as they are growing, smiling, shitting, and screaming their way through their first year. This week, both of them stood up for the first time with out a wading staff! (proud papa) They have even already learned to fight over the same toy. Who knew The Hungry Caterpillar was so damn special?
So where was I? Ah yes…. amidst a sea of far to much work, far too little sleep, and far too few hours on the water I finally managed to get my ass into a set of waders and wet a line with my good buddy CW. In the card game of life these days I don’t have very many trump cards to play that make fly fishing a winning hand. But when CW tells my wife that he paid his good hard earned money for a day on some private trout water and that he was taking me and that he will be a month behind on his rent and that he has nothing to eat and that his kids will be without Patagonia branded clothing and that the regional economy DEPENDS on my going fishing last Friday…… how could a girl say NO?
And so it was….. Two long lost fishing pals found a beautiful… and I do mean beautiful spring day on some private trout water in Western PA. Now in the realm of full disclosure, this was far from wild. The pools were manufactured, the trout were stocked, the landscape was cleared. Yet despite all of this, the smile on my face was totally legit!
I had to chuckle to myself as two guys that routinely wade through urban waters, for wily carp as we drift flies past sunken shopping carts found ourselves in such a high brow setting. The truth of the matter is that places like the one we fished are set up to allow average at best fisherman to catch well above average sized trout with well below average angling pressure. I am not sure that I would want this to be my permanent fishing venue, but to see Steelhead sized trout swimming about my fly made for some pretty cool moments. Sadly neither one of us landed any true hogs but we both brought quite a few good sized trout to hand for just one day reminded ourselves how much we enjoy being on the water together.
We both managed to lose a ton of flies…. not a shocker. Lose a few fish…. not a shocker. Consume large amounts of salted beef poducts…. most definitely not a shocker. And even fool a few uneducated trout….. shocker!
So a big greatly appreciated man hug (3 back pats) goes out to my good buddy CW who sprung me for the day, put a smile on my face, and once again reminded me that his generosity knows no bounds. May will bring our annual pilgrimage to Lake Erie for our warm water pursuit of bass, pike, carp, and anything else that will chase our fly so stay tuned as the pontoons take their maiden voyage!
Big Smiles and Tight Lines
So this past week I was heading across the state on business and managed to sneak down to my favorite tail race for some summer trout action. I got there and as luck would have it the mid-week crowds were sparse but a few elder statesmen were milling around. I set up in my favorite run and began chucking my two fly rig hoping for some streamer action. The fishing started out a bit slow but the old guy across the river was killing them! One cast after the next. We exchanged some idle chit chat and they asked me where I was from so I told them.
Once they realized I was a pretty good natured guy, the ribbing started… “Hey Mt. Lebanon… how’s the fishing over there?” chuckle chuckle snort snort…. I laughed and smiled. After landing my first decent bow I asked the age old question… so, “what are you throwing?” Had I been paying much attention to what they were doing, I wouldn’t have had to ask because they weren’t really throwing much of anything. The answer boomed across the river with pride…. “MEAL WORMS!”
Ahhhh… I nodded emphatically. Was I really getting my balls busted by a group of retired dudes chucking meal worms with fly rods? Yes indeed I was. Now anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I am no purist nor am I one to judge how another man chases fish. (unless of course they are using explosives). But come on man! If you are going to pretend to fly fish while you throw live bait that has to come with a no heckling clause.
As luck would have it, fish started to rise and I switched up to a few dry flies and managed to scare up three or four more trout which my hecklers seemed to approve of.
I guess this beckons two very important questions:
1. If you are using live bait on a fly rod are you actually fly fishing?
2. If so, is it bad form to heckle a fly fisherman who is actually fly fishing?
Now don’t get me wrong, they were really nice guys having a blast and I did too. I just couldn’t help my internal eye roll and broad smirk as they chirped back and forth at one another. Who know’s…. maybe they have it right and it really doesn’t matter how you do it… Maybe whoever dies with the most fish wins? Or maybe style does count for something after all?
What do you think?
Good Luck and Tight Lines!
So I decided to go back through the last year plus and put together a bunch of video that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with…. it is interesting to put so much fishing into 10 minutes but I think it lends some perspective to what has been a really fantastic stretch of fishing. Hope you enjoy!
Joe Reardon: He walked 18.
Larry: New league record!
Joe Reardon: Struck out 18.
Larry: Another new league record! In addition he hit the sportswriter, the public address announcer, the bull mascot twice…
So this past weekend Mr. Brownliner had the pleasure of chasing chrome with several very very accomplished anglers. To say that I was out of my league would be an honest assessment, but I did manage to catch5 or 6 nice steelies and most importantly learn quite a bit along the way.
The one thing that I have found about most talented fly fisherman is that if you are a willing and gracious student most are eager to teach and impart what they have learned to you. That is one of the beauties of our pursuit…. we are a relatively select group and knowledge is there if you are eager to consume it!
So as I glance into my fishing rear view mirror on the day I have to chuckle at myself a bit. I went trough several dozen flies, the majority of 3X tippet spool, 2 leaders, and the consumption of a few dozen choice expletives. The yield was 6 fish to hand, lost at least that many more, and another handful of nice sized suckers to put the cherry on my sundae. To a certain degree some of this is not so much being out fished, but outclassed…
There is something about watching a skilled nympher at his craft. The economy of motion…. the reading of the water…. the way the fly lands in the water…. where the fly lands in the water…. the drag free drift…. the smooth pick up….
Wash, Rinse, Repeat.
Admittedly, I catch fish…. some might say more than most. But there is something to be said about doing it with style and panache instead of brute force. Fly fishing is the sweet angling science. It is a dance with a surgically sharpened blade and a steady trained hand. So this is what happens when someone with a few good years under his belt fishes with a collective of over 80 years of fly fishing prowess!
Stark differences… they pay attention to the water… they hunt long before they cast. They spend more time with their fly in the water! Elementary I know, but if you spend 30% of your day with your fly out of the water tinkering and dealing with your self created mess then you are in all likely hood going to catch 30% less fish! They take their time…. nothing seems rushed or hurried. There is a zen like calm that seems to cover the entire process from stalk, to presentation, to hook up, to land…. Panache.
So what is the good news. Believe it or not, you can bend… wait even CHEAT time! You see, if you spend time with a good teacher you can learn in a relatively short period of time what took someone a lifetime to compile. No flux capacitor or Delorian necessary! Great Scott!!!!!
I am hoping for one or two more cracks at Chrome before the sand runs out of the hour glass till the fall. Hopefully I will take what I have learned and put it to good use!
Good Luck and Tight Lines
So I have a confession to make…. I used to hate nymphing. I dont’ know why to be honest. I know I did not like the chuck and duck casting and I think not being in touch with the fly was a bit of a difficult transition for me when it came to indicator fishing. Other than that, there just wasn’t much of it that touched my fly fishing soul.
Lately I seem to have had a change of heart. Perhaps I needed to start to enjoy the nuances of it? Perhaps I just needed to become better at it? After a winter of nymphing for trout I can honestly say I look forward to it. The subtle change in the drift, the line tip dipping suddenly, the tension and the head shake that you feel when you raise the rod tip. When water conditions are poor, the mystery of what is going on under the water is intriguing. Nothing against the visual nature of dry fy fishing or popper fishing for smallies, but there is a certain imagination required to extend your line down into the water and make assumptions about what it is doing as you make your presentation. Being that 90% of feeding is sub surface anyhow, I guess it makes sense to embrace all that happens below!
In many of the online forum’s you hear people say that they are only a dry fly person, or only a nymper….. I think to be a complete fisherman you have to be comfortable adapting to the situation. I am learning to take great pride in coming to a day of fishing being prepared to catch fish in whatever format the conditions dictate to me. I recently fished with my friend Tim who is an accomplished angler and his skill in understanding what his drift was doing was beautiful to watch. With much practice and attention to detail, I am hoping I will be there one day as well…. So for the time being, I am dedicating myself to becoming a total “nymph”omaniac!
Good Luck and Tight Lines!