Category Archives: Fall

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing…..

The striped bass that, by all optimistic accounts, should be storming our beaches in pods of thousands any time soon, have yet to materialize. It’s Thanksgiving week – and this is usually when the striper run hits it’s peak. It is, however, hard to tell if it has even begun.  Certainly, there are some large fish being caught off-shore, and trolling off the beaches is producing hits, but when we talk striped bass runs, we’re looking for fish in casting distance from the beach, choking the inlets and beaching bait on the point. None of that is happening.

Delaware resident fisherman, if they wish to retain sanity and are honest with themselves, will tell you that we are the first bastard state of a striped bass run. The stepchild. The geographic nature of our state in relation to it’s northern counterparts allow for the migrating herds to pass far off-shore, where charter boats and gas guzzlers will do well, but the rest of us will just be cold. South of Jersey, the Delaware Bay sees good action, but the rest is a gamble. There have been historic runs here in the not too distant past. A spring run comes to mind – the inlet crammed with boats – you could walk across it by jumping from deck to deck. They were elbow to elbow along the rail, and everyone had a bent rod. Incredible. Rare. Like a total eclipse or Halley’s Comet.

I take all the data in stride. “Every fish caught on a fly in saltwater is hard earned”. A Florida guide told me that recently. He’s right, no matter where you are. Yet, he has a longer season, tons more fish, clear water, and better weather. Still, it’s hard.

I took to looking for schoolie striper this year. Using my kayak to sneak around the back bays at various stages of the tide, trying to find the magic number. Beaching the boat on sandbars in casting into channels, of hovering at the mouth of the grass marsh on an outgoing tide, looking for feeders. Not so much as a peep. I fished the beach yesterday – mostly driving looking for birds or bait. Calm water, cold air, not a breath of wind, not a glimpse of fish. The ocean feels so big when you blind cast, stripping freezing saltwater back into your hands.

I keep waiting on better reports, but the best reports come from being on the water. So, I force myself into my waders and bundle up. Load up the kayak or cruise to the beach. The idea of a whole fall without a striped bass is gnawing at me. Sure, there are other factors at play. But I’m not looking of brute size or a state record. A fish will do. A hard earned fish.

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Filed under Bay Fishing, Fall, Kayak, Striped Bass

A Small Pond.

Tucked away amongst the trees of a state managed wildlife preserve, and just a quick back-road ride from my home, there is a pond that everybody ignores. It’s not for lack of traffic – the walkers, runners, hunters and transitioning boaters pass me by every time I’m there. Many ask about the fishing. I’m honest, and tell them I catch bluegills here. They sigh with disappointment or nod knowingly, and carry on. In the year or so that I’ve been frequenting this pond, I’ve yet to share the bank with another angler.

The disappointment of the curious passer-by may lie in an unfulfilled promise, or an idea of good intention that simply didn’t take. Nearby, a yellowed and weathered piece of paper stapled to a sign board speaks of the attempts of the state to stock largemouth bass and catfish here. There is a diagram indicating how makeshift underwater structure was created to keep the bass happy, and that these would be marked with a float to both avoid snags and to point out exactly where the fish probably are. Either way, I’ve fished this water high and low and never so much as sniffed a largemouth. Perhaps the idea of marking the spot where a fish should be wasn’t the best of strategies. Perhaps the water and the bass never could quite get along. None the less, in an area with a significant population of bass anglers, they don’t come here anymore.

Quietly, and without notice, things are changing at the pond. I still come here to throw a sneaky pete from a 5 weight in search of bluegill – sunset being the consistent time to take them on top water flies – and the fish deliver. But over the course of the past year I’ve noticed them getting bigger. Certainly not those dinner plates you catch down south – though I wish they were – the pond is producing some of the larger panfish I catch in the area. They put a deep bend in a light rod and can take runs reminiscent of their largemouth cousins, and they strike a popper with determination. I’d stopped hunting for bass in this pond. It was now a place to sneak away to for an hour – a convenient puddle in which to catch a few fish before dinner – but still a valued fishery for it’s stack of tough, and growing gills. But then something happened just a night ago, fishing at sunset. What felt like the  familiar snap of bluegill on a hastily returned popper turned out to be a juvenile bass. I photographed him for proof and quickly let him go, grinning at the prospect of having found a living, breathing bass where it was believed there to be none. I cast again, and caught a second bass, very similar in size to the first. I considered the possibility that the state had once again stocked the water, and made a mental note to find out. Then, I considered the more intriguing possibility – that these bass were not the product of delivery, but perhaps the spawn of a native. Had we all been fooled?

I think I’ll keep this under my hat for a while.

 

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Filed under Bass, Bluegill, Bug, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Poppers

On the Brandywine.

I’d planned to creep into the Brandywine River a week earlier, but rain had seen to that. A storm moved across the state from the south-west, plodding it’s way out to sea and leaving behind buckets of rain. It would be a near two hour drive north an an overnight with my parents who live nearby, the river would be high and cloudy, and I wanted better conditions. A week would do it, and by the following Tuesday I was winding through the  back roads of Chadd’s Ford on my way to  rendezvous with Terry at A Marblehead FlyFisher, the best place to pick up word from the river, and to my knowledge, the only surviving fly shop in the state of Delaware. Terry had just returned from a trip up north to cast at False Albacore. He had fished for three days, casting a two-handed rod and hooking up with several Albies on just one baitfish imitation which he now kept in a Ziploc bag to show curious customers, it’s hook shank bent and dressing crumpled and abused – a spent fly.

After a round of fishing talk and an examination of his terminally damaged waders, Terry was digging through shelves of flies and pointing out what had been working on the Smallmouth Bass I had come to chase. From streamers to poppers, the only common theme was rubber legs. Anything with rubber legs. I loaded up on crayfish imitations, poppers with enough rubber legs to strangle themselves, bait fish imitations, and woolly buggers with……rubber legs. Armed with tips, directions, information and ammunition, I thanked Terry and promised to send saltwater reports from down south, and set out for river.


After parking in the wooded lot and throwing on my waders and sling pack, I picked up the trail Terry suggested I follow to a good drop-in point on the steep banks of a low running Brandywine. I found the narrow confluence I was looking for and stepped down onto the rocky creek bed. Only a few feet in, the river reached in to the alcove and I waded in ankle deep water as juvenile panfish scattered in every direction in the gin clear water. Targeting smallmouth, I started on the surface. A blue heron was at rest on the far bank, and, taking him as a good omen – not to mention an indication of fish – I cast a sneaky pete popper onto the faster moving water along the bank – a process I was to repeat in several pools and runs along the banks for the next 30 minutes without so much as an indication of feeding bass.

I waded downstream and, looking ahead, noticed an area of light ripples on the otherwise glassy river surface. The glare prevented me from identifying what structure lay ahead – it turned out to be several large boulders – but casting the popper just before the ripples and letting it drift over the turbulence prompted a soft, slurping take.  The rod bent and I thought I’d hooked into a smallmouth. Yet to catch one on the fly, and having never tried, I was anxious to hook up early, but as the fish came to hand I could see I hadn’t hit my target. None the less, I had a Rock Bass on the line. I’d also somehow managed to avoid catching one of those before, too.

I walked a good length of the river that afternoon – casting to downed trees, rock piles and rips, and still haven’t managed to check the smallmouth bass off of my list. I know they are there. I usually walk away from such an event with some inclination, or excuse, if you like, about why I didn’t catch what I was fishing for. Usually there is a condition to consider, a case of inappropriate equipment, an unavoidable obstacle. On this day, I was out of ideas. It is my inclination to blame user error, or just one of those days, but in hindsight I can’t think of anything I’d have done differently. I cast floaters, slider, poppers, streamers and bugs. I fished deep and high, fast and slow. I exhausted my options, and eventually, my time on the river.  I burned the remaining light of day casting poppers to a stack of bluegills I’d found while probing for bass earlier in the afternoon. I caught plenty of fish, but the smallmouth remains unchecked. A matter of time.

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Filed under Bass, Bluegill, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Panfish, Poppers, Woolly Bugger

Dawn Patrol.

Theres no escaping it; winter is creeping in, but is doing so under the cover of darkness when most are asleep, and therefore blissfully unaware. With a scattered few exceptions, the days continue to reach unseasonably warm temperatures. But here on the water, just before 6 a.m, steam rises from the mirrored surface and the fly line freezes fast against the guides. I’m alone here, as I expected. Even in summer, this water isn’t the crowded type. But now, in December, the quiet of the morning is almost unnerving; the still of the clear water reflecting the rising sun, the trees, but none of the disturbances that give away feeding fish.

At this time of year, the angler that prefers to sleep late can still be rewarded. The fish tend to wait until the afternoon, when the water temperature is increased by a degree or so, to feed. The rules of summer, with early morning angling taking precedence,  are not in effect, although it still seems that dusk provides action.

I ruin the glassy water with an opening cast, cursing my lost gloves and frozen fingers, and begin to search the deeper channels for bass or a holdover trout. Instead, after an hour without any signs of life, I feel a soft pull on the line. I set the hook, and bring in a savior of winter; the Calico Bass.

“Savior of Winter” is a pleasant name for a fish that has many ugly names that it does not deserve. I call it a savior for the simple reason that; even after a pond, lake or river has iced over, this fish will still be available and active for fisherman to catch, all the way through the winter months. They do not strike hard, nor do they put up a gallant fight, but they are handsome with their specked tail and silvery-green flanks. Locally, and in the majority of the states, this fish lives under the ugly name of Black Crappie, pronounced “croppie”. Elsewhere, they are known as strawberry bass, papermouth, speck, or speckled bass, but the good people of New England got it right when they called this fish calico bass, a poetic, respectful name for a fish so worthy, and so generous as to keep me fishing in winter.

The sun is climbing higher now, and the day is becoming warmer, and I’m beginning to shed layers of clothing with every passing hour. It’s turning into a beautiful fall or winter day, it doesn’t matter which; clear skies and warmer than one would expect after spending the dawn hours trying to fish with your hands in your pockets. In the late morning sun, the scenery and the calico bass have made for some beautiful time on the water.

 

Neil D. Parry

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Filed under Calico Bass, Crappie, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Scenery, Seasons, Sussex County Ponds

20 Ponds. – Tussock

While recently browsing the fishing section of the DNREC website, I came across a listing of state owned public ponds, and it was only then that I discovered that there are twenty of them in my county alone, and I’d only fished three of them. Water is everywhere in Sussex county, with the bays, tributaries, rivers, and of course, the big pond we call the Atlantic, so my oversight can perhaps only be explained by an abundance of good locations near home; the ocean alone enough to keep me fishing without visiting the same couple of locations every other day. But twenty is a nice round number, and Sussex is not a big county, so like Mallory’s mountain, I’ll fish them all because they are there.

While I’d take note of where I’d been and fully intended to visit all of them, I must stress that this was not a gonzo fishing operation aimed at high fish body-counts or a reason to claim I’d “fished ’em all”. It would simply take me to new places that have been right under my nose the entire time, as fishing often does. If the fish wanted to contribute by willingly taking a fly from a stranger now and again, that would be fine, but having not known that some of these  ponds even existed, let alone that they have fish in them, made me feel lazy and dumb about my surroundings. It is also an excuse to write about local waters from the perspective of the bank fisherman. I find that most fishing information left online or in books in regards to my local area begins by assuming the reader owned a boat. But what if you don’t?

Finding each pond on Google maps was easy enough, and I found that several were scattered around the lower third of Delaware in clusters; some mill-ponds, some man-made, others the remnants of when this neck of the woods was blanketed in Cypress Swamp. I was going fishing in the morning, and I had the day, so I marked a couple of ponds I could fish for a few hours each, and I’d see what I could see.

After a wrong turn that left me staring at an empty cul-de-sac, I found my way into the empty parking lot of Tussock Pond. It was unseasonably warm, and I was down to a long sleeved t-shirt before I finished rigging up.

According to my reading, Tussock had suffered from fluctuating water levels and this had contributed to a lower-than-average growth among fish. 400 largemouth bass fingerlings were introduced to the water on 2007 in an effort to boost the population, but the pond lost so much water in the fall of the same year that these efforts were probably hampered. The information trail goes cold here, but the pond and it’s waterline certainly looked very healthy to me, so the only thing to do is go fish it as well as you can, and see what it produces. This is not the best way to go into the fishing of a new water; with ‘below average’ stamped neatly on your expectations, but you also may think you can prove that theory wrong; at least by your own standards.

Most of the shoreline here is thick with brush, so good opportunities for casting a fly rod are slim. Working from the boat ramp wasn’t too difficult, especially with the nearby trees now bare and the leaves under my feet, but the area I could cover was small, and didn’t look promising. I searched it with a woolly anyway, feeling for bass, and finding none. I could see an open stretch of bank across the water; probably a good 40 feet of blue sky bookended by trees. Some stumps protruded from the still water before it. I reeled in and started my walk to the opposite side, which took me along a country road, where I stopped and leaned on a guard rail and made lazy casts to the far side of a rocky spillway, it’s very working existence confirming that water levels had returned to good health.

As I continued on, along the edge of a farm field and towards my spot, a noisy Dehavilland Twin Otter took of from nearby Kent Airport, and clawed it’s way into the air. I’d noted the airport on my map, and new it to be a small grass strip. Such an airplane, out in the countryside and operating from a grass strip, led me to surmise that it was for a sky diving operation. At least, I knew he wasn’t dusting crops.

There had been an optical illusion form the boat ramp on the other side of the pond. Those stumps weren’t nearly as close as they had appeared, but the bank was indeed clear of obstruction and I liked the view.

I tied on a small Clouser and began to send long casts out to the stumps; letting the fly sink and then beginning a swimming retrieve. If the bass were home, they weren’t interested, and I began to cast out to other water, or up along the bank, but the stumps were just classic bass cover and I returned the fly there with every third cast or so. Nothing came of it.

When I’m not catching fish where I thought I might, I tend to do one of three things: I change my fly, though I try to do this as little as possible, for the sake of my leader, and my sanity. I might move. Or, I’ll choose to take a moment to just sit and watch.

Moving wasn’t going to happen. I’d found my preffered spot on the shoreline, from where I could work the most water, and I was happy there. So I watched.

The sun was directly in my eyes, but not too high in the sky, and if I crouched and put the tree line between us I could watch the shady part of the water off to my left. The water lay as still and flat as tightly tucked sheets with the litter of fall motionless on it’s surface. Woolies and Clousers hadn’t produced any fish from the deeper water, and I knew there was a population of bluegill and reader sunfish here, although both are said to live with the bass in the ‘below’ average numbers’ category. So I tied on an Adams parachute, a favorite of mine for bluegill, and sent it softly into the shady water. The fly sat up on the dutifully, drunk on floatant, and before it’s concentric circles had dissipated, it was snatched angrily by a scrappy bluegill.

I thanked him for playing, then lowered him back to the water, as over my shoulder, parachutes, – red, blue, yellow – , drifted lazily from the sky.

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Filed under Adams, Bluegill, Clouser, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Places, Scenery, Seasons, Sussex County Ponds, Woolly Bugger

Bass, Pickerel, Woolies and Perspective.

 

It’s another gloomy afternoon in light rain, and it’s a little cold and theres a breeze, but I have no complaints because fish don’t seem to care, and I have the afternoon to fish, and the water to myself, and it’s all about perspective.

I have been finding both bass and pickerel in deep water on the local grounds; pickerel in greater numbers, as they don’t mind the cooled water temperatures as much as the finicky bass. While I’ve caught several of both on a small collection of streamers this fall, the go-to fly has been the Woolly Bugger, and by significant margin. I’ve found a preference in these tan and olive colored ones; heavy from lead wiring around the hook shank and it’s bead head, and with an abundance of underwater animation provided by the light, stone-colored hackle. From the banks, I cast these into area I know to be deeper water, and let them sink before beginning a retrieve that is varied in depth and speed until I determine what the fish are looking for a on a chosen day. I don’t believe there really is a wrong way to fish a woolly, but finding the right way in a given situation is usually rewarded with plenty of strikes, even in the dwindling months of the year. Deeper water has been the preference of late, to the point that I’m allowing the woolly to sink to the lake bed before starting my retrieve.

 

Bass and pickerel tend to go after the same style and types of flies, but the bass are gentle on the fly, and the pickerel, with it’s rows of sharp teeth, is quite the opposite. There are more durable choices of fly when it comes to pickerel, but all the best ones: Woollies, Mickey Finns, muddlers and Spey types, can all be completely mangled in the capable jaws of a pickerel, as demonstrated in the picture above and the one below; a ‘before-and-after’ view of pickerel fishing with a woolly bugger.

I caught the fish, and he was a fine pickerel, full of fight and about fifteen inches long, and I can re-tie the fly. It’s all about perspective…..

 

 

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Filed under Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Fly Tying, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Pickerel, Woolly Bugger

In Every Life, Some Leaves Must Fall.

As soon as I opened my eyes this morning, I parted the slats in the blinds above my bed to look up at the sky as I do most mornings, and found myself gazing at a heavy overcast. The sky could have been pink with yellow dots and I still would have decided I’d be going fishing, but the gloomy canopy forced me to the shower a little quicker. By the time I was ready to walk out the door, a light rain was falling. I grabbed my rain gear and a mug of hot tea, threw my gear into the truck, and headed south on the Coastal Highway.

My destination this morning would be a tidal canal I’ve mentioned before. As I crossed Indian River Inlet, I was calculating the tides in order to determine if the water would be flowing right-to-left, or vice versa. I also considered that, being the fall of the year, I’d find a significant amount of leaves on the surface of this tree-lined watershed.

As I climbed up onto the barge and tied on a black and olive Woolly Bugger, I found that I’d been right on both counts. The canal was surging away from the ocean, and pushing towards the bay, and the red, golden and brown leaves were going with it. Then it began to rain a little harder. This was not to be my finest hour.

I’m aware of two schools of thought that exist in relation to fishing water scattered with leaves. The first is that it should simply be avoided. the second is that the falling leaves bring with them a host of terrestrial insects into the drink, and therefore produce good fishing conditions as fish move in to feed on them. I have not enough personal data either way, and suspect that there is no true consistency to leafy conditions, but am sure that what we can all agree upon is that catching leaves in your line or hook after an otherwise satisfactory drift is a royal pain in the neck.

A sinking line helps, as it keeps more of the line submerged and allows you to retrieve without having to plow through clumps of leaves. Streamers are preferred for obvious reasons, and a dead drift is a better choice than an active retrieve, since, with some casting accuracy, you can place the fly in a clear spot of water and let the drift do the rest. This is why I chose the Woolly this morning, as it requires no input from me as it is carried along beneath the surface, to appear life-like enough for an unsuspecting fish to eat.

So, I combined my own advice and knowledge and cast as well as I could and caught a lot of leaves an no fish, and then the skies opened up and a torrential rain fell, and I reminded myself that this is why the good days are the good days. I was on the water less than an hour, but I had given it a shot, and sometimes that’s all you can do.

I was going home; my rod, backpack and rain gear in a soggy mess in the passenger seat.

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Filed under Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Fly, Freshwater, Places, Saltwater, Seasons