Category Archives: Fishy Water

….and Novacane Runs Through it.

Dental surgery – it needs a silver lining.

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I go to a dentist about 2 hours from my house. He’s based in the town I grew up in, and where my parents live. He’s very good, and I like him, which is why I drive the two hours. Naturally,  I scheduled the appointment in such a way that I could fish the Brandywine while I was in town.

After an hour of fly shop chatter over at Marblehead, I waded into the cool river. I’d planned on wet wading in shorts, but the guys at the shop had told me it was running cool this year. Too cold after a couple of hours wet wading. Thankfully I’d prepared, and so the waders tucked into the back of my truck tightened against my legs as the water got deeper. The entire right side of my head was numb. I’d had an absurd adventure trying to eat a sandwich with the novacane still working it’s magic, and now I was standing in a river realizing how much I relied on my mouth for tying knots in small tippet. There I am, gumming away at the line with no feelings in my lips or tongue to indicate where to bite.

Only my third trip to the river, I’d yet to catch what anglers come here for – smallmouth. I’d caught a ton of panfish here, including one beautiful, vivid rock bass – caught them on streamers, but mostly on poppers – fishing the surface of the river, casting against the bank and letting the bug ride the rip or bounce off the tree branches, or stripping it back while bluegills and redears slapped and swiped at it.

Camera 360

It was Wednesday, and I had the river to myself. When you round the bend south of the parking lot, you are standing in a canyon of old trees. There are a pile of boulders in the center of the river – this is where I caught the rock bass. Nothing in view is man made. You could be in Colorado, or Wyoming. But you’re 15 minutes from downtown Wilmington, where this very river will run besides a park, and in the shadow of buildings, bridges and old factories before meeting the Christina, and out to Delaware Bay, where I fish the flats.

Today, the Bluegill provided endless fun, and a little smallmouth ended the drought. Just a tiny fish, but I put the slider in the right place – just before that branch on the falling tree – just where it would ride the current around the obstruction. That would be a good place for a fish, I’d thought. And it turned out it was. I caught a few smallies in this spot, and a ton of brightly colored, hard fighting little gills. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t feel his face.

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Filed under Bluegill, Brandywine, Bug, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Poppers, Smallmouth Bass

FLA.*

Florida Flats

Florida Flats

(* – written upon returning from Florida in late November, 2012.)

The wish was that, upon returning from my trip to Florida, I’d be posting a glorious photograph in this space of myself, hoisting a silver and gold red fish with a fly rod in my teeth. The clear Florida waters would be glistening behind me, lapping against a white sand shore line of mangroves and palm trees. Not to be, it seems.

My time fishing was limited, but I expected as much, and that was fine. Fishing wasn’t the priority on this short vacation to Treasure Island, just south of Tampa Bay, FL. I was there to spend time with my brother, catch a show, and escape the creeping cold of my home waters, just for a moment. With those objectives accomplished, I was able to sneak away for a while with my fly rod. With so much water around me, the question was….where?

Internet research will take you so far. You can get the general idea of what to fish for, flies to use, leader lengths and the like. Specific information on where to fish is different. The internet hasn’t changed this aspect of the game – the local knowledge is still the best. Knowing this, I looked up local fly shops, and found Tampa Bay on the Fly, and pointed the rental car in it’s general direction.

Once the woman who lives in my phone guided me safely to the shop, I walked in to find  owner Enver Hysni and a friend sitting at the fly tying table.

Tampa Bay on the Fly

Tampa Bay on the Fly

Locals tying flies

Locals tying flies

Tying is encouraged at Enver’s store, as was demonstrated by the heaps of hackle, marabou and hooks scattered all over the large table in the center of the shop. The guys greeted me warmly, asked me if I wanted a drink, and then asked just who the hell I was and what the hell was I doing there?

I explained that I had a fly rod and no idea what the hell to do with it, and where I was staying. Without a word, Enver grabbed a map and a pen, and a local fishing guidelines book, laid it all out on a glass display counter, and began marking it up with a pen. It turns out a stretch of park land, just 20 minutes south of my hotel, could be a good place to find cruising reds. I loaded up on local flies, some odds and ends I can’t get near my home, and a few leaders, lead eyes and a selection of other random flies I could put to use. When you encounter such friendly people who take the time to load you up on so much local knowledge, you find a way to pay them back as best you can. You buy stuff. It’s just good etiquette.

Fort Desoto Park lies at the south end of a slither of land that stretches through Mullet Key Bayou. Despite being home to a civil war era fort and beautiful mangrove lined lagoons, I was here to fish the grass beds of the south east beaches. After stringing up a rod and pulling on my waders, I crested the small rise that blocks the ocean view from the parking lot, and was immediately greeted with the acrobatics of Mullet Key’s namesake. Breaching and leaping mullet fish of significant size were jumping out of the water in all directions. Knowing these were not the best species to try to catch on the fly, I tied on one of Enver’s Redfish Wasp flies and waded in,

The point at Fort Desoto.

shuffling my feet for rays, as instructed.

I caught two fish that day. One was a small lady fish, the second a contender for the worlds smallest tarpon. I didn’t even photograph them, thinking bigger, more impressive fish would eventually materialize. Conditions were less than optimal. I was on a falling tide, and the water was churned up and cloudy. Sight fishing wasn’t an option unless I found tailing fish, but the only tails in the air I found belonged to the abundant mullet. I cast along grass beds, shorelines and sand bars, walked the beach, tried different flies, and came up empty for the rest of the day. It would be a lie to suggest that I didn’t mind my lack of good fishing, but there were several positives to all this. For one, this area is stunningly beautiful. The weather was warm and sunny and the white sand beaches were blinding against the backdrop of blue sky and mangroves and thick palms. I had a mile or so of isolated beach to myself, and I marveled at the sheer volume of birds, fish, lizards and other critters that roam the park grounds. In between futile casts, I took a lot of pictures, took in the landscape, and bathed in warm sun.

The following day, myself, my brother and a few friends woke up with the sun to take a charter boat out of John’s Pass. Today, we would catch many fish. In fact, we would simply loot the ocean without much effort.

After pounding out for over and hour in 4 to 6 foot seas, getting soaked in the early morning chill, our captain handed us those stubby little boat rods and baited them for us. All we had to do was flick a switch and watch the bait tumble down into over 65 feet of water.Camera 360 Then wait. If one of the five in my party did not hook a fish within five minutes, we would move – maybe as short a distance as 100 yards, and drop the lines again. When we encountered a school of red grouper or porgy, we would haul them in by the dozen.

Thank goodness I was on this boat with family, good people, and a nice guy for a Captain, or this would have been miserable. Being amongst friends was fun, and it was interesting to see some fish I’d never seen before, but this trip only confirmed my long-held suspicions about deep sea fishing; that all this bouncing around in a boat for several long hours of dipping a line in and reeling it up again just isn’t my cup of tea. To me, it feels like clubbing seals. It’s too easy, requires no effort unless your the captain, and provides me little -to-no satisfaction. And, as someone that doesn’t mind Camera 360someone keeping an abundant fish to eat, but releases almost every fish I catch, I found the  expediency of it all somewhat off-putting. Fish an inch or so too short to Camera 360keep were tossed overboard like a Frisbee; pink, swollen swim bladders protruding from their mouths from being yanked from the depths too quickly. Thankfully, fish fit to keep were put to good use, as two of my friends on board were professional chefs employed to cook for a hundred or so people, all of whom will enjoy some variation of grouper for a month.

Ultimately, I’ve chalked the fishing end this trip down south up as a scouting expedition. I like the small town feel of Treasure Island, I know where to go to find fish next time. I know where to get a kayak, and a damn good Cuban sandwich and a beer when the sun sets. I know a good fly shop, and the guy who owns it, and with the exceptionally cheap bars, restaurants, air fare and hotels, I know I’ll be back – next time, only to fish. I’ll get that red fish photo yet…..

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Filed under Fishing, Fishy Water, Florida, Fly Shop, Grouper, Porgy

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

Trout Season – The Good, the Bad, & The Ugly.

 

The opening weekend of trout season on my local waters was wet and cold, windy and gloomy. If there were any anglers out, I couldn’t say, I was holed up. But, I found my way there as soon as the weather cleared. I chose Sunday for it’s sun, warmth, and lack of wind, and found a handful of anglers at Newton Pond, on both boat and bank. The boats had motors. That was a surprise. They aren’t allowed on this pond, according to the sign post on the gate.

The pond was in character – clear and unruffled -but was showing signs of a rough weekend. Trout season had been open for one week, and the number of fisherman who had visited had left a trail of trash and debris behind them. I’d been fishing here, almost always in solitude, since late last summer without the jarring sight of coffee cups, styrofoam worm containers and Strike King spinner packages strewn all over the banks.

This is a catch-to-take fishery. The state prefer you keep the fish, as they won’t live through the hot summer months, and most of the fisherman here now are interested in keeping a fish or six to eat. This is confirmed by the freshly filleted trout carcass near the trash heap. What are we to make of this? That people show up with a rod and reel to catch fish to eat, and yet litter the banks and the pond itself with all manners of garbage? Ignorance? Stupidity? Both?

No matter. I packed out what I could, and I wasn’t prepared to let a few slobs interrupt my personal opening day for trout.

 

I found the small cobblestone boat ramp unoccupied, and began casting from there. The action was not fast, but the clear water provided some great opportunities to cast to cruising fish. Casting a fly to fish you can see is just about as fun as it gets. There’s the added layer of anticipation, and a more active roll in the catch. You get to see it all happen, right in front of you.

You spot a trout, about 15 yards away, just beneath the surface. He is moving slowly, deliberately, from your right side to your left. You don’t want to make more than one false cast if you don’t have to; your line in the air above the water may spook him. You want to cast the fly ahead, and above him. You want room to work the line and animate the fly, and hope the trout thinks you are as good a puppeteer as you think you are.

You make your cast.

The line hits the water gently. The fish doesn’t spook. You begin to work the fly towards you, never taking your eye off the fish. He stops and hovers just few inches below the surface, and rotates a few degrees to get a look at the object swimming nearby. You know he’s seen it. You don’t know for sure if you should give it another twitch, or let it hang there in the water column. The wrong move may scare the fish. The right one will catch him. It’s just a few seconds, but it feels like a long time. You’re thinking “Eat it. Eat it!”, but he keeps staring at it as if mesmerized. You give another twitch, just enough to trigger the trout’s instict to eat and survive, and he lurches forward with one stiff kick of his tail. You feel the line go tight in your hand, and you pull it back, and raise the rod tip. Trout season has officially begun…..

 

 

 

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Filed under Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Seasons, Sussex County Ponds, Trout

SITREP

New Year fishing has been unsatisfactorily quiet thus far. Between the sudden cold snap, many high-wind days, and the business of life, January and most of February have not seen anything approaching my usual level of fishing expeditions. None the less, the last few days have seen warm afternoons approaching 60 degrees, and late night rains; good conditions for fresh water fishing locally. All indications are that we will see an early start to the fishing season this year. A warm fall followed by a mild winter, and what looks to be an approaching sudden spring.

Yesterday, on a warm afternoon, I took the opportunity to grab a rod and do some scouting at one of my favorite freshwater locations; Trap Pond. What I found was encouraging. There are lots of bait fish in the shallows. Huge numbers of fish. The surface was alive with rising bait and pan fish, and the splashes of breaching predators can be heard over your shoulder at any given time. Casting into some favorite honey holes was producing a strike on just about every tug of the fly, but almost no takes, indicating that; even with my smallest sized popper on the line, the striking fish were simply to small to take it.

I saw some incredible boils – hundreds of baitfish being chased by some predator or another until they break the surface in a thrashing frenzy of foam and chaos. There were no big fish to be caught, perhaps because of the sheer volume of bait, and thus, competition for my fly. The ever-cooperative Bluegills prevented a catch-less day, but I would have preferred an early spring bass or pickerel.

The warm afternoon, which required only a t-shirt and left me shedding layers, was suddenly interrupted as a wind picked up and the tall pines sounded their alarms. A storm was approaching. The surface became more active with feeding fish as a cloud cover rolled over, and thunder could be heard in the distance. I chose to call it a day. I hadn’t made it through the woods and back to my truck before the rain started, and by the time I got home, some 35 minutes later, we were sitting in full-on torrential rain conditions, thunder and lightning, and mild flooding.

I hadn’t been the only fisherman on the water, but I was the first to leave, and I’m glad I did, as I was the only fly fisherman, and in a lightning storm, one does not want to be the guy with the tallest poll.

On another note -the Division of Fish and Wildlife has announced a trout stocking of two nearby ponds with approximately 300 pounds of rainbow trout for the upcoming season, which begins at 7 a.m. March 3rd. The fish are said to have an average size of 11 to 13 inches, with some significantly larger fish in the mix. Re-stocking of the ponds will take place again on March 15. In the northern part of our state, six streams will receive thousands of fish for that season, which opens April 7th.

I’ve never fished the local ponds during opening day of trout season. I’ll be there, camera in hand, as I hear it’s a ridiculous sight to see, with all the fisherman from all over showing up to grab a few take-home trout. These are waters I fish regularly, and usually in relative quiet; the only angler around. It will be interesting to see what transpires.

Hope your early year fishing has been more productive and regular than mine, but I do remain hopeful for an excellent season ahead. All indicators are there.

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Filed under Bluegill, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Seasons, Sussex County Ponds, Trout, Winter

To Do:

In the early days of a new year, I find myself making lists of things to do. Not the usual promises of gym routines and minimal alcohol intake, the kind that are designed to be broken, but the fishing kind. My home waters will obviously be well worked in 2012; that’s a given. But where else would I like to go? Costa Rica, of course. Bonefish in Hawaii. Chile, Argentina, The Bahamas. Yeah, right.

I’d love to do all that, and while out of pure stubbornness,  I’ll never rule any of it out, I’m talking realistic goals I can pick off like like swatting flies. The kind of trips that, assuming good health and no cracked limbs, there is no reasonable excuse not to complete.

In the next week or so, I will make the short two hour drive north to wander the White Clay Creek in search of brown and rainbow trout.

The White Clay Creek - Christmas Day 2011

The White Clay meanders into northern Delaware from the south-east corner of Pennsylvania, and is the biggest reason I have for considering a purchase of a Pennsylvania fishing license. I wouldn’t think twice, except that the PA license is a full $50 more than my DE license, due to non-residency and the significant difference in the sizes of our states. There are of course, other great reasons to hold a PA license. I’d like to fish the Spring, Beaver and Allegheny creeks, too. But the White Clay is the closest stretch of good trout water, and when scouting upstream, I’d prefer to not be halted by the invisible state line that renders my DE license worthless and my fishing illegal.

The White Clay is stocked every year by both the state, and the White Clay Fly Fishers Club. It is also home to some large holdover trout from previous seasons, and sees a spring run of shad every year. It’s truly year-round water, and I plan to make much more use of it this year than in years past. Thankfully, family is nearby, making it an easy place to stay and fish.

While on the topic of licensing in other states, my third license of the year will be purchased from the good people of Maryland, so that I can fish a stream that truly excites me. The Big Gunpowder River starts in Pennsylvania and tumbles through Maryland into the Chesapeake Bay.  The upstream Prettyboy Reservoir Dam releases 55 degree water  all year long, creating a fertile, east coast, Blue Ribbon trout water populated predominantly by browns, but with some rainbow and brook trout in the mix. While the brown trout population has been naturally sustaining for decades, there is some stocking of rainbow in the lower catch and release section of the river.

These waters made some news in fly fishing circles this year when The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Board of Public Works renamed the Gunpowder South Trail the Lefty Kreh Fishing Trail in honor of the Maryland native, and ambassador to our sport.

Fishing reports have been good all winter, and I’d like to get there sooner than later. In the meantime, I read Backwater Angler and Knee Deep; locals on the Gunpowder who share more advice and information than anybody has to.
Most of the stream consists of long pools divided by short riffles, tree lined banks and beautiful scenery, is a few hours form home, and I’ve never caught a brown trout. I can’t wait to try.

Gunpowder Falls, MD

I looked at the date yesterday and almost fell out of my chair. It may be a cliche, but it’s truly amazing how time will fly. Blink, and January will be over.

Fair enough, because February will find me in Lancaster, Pa for my first Fly Fishing Show. I’m looking forward to viewing all the latest tackle and materials, meeting some of the guys who write the books I’ve read and who designed the flies I disgrace by attempting to tie, (Mr. Clouser, Mr. Kreh, how are you?) and learning as much as I can. There are demonstrations and clinics on everything from casting and tying flies and knots. As if that were not enough, the International Fly Fishing Film Festival will be there, screening several films over the two days. With films based around our sport getting better, prettier and more interesting every year, this may well be the highlight for me.

Well, that gets me through February. More to come, no doubt….

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Filed under Blogs, Film, Fishing, Fishy Water, Industry, Places, Trout, Winter, Writers