Saturday, November 7, 2015

Light Fly Rods for Steelhead

"Where do you want to start?" Matt said.

"The tailout," I said. He understood. Three years ago during summer, I caught a big smallmouth in the spot.

We clamored out of the Honda in the dark, and sort of miserably slipped on waders in the chill. Using a four-door sedan for purposes better suited to an SUV can be a mess, but we would get through the day without losing anything.

I was surprised the spot wasn't crowded out. Together we waited 20 minutes or so until enough light made it legal to fish. Matt got into position just slightly upstream of where I knew to loop my cast. The size 8 Estaz egg produced the first steelhead of the morning up and down the Salmon River in our view, not a very big one, but certainly a challenge on my limber six-weight fly rod. I was eager to have Matt net the fish.

We wandered off downstream, walking to stop here and there to fish nearly a mile of the river, before we turned back after nearly four hours for a hearty lunch. The walk back took about 20 minutes. During the interim, I had briefly hooked a larger steelhead, and missed two hits. The fishing we favored all morning happened in about two feet of water at the furthest distance we reached from where we began. Matt had a spectacular fight before he lost one that raced downstream, briefly breaking water as it got loose. He was using a five-weight rod and five-weight line.

Perhaps we just can't land any of the really serious fish weighing more than 15 pounds, maybe not even the typical 10-pounder, but I like the feel of my light rod better than the heavier I used yesterday.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Matt's Salmon River Steelhead

From what we gathered in communications with the Douglaston Salmon Run river walker, Matt's steelhead was the one and only this morning. Matt's weighs (the shot shows him releasing it) about seven pounds. I lost one at the net longer in length that looked skinnier. Both chromers.

Copious online reading before we came up informed me, but actual fishing comes down to trial and error and habit, and of course as a spin fisherman, I have a habit of holding the rod high as if it's no problem. After this venture with my son, I may hold the rod to the side more often. I told myself to hold the rod aside, having learned that's what you do with noodle rods four years ago, and reminded of the same for fly fishing numerously in my reading, but Nate caught me holding the rod high, and apparently it was too late before I could have adjusted position. I guess that's why I lost the steelhead. I had one other hit on a chartreuse streamer near the end of our seven hours, a pretty strong strike.

We fished three stretches thoroughly, but could not escape leaves. If not for the mass of them--I mean they were thick and cast after cast got interrupted by having to pull a yellow leaf off the hook--I think we would have caught more fish. The leaves cut into our time and grace. We began with a calm, warm air mass of about 60 degrees just after 6:00 a.m. Leaves were bad enough, but once the wind picked up, they got to be the mess I've described.

Since I've had severe herniation in my lower back for years, my spine is somewhat scholiotic, twisted, with the result that sometimes my upper back pains me badly. No problem on Lake Hopatcong recently, nor while casting spinnerbaits the week or so before my son got out. But I had to take several breaks today, finally saying the hell with giving into the pain and just exerting myself past the difficulty, which resulting in--less pain. I fished the last two hours with wilful determination that made me feel great afterwards. We had fished hard all morning, but it took me hours before I fully got into it; not that I wasn't trying; I just hadn't stirred the manic power in me yet.

When my son hooked up about 7:30, I got my camera, the $600.00 camera with the $525.00 lens, my favorite lens, and got in the water--with Korkers on of course--to get the shots, and my very last shot--about two seconds before I heard Nate whoop, saw him lift the steelhead in the net, and a split-second later fell flat on my face in the river--is the best. I'm saving it for possible magazine use after we get more experience yet. The file card never got wet, and I got the last picture my camera and possibly my Tokina lens will ever take. Sort of like a mother who dies giving birth. I took emergency measures to try to save the equipment, and, finding the electronics unresponsive, said, "If I broke my leg, that would be worse." Nate got some good shots of Matt and his fish, and later my son said, "If you told me a year ago I would catch a steelhead on a fly rod, I wouldn't have believed you."

You just play the cards in your hand, however expensive. Once the camera and lens got submerged, it was done. As I edit this last paragraph now, a tech has told me an upgrade is less expensive than repair. The camera will be replaced and soon; the lens either fixed within three weeks or replaced by the same model. Most of all, my son succeeded, and he's since talked about fly fishing the river that runs through town, the North Branch Raritan. And we'll be back for steelhead next fall.  

I wanted Nate to fish when I took a break with my aching back.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Arrival at the Salmon River and a Little Fishing

We made Route 13, Pulaski, NY, in four hours, 15 minutes from Bedminster, NJ, stopped at Whitakers, bought our licenses, flies--including a couple of wild marabou streamers with blue and pink, about four inches long, just in case--and some leaders. Clouds overhead had the staff wanting to be out. It's been very slow with a lot of sunlight and I guess just not enough flow to get all that many steelhead in the river, although I was told some are moving up in pods of two or three. The weather is very unusual with temperatures in the 70's today, and for all we know, maybe 80 tomorrow with more clouds and thunderstorms and showers besides. The river's flowing at 350 cfs and that's the only figure I've seen in a week or so, unless I missed something. That weather forecasted tomorrow is the break in this week's pattern. Sunday it's supposed to be 53 at most. The last my son and I fished steelhead in 2011, we had 33 degrees on November 7th to start in the dark, with the most mysterious boat passage in the McKensie driftboat I've ever experienced, before first light, and then--with snow off and on--temperatures reached a high of 38. That was steelhead weather and we caught five, losing two or three.

We had time for more than an hour of fishing into dusk today right here behind the Steelhead Lodge. I found a nice, dark run at least three feet deep, and I guess since I had some practice at the Ken Lockwood Gorge recently, I was in really good form, way better than I had been there. I fished a pink Estaz egg, size 8, and after a dozen or so drifts through this run, got life on the other end, a double tap, pronounced, unmistakably a hit, but the hookset only initiated the next cast. Sometimes the steelhead take the fly a little deeper than other times, and when they do, that's when you get a solid hookup. After a dozen more casts with the Estaz, I switched to a size 10 brown stonefly nymph. I figured the fish had seen enough of the egg form. Nothing more happened. I fished a few other runs not so promising.

So did Matt. But he had no hits, yet a lot of gumption in moving about the river in his Korkers, trying to find a steelhead. We fish with Nate Adam tomorrow and I hope we do well, despite the ominous news that the fishing just isn't good. And Sunday? Well, if we catch any Sunday, that's really the icing on the cake, since we'll have found those fish on our own.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Lake Hopatcong Walleye and Largemouths

The 3 1/2-dozen herring we bought had some larger among them, including one a full five inches long, but Joe Welsh, who runs the large wholesale bait operation out of Dow's Boat Rentals, gets what Lake Hopatcong offers, and like a recent year in the fall, the lake is producing small herring about 2 1/2 inches long. How does this affect fishing? The simple answer is that a large, five-inch herring produces more vibrations in the water to alert fish at longer distances to its presence in the dark depths. But what difference it really makes, I don't know. If herring were small last year--it was either last year or the previous--we still did real well, and we did well the previous year, too.

My son got a fairly nice walleye. This was yesterday morning, motoring off from Dow's with our portable running lights on. Twenty-one-and-a-quarter-inches, three pounds, five ounces. We took this one home for his mother to cook. She really likes it when we bring a fish home. That's never a largemouth bass, and hasn't been a smallmouth from the Delaware River in six or seven years or more.

The walleye took a small herring set 33 feet deep. Meanwhile, Matt played around the rocks on the shallow side of the drop-off with his nightcrawlers, catching lots of yellow perch. I decided to give largemouths a try, after I had told Matt repeatedly I could give him a larger split shot to reach those rocks on pinpoint target with the bait right against them. Well, I ended up rigging an ultralight and sailing a cast directly on the bull's eye. All these years fishing with my son, I have it figured out, though, frankly, he's never noticed nearly as much. A nice bass of over a pound took the crawler. My son was pleased.

Next cast, I lost another bass. And the next cast produced a nice one of about 3 1/2 pounds I haven't featured photographed, which impressed my son I hope in an educative way. And the next cast resulted in a bass not much less than a pound!

"Now cast those rocks," I said.

I left Matt to the nightcrawler fishing. He continued to catch yellow perch.

We soon moved to Chestnut Point and I caught a large crappie on herring in minutes. We kept finding herring on the graph with large fish associated with them, but although Matt caught a couple of nice crappies on the Binsky, we couldn't get these marked fish to hit. I mean, fish suspended at 23 feet over 45 feet of water--we had weighted herring right at that level and they wouldn't take. Some of the fish--and large ones--suspended at 14 feet over 27. And we fished bottom closely with the Binskys. Walleye will hug bottom and not show on the fish finder.

We did the same near Sharps Rock, and finally found where most of the NJ meetup took place, on the hump out from where the yacht club used to be. We saw a couple of small hybrids caught on chicken liver. We fished our Binkys and suspended herring to no definite result.

Mostly, a beautiful day on the water, and perhaps the last of these annual outings with my son, who will go to a great university soon. We performed OK, but after I was told at Dow's that so and so only jigged and in less time than we had been out, catching two walleye, two hybrids, one of the hybrids six pounds, I said to Matt, when the others weren't in earshot, "Can you imagine, if we caught a six pound hybrid, jigging? Jigging takes real perseverance and patience; we're still amateurs at it."