I must admit, I am having trouble focusing as I attempt to type this blog post. If you ask my boss he may say a similar statement as I struggled through the work day today. I returned yesterday from a trip to north western Pennsylvania to fish for Steelhead in the Lake Erie Tributaries. This trip actually started over 2 years ago when myself and a couple of friends attended a seminar given by Greg Senyo at the Reading TCO fly shop. After seeing the presentation we talked on the way home and decided to book a trip. Originally scheduled for November of 2014. If you remember the Great Lakes area was POUNDED with snow last winter. We kept an eye on the weather and the day we were supposed to leave our fishing spot was covered with 7+ feet of snow. A quick call from Patrick Robinson of Steelhead Alley Outfitters and we realized there was no way we could pull this trip off. We tried to reschedule a few times, but schedules just would not allow it. Fast forward to this year. Wanting to stay away from the snow we scheduled earlier in the season. Snow was not the issue this time. Rain, both not enough, then too much were the challenges this go round. In the weeks leading up to the trip the area, like most areas in the east, had received very little rain. The rivers were low and throughout all of the communication with our guide one theme rang true, "we need some rain"! You have all herd the phrase "careful what you wish for" the day we were supposed to leave the Great Lakes area received the remnants of Hurricane Patricia and several inches of water were dumped in a 24 hour period. Now, rain is usually a welcome sight in Steelhead fishing as it usually gives a push of fresh fish into the river system. That much rain that fast can be an issue. I was literally walking out the door when my phone rang and it was Dustin, our guide. "Can we move the trip back a day"? First 7 feet of snow. now a bunch of rain...I was beginning to think the Steelhead Gods are against us! A few quick calls to my buddy "One Boot" Ed and the Hotel, arrangements were changed and we were set to leave a day later and stay a day later.
As mentioned we were fishing with Steelhead Alley Outfitters. If you are looking for a premier outfitter I would highly recommend checking them out. Our guide for the two days was Dustin. A young kid full of piss and vinegar with a drive to catch fish rivaled by nobody I have met in the recent past. Our goal was to catch our fish on the swing during this trip. "Swinging" for Steelhead is a term used to describe a type of fishing where you position yourself above the fish. A cast is made down and across the river, usually with a two handed rod, and you allow the current to sweep or "swing" the fly to the fish. With the water coming down after the heavy rains we decided I would swing and the Ed would Nymph.
We worked the first run for about an hour with no joy. We moved up river into a sweet looking run. Dustin positioned me in the middle and had me to fish down to the bottom. Ed started up a little higher in the same run and started Nymphing his way to the top. about 15 minutes into the second run I saw my first sign of life. A boil in the vicinity on my fly. Did I imagine it? Was it real, or was it wishful thinking? These thoughts were going through my mind when I got my first bonafide Steelhead tug on the next cast. Nothing snaps you back to reality and makes you focus like that jolt of lightning in your rod hand. The very next cast a fish (I have no idea if it was the same one or not) hit the fly at the end of the swing with a violence that can not be described with words. I threw the steel to him and got a solid hook set. One hard run and three aggressive head shakes later the line went limp. I was cussing myself thinking I had broke him off. I soon realized the fly was still there and a quick inspection and I realized what happened... bad ass fish!
As Dustin and I were looking at the straightened hook I looked up and saw my buddy's rod doubled over and he was yelling "fish on! "
With the Skunk out of the boat our confidence continued to grow throughout the first day. By the end of the day we had hooked 12, landed 8 (4 on the swing and 4 on the nymph) with the best fish being 32 inches and estimated over 10 pounds. It was truly a great morning and one neither of us will soon forget!
That night at dinner the discussions centered around the days events. The one thing we were both amazed at were how thick the fish were across the shoulders, and how strong they are. One thing was for sure, it would be hard to sleep that night and we could not wait for tomorrow!
The next morning brought sunny weather and low clear water, not ideal conditions. Dustin was out early that morning scouting water and after a few texts it was decided we would fish the same area we fished the day before. While gearing up at the truck we decided to take one 2 hander and two nymph rods. I was amazed at how much the water had dropped over night. I "swung" through the first run and I did stick one and after 5 on the swing I wanted to get a few on a nymph rig.
Imagine you are nymphing for Trout with an indicator rig. Now imagine the indicator going under and you come tight to the fish, only it is not a 13" wild Brown, it is 26 inches of fired up Steelhead that is as mad as a Bald Faced Hornet! I can say I don't think I would want much more fish on my seven weight NRX, and this is the first time I can remember seeing the backing on this rod.
I finished out the day with the nymph rod as did Ed. We managed 8 more fish on the second day with Ed landing 5 of them. The 2 day totals were 23 hookups, 16 landed, 5 on the swing and 2 fish estimated over 10 pounds by our guide. Here are some of the pics from the second day.
I sent an email to the operations manager for Steelhead Alley Outfitters to thank them for a great experience and to let him know they created a couple of monsters. If you are interested in booking a trip check out the SAO website here. I have been toying with the idea of hosting a trip through Irish Flies to fish Steelhead Alley next fall. If you are interested please feel free to contact me. Till next time...
Well, as you can tell from my last post I am a true Smallmouth junkie. I just think they are the coolest fish that swims. I have said many times "pound for pound no true freshwater fish fights harder than a Smallie". When you get them in your hand their body feels like the flexed bicep muscle of a Mr. Olympia contestant. They never stop fighting weather in the net or while you are trying to UN-hook them. The colors are absolutely beautiful, and under the right conditions can grow quite large. Smallmouth are very receptive to flies and fly fishing, I have heard it said that the Smallmouth Bass were made for fly fishing! With several Blue Ribbon Bronzeback rivers near my house, it is no wonder that the Smallmouth bass season is my favorite time of year.
I have been shooting a lot of video with my GoPro camera over the past month. Anyone who has ever done any video work will understand when I say shooting the video is a lot easier than editing it. I now realize for every minute of finished video there is about 45 minutes of editing! The video I am going to show tonight was shot about 3 weeks ago. I spent that Sunday walk and wade fishing 2 of my favorite Smallie rivers. In the morning I was with my buddy "One Boot" Ed. The morning started out a little tough, but by the early afternoon we managed to scratch out a pretty good morning. I was fishing the Crittermite seen here and was fortunate enough to have a few decent Bass eat it. IN the afternoon I was on one of my favorite sections of the Brandywine with my buddy Joe G. Joe is a customer from my days at the fly shop and this was the first time we were able to get on the water together. We had a great evening and I think my buddy has been bitten by the Smallmouth bug.
I used a new mount for the camera when I shot this video. The angle was a little off and you can't see the fish as I UN-hook them. I didn't notice this until I had downloaded the video and I have since corrected the issue. Also, at the behest of my mother I toned down the music a little for this one. I guess she is correct to a point, you cant have '80's hair band music (the best music ever incidentally) in EVERY video...I hope you enjoy "Smallmouth Sunday"
The past few weeks have been busy around the Irish Flies camp. My wife and I took a mini vacation to Atlantic City for a few days of rest and relaxation. We did get to see the Eagles (the band, not the Philadelphia Football team) for the second time in less than a year, and they were awesome. If you are a fan and you can catch "The History of the Eagles" tour I would highly recommend it! I have been tying flies, filling orders and I have started the preparation's for this winters classes. I also have several videos I am working on and will be posting them soon. The past two weeks I was fortunate enough to get out on the water with my good buddy "One Boot" Ed. We floated both of the last 2 Sundays, the first on the Brandywine and the second on a tributary of the Susquehanna flats. Smallmouth season is in full swing right now, the water levels and temp's are good and the fish are attacking our flies the way a Hobo attacks a Bologna sandwich. As mentioned we floated the Brandywine 2 weeks ago. We put in at the Brandywine River Museum and floated down to Smith's Bridge. Ed had recently purchased an Outcast "Fat Cat" float tube and he used it for this float. My Fat Cat had not come in yet so I used my IR-10 single man pontoon. You may ask "why if you have a pontoon would you need a float tube" more on that later...
We floated for about 9 hours that day landing a fish here, a fish there, a decent day, but nothing to get real excited about. Several hours into the float my buddy connected with this solid, shouldered up, Bronzeback. His personal best out of this river and a respectable fish any where in the country.
We had just finished taking pictures and releasing this brute and Ed started to fish the next hole. Within 3 casts I looked down and saw his Sage Method bent over and bouncing. He looked up and said two words "good fish"! Ed worked the fish out of the hole and brought it to the net. Not as big as the first one, but the colors speak for themselves. This is truly a beautiful Smallmouth.
After taking two good fish in a row on a stretch of water that is notoriously tough to take big fish on I had to ask..."what fly"?
Ed was fishing a fly designed by Chuck Craft and sold by my friend William Heresniak of Eastern Trophy Fly Fishing called the Clawdad. You may remember my last post was a step-by-step of a my version of a ETFF fly called the Crittermite. If you missed it you can catch it here. The Clawdad is another simple but VERY effective pattern. Kinda like the fly fisherman's answer to the "Jig and Pig" of hard tackle fame. You can dead drift it, strip it, twitch it, or let it lay on the bottom. After these 2 fish Ed gave me a few to use and I am an instant believer. Here is how effective this fly is. EVERY FISH IN THIS BLOG POST WAS CAUGHT ON A CLAWDAD!
We fished out the day landing several more smaller fish until about 2:00 when we were mobbed by tubers. When I say mobbed I don't mean we had a few around us and we had to let them pass. The heat index that day was 107 degrees and everybody must have had the same idea. At one point I was completely surrounded by tubers as far as I could see. I stopped fishing (I couldn't cast) and just floated down the river for about an hour. I have floated this section for the past 25 years, probably over 125 times and I have NEVER seen the amount of tubers I saw this day. Next time better planning is in order.
Maybe this is why this section of river doesn't give big fish easily!
All in all it was a good float. I got to get out on the water, get my pontoon wet, catch a bunch of fish and spend time with a buddy. What more could you ask for?
Pontoon vs float tube
As mentioned I have a single man pontoon and I just received my "Fat Cat" float tube. I am sure people are asking "if you have one why do you need the other"? As much as I love fishing out of my Pontoon, and I do enjoy it, they are not without issue. My boat is on a trailer, that is the easiest way to transport it IMO. Trailering a boat has its own unique set of challenges. First off you need a vehicle that can tow a trailer. The boat / trailer combo is very light, so you don't need much horse power, you do need a vehicle with the proper equipment to tow (ball hitch, light hook up's etc). You will also need to register and tag the trailer. I don't know about you but, if given the choice I would rather get my teeth drilled than go to the Delaware DMV! The other thing to consider are boat ramps. The Brandywine is not like the Schuylkill or the Susky, there are no true boat ramps on the Brandywine. This means carrying your boat, sometimes great distances, (a 2 man job) to the water. All of these are challenges that can be worked through and my pontoon will remain a staple in my fishing program. Combine these with the plan to fish some smaller rivers in our area this year and this makes the choice to invest in a float tube a no brainier. Enter the Outcast "Fat Cat"
Basically a floating reclining chair, these tubes are light, easy to travel with, and extremely comfortable. They fit easily in the back of a mid to large SUV, and with the optional back pack straps you can hitch the tube to your back and down the road you go to the fishing spot. Ed calls it the "Mummers Strut" when he has the tube on his back...those of you from the Metro Philadelphia area will understand. I got my tube mid last week and Sunday morning we were on the water by 7:00 AM
It is gonna be a long float...
Here is an Irish Flies tip...If you are floating a river for the first time err on the side of caution when setting up your first float, It is better to set up a float that is too short than a float that is too long. Why do I know this???? Read on.
Ed has been fishing this tributary of the Susquehanna Flats for years. He introduced me to it a few years ago and we have had some great days wading this river. A quick check of the map and some scouting shows this trib flows a long way, but the upper reaches would be extremely hard to wade. We decided a float would be the best way to attack it. Pontoons were out of the question. Getting to and from the river with the trailer would be a logistical nightmare, not to mention the distance and terrain we would have to carry the boats over to reach the water. The river is narrow at some points making passage in a pontoon difficult. It is just not a "pontoon" river. Today, this river, this float was the initial reason for the investment in the float tubes. We talked back and forth all week all the while looking at Google Maps. Ed scouted the put in and take out on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we met up and headed out for a day of new discovery. As we were gearing up Ed said "you know this is gonna be a long float" Irish Flies tip #2 when your fishing buddy says something like that pay attention!!!! I think I said something like "more fish to catch" Yeah, OK. We put in at around 7:15 and started down. 20 minutes into the float I hooked a good, possibly a great fish! Three head shakes and one STRONG up river run and the line went slack and the pole limp. I stripped in the line and the brand new Fluorocarbon leader was snapped at the tippet. 1X tippet. 12 pound tippet! I don't know what it was, could have been a Carp. I do know he ate the Clawdad like he was starving and I will never know for sure what it was. We continued floating down having a great day catching many solid Small jaw's. About 3:30 I decided to check the GPS. To my shock (and horror) we had been on the water for nearly 8 hours and we were only about 1/2 way! We knew we needed to pick up the pace and as the day got longer we fished less and paddled more. The last 2 hours of this float were what I akin to hell in the river. About 3 miles of the nastiest, rock infested boulder field you can imagine. I bounced that Fat Cat off of bounders, drug it over rock and gravel bottom, blasted through dead falls, you name it I did it to that tube. It is hanging in my garage a little scratched up, but non the worse for wear. A cheap tube would not have made it through that stretch of river, I am confident of that because one cell phone, one swim fin and one rod did not make it through! An epic float indeed, we just need to come out with a better take out spot! What time did we make it to the lower end did you ask...8:30 pm! That's right, 13 hours on the water. Was it worth it? You be the judge, because I am still not sure!
As mentioned every fish in this post was caught on the Clawdad. If you are a serious Smallmouth junkie like we are, you owe it to yourself to check William's stuff out, it is as good as it gets! Check him out here. He is also on Facebook under William Heresniak as well as Eastern Trophy Fly Fishing. To check out all the great products from Outcast Boats click here. I am proud to have Irish Flies affiliated with both of these great companies.
We have about two more solid months of Smallmouth action this year. Get out there and stick a big one before it is two late! Till next time...