Here’s a quick look at the great day we had in NW PA last week.
I am often amazed at the ease I find in getting out of bed at some ridiculous hour so that I might go fishing. The alarm will often blare at an hour in which many people are mid way through their nightly slumber. In my house, the early alarm is often followed by a slight groan from my wife. The groan is meant to voice both her displeasure with the noise, and her thoughts of my stupidity for getting out of bed at such an ignorant hour. I know that she believes I’m an idiot. I am okay with that. I am awake to face the world and all of the fish that I might find.
This trip would call for an early departure. At 3 a.m., the alarm blaringly reminded me that it was time to wash my face, brush my teeth and wake my son. We had a three and a half hour drive drive ahead of us, and we still needed to stop to get Mike. I must admit that a 3 a.m. fishing trip is much easier to deal with than a 6 a.m. ride to work. With Mike in tow and Matthew settled in for the rest of his nightly nap, we headed north and east in search of a few willing trout.
The ride through the darkness was both pleasant and uneventful. Out of the darkness, the rising sun slowly stirred its gradual glow over the fog filled valleys and the lavender landscape of northwestern Ohio. It was a beautiful morning, and the anticipation of both good fishing and better company made it easy to forget our sacrifices of sleep.
We planned to meet to Larry, my long time fishing friend, on a stream that he and I had fished heavily in the past. This is a special stream to me. It is not the most beautiful place on earth. The fishing there has never been truly spectacular, but it is a place where I learned to sight fish for rising trout. Larry and I had spent countless days on this stretch of water. It was my classroom in the early days of my dry fly fishing experience. I was excited to finally get a chance to share this water with some of my favorite friends and especially with my son Matthew.
It has been well over twelve years since my last visit to this little mountain freestone creek. Much of it has changed, and yet, much of it was still the same. There were fewer trout than I remember, and the streamside paths were much more well-worn. However, the familiarity was both welcome and wonderful. I found myself thankful for the chance to return.I was content and satisfied just to be there. It was wonderful to reflect on the many memories that I found there. It was even more rewarding watching my teenage son find the success and enjoyment that this stream had afforded me on so many occasions.
The morning ended with a great streamside meal of fried chicken and potato salad. We shared stories around a random picnic table before returning to the water for a few more fish. By late afternoon, we were all satisfied with the time, the place, the fishing, the company and the many new memories that we had created. It was time to say goodbye. It was nice to return to something from my past that had not filled itself with disappointment. The little stream had lived up to my exaggerated memories and for that, I was grateful.
*As for the stories of the fish that we caught, I will let Mike share some of that with you.
Over the past two years, I have taken a bit of a sabbatical from my writing. I needed to step away and reexamine why I was writing this blog. I had lost my sense of selfishness, and I was attempting to satisfy an audience. My tone had taken on a great deal of cynicism that I was attempting to hide with sarcasm. I am fluent in sarcasm, but it was not how I wanted to portray my passion for fishing. Honestly, it had become a chore that I did not enjoy. I merely wanted to fish and not worry about how I was being thought of or portrayed with my poorly written reflections.
Over the past several months, I have left the streams and ponds with stories that I once again feel like sharing. I am no wealth of knowledge when it comes to fly fishing. I am mediocre at best with my skills, but I enjoy my time on the water more than most. In the coming weeks, I plan to share some of these stories and pictures. I may even take the time to formally introduce you to a few of my fishing friends. I am certain that there will be stories of old fly rods, spending time with friends and family, and even a few with fish.
I look forward to sharing many of my new adventures with you once again. However, understand that I am writing this blog for myself. This is the record of my thoughts and time spent on the water. There will be very little instruction here that will make you a better angler. There may be very little here that you even find entertaining, but what you will find in my well meant words will be both honest and real. Until then, go and enjoy your own adventures.
You’re okay with learning from my mistakes, right? If we are only gonna discuss the things I did correctly, this entry could pretty much stop here. Hindsight blah-blah-blah-blah…I enjoy making mistakes because I know not to make them again, plus, it means I’m learning, and that allows me to pick up new tips that I can try on my home waters. Anyway…
I’m not a rich guy. Just ain’t no way I’m gonna be making dedicated fly fishing trips a common occurrence. But, like many of us, I get sent on work trips or make long weekend getaways with my bride. Often times (i.e., every single time) I wanna try my hand at waving around my fly rod in this new location. Welp, my beautiful two-weeks-to-be-my-wife and I found ourselves with a couple days to explore the Keys. A first for both of us.
Any yahoo who can get a fly caught in a tree knows that the Keys is one of the storied fly fishing destinations in the world. Certainly carries a lot of fame as THE saltwater spot in North America. I just had to find a way to wet a line in our short time on the islands.
My first step was to obsess about it. Watched all sorts of videos about people DIYing it in the Keys. Read blogs, forums, articles, and quickly realized that it’s gonna be an overwhelming experience. There’s 100 miles of Keys, with prime water, literally, everywhere. In the back of my mind I felt like I needed to GPS a few spots to try. But there’s almost no spot within 3 miles of Oceanside that won’t hold salty fish of some kind.
Great news, right?
Welp, getting TO the water is tough. Where land meets water is mangroves. Almost everywhere. And, these islands are covered with private residences and businesses. As you’re driving down the Overseas Highway, it’s tough to even catch a glimpse of the blue-green palette of the waters. Where there is an opening, there’s surely a wealthy property owner who holds dear to his/her little piece of paradise.
Took us about 25 miles of driving from Key Largo to get to Anne’s Beach, on the southeastern tip of Islamorada. And it wasn’t even a beach! It was just a public couple-hundred-yard stretch of coast that had a few less mangroves than everywhere else. But, my wife and I had been in the car all day and we were yearning to actually immerse ourselves in the Keys. It was bath water warm. Mix of sand and grass flats that went as far as we could see. We knew we had to find a vessel to allow us to explore.
Seems like there was a really high boat-to-person ratio in Islamorada. Boats getting trailered around, boats on the water, boats in dealerships, boats on the side of the road, boats in slips and marinas. We didn’t have time to book a fishing guide, and really didn’t want to spend that kinda money. We coulda rented a boat, but you gotta have your FL boaters education class completed. Charter boats abound, but that wasn’t the kind of fishing experience I wanted.
Kayaks were our best bet. Even then, you need to find a kayak rental shop that is near a spot that you want to be in. The Keys are vast, and even though there are islands everywhere, when your vessel is powered by your shoulders, those spots look a little farther away.
We chose to go to John Pennekamp State Park on Key Largo. I could go on and on about the features and facilities of the Park – it’s an amazing public resource for a plethora of activities. Anyway, the reason we chose JPSP is because of the varied environments we would paddle through: bay, lagoons, mangrove creeks, and oceanside flats.
The Park was beautiful. And bustling! We prepared well: had some snacks, sunscreen, cameras, and my 9′ 4pc 8wt. The kids running the kayak shack were stoked to see us show up! Told them we wanted to go to the ocean and the staff all lit up. Couple young guys pulled out some maps to show us which trails would get us out in the open. Another young man was happy to point out the open water trail where we could get in to some tarpon and snook. Can’t say enough great things about the Park staff.
We hop in our boats. Wife gets the ceremonious picture of us casting off. And within minutes of paddling we are in the serene narrow mangrove creeks of the Keys. It was magical. Water was clean and clear. Little mangrove snapper and needlefish everywhere you look. A few more minutes later, we were alone. We could hear the drone of boats idling through a nearby creek channel, but we saw no other paddlers the rest of our journey. Here’s why…
This paddling was not for the faint of heart. We had a map that highlighted a safe route out of the way of the offshore-bound boats. It had us going through creeks that were 40′ wide. Then creeks that were 15′ wide. And then we were in a creek so narrow we had to tuck the paddles in the boat and pull our way through on mangrove limbs! That miniature waterway opened up to a 12′ wide creek. That’s where a full-grown manatee swam right under our boats. Wildlife was bountiful in the mangroves: rays, snapper, parrot fish, turtles, egrets. The creek opened up to the ocean flats. It was a sight. We were in inches of water with sea grasses kissing the bottoms of our kayaks.
We picked a key to paddle to, maybe a half mile away. The banks of the island looked sandy from afar, but upon arriving and grounding the boats on the coral/rocky shore, we were wishing we had our wading shoes.
I tied on a seducer, and started casting in to the wind. On my second or third cast, bam! Good take! Fish went acrobatic and darted in towards me. I couldn’t strip in fast enough and it shook off the fly. With my Costas on I could see fish swimming around out to 60′ away from me. Casting back out, I could see them chasing my fly. Bam! This fish headed straight away from me and broke the line. I had 20 and 30lb leaders with a 16lb tippet. These fish weren’t big enough to be breaking me off like that.
Unless they had teeth.
Hooked in to another one. I fought him ever so gingerly. He darted back and forth in front of me and I barely caught a close enough view to confirm that it was young barracuda. He chomped me off, too. There were frays in the busted tippet. After losing four flies in the mouths of cuda I had to switch to white and chartreuse clousers. First cast got an immediate take. This was a bigger fish. He took off straight out, and broke me off. I wasn’t frustrated. I was willing to throw my whole chest pack at them – desperate and determined to get one to hand.
Then. The smallest barracuda that has ever swimmed the seas granted me a beautiful corner-mouth hookset. I played him with great finesse. He tired quickly. No match for my 8wt, I surfboarded the fish across the surface to a rocky jetee where my bride could snap a couple pictures.
Relief! I conquered DIY fly fishing in the Keys! Sincerely, though he was small, it was big excitement. Minutes later, snorkelers went by and told us it wasn’t worth fishing there because it was just a bunch of small cuda. Whatevs, dude. I was proud of my catch.
Casted around a bit more. But we were hot and running low on water, so we paddled back in to the mangroves.
The tide was slowly carrying us back in. Made casting in the mangroves pretty easy. I had several follows from mangrove snapper. Hooked one teeny fish and got him to hand. Maybe 6″ long, but a humbling pleasure to hold a species I’d never fished before.
Right after that, a tarpon circled right by me. I casted to him, then lost sight. As the tide creeped us in, the “baby” tarpon (guessing 40″ long), kept pushing in with us. I made another cast and got him to look at me. All he took was my breath. Honored to have been that close to one. It wouldn’t have been a complete fishing trip without one more barracuda snapping a fly off on me. That made six flies I lost in a fish’s mouth.
Never lost one in a tree, tho.
We figured, since we passed no one else on the kayak trails out to the ocean, we were the only ones on the busy Sunday, July 2, that kayaked out there. The staff at the kayak landing was genuinely happy to see us return safely and asked how our ocean trip went. We will definitely visit there again.
We were parched. Drinks were necessary. Found an out-of-the-way but on-the-waterfront little bar that had one local, Joe, sitting there smoking and drinking Coors Light in a zip-up bottle coozie that he brought with him. Joe was 57. Lived there since 1980. An electrician. Content to live on Key Largo in his 1965, paid-off, mobile home. Can’t blame the guy. He has a flats boat that he uses to fish the bayside for big mangrove snapper. He even told us his secret recipe for snapper n’ veggies. Great guy, bought Elizabeth a glass of wine, and exchanged promises of a trip on his flats boat for my promise of teaching him how to fly cast. Guess that means we definitely have to go back. Right?
Every time I destination-fish, I obsess and have grandiose images in my head of posting pics of me holding some near-world-record fish that I caught on a beautiful sunny day. Hasn’t happened yet. But, I always find myself in an adventure. Even when we only have one full day to do it in. I’m especially thankful for my wife, who not only puts up with my obsessions, but paddles by my side the whole time. She’s a treasure. And! She has been saying she wouldn’t mind learning to fly fish, despite having onset icthyophobia! So, I don’t really have the secret answer for DIY fly fishing the Keys. I’m gonna say that my trip was a big success. But, success is all in how we measure it. You might need to hire a guide. Or spend a whole week doing nothing but fishing. Maybe go offshore? Me? I caught fish, in salt, on my own, in the Keys, with the love of my life there to experience it with me.
I the past year, I have been satisfied with fishing. I have not worried about pictures or video or even trying to remember every moment to share later on the interweb. I have just fished. I must admit, it was refreshing. There were no worries about the right angle for the camera or the right words to describe moments that are so often indescribable. It was just fishing. Today, I feel like sharing.
It was wonderful to sleep this morning. There was no worries of work or the remediation that takes place during summer school. The day was mine to enjoy. With several cool nights and a day of rain, I decided to see if I could find an early trout to help me celebrate our nation’s birthday. I sent Mike a text, and we met on our favorite local stream.
It was a wet morning with intermittent rain. The cool air and the rain made for perfect conditions to cover a great deal of water in our search for fish. We arrived to find the creek with a slight stain, but it was clearing quickly as it slowly meandered through the valley. Mike and I decided to fish a familiar stretch that we knew would hold a trout or two. We took a nice walk up stream and proceeded to drag small streamers through likely spots as we fished our way back to our parking spot.
It did not take long for Mike and I to find fish. After losing a fly, I tied on a new fly and was immediately rewarded for a patient drift. The tightening line was a wonderful reminder as to why we fish. I was surprised to see such a nice holdover as I raised that fish out of the depths of that pool. It was a fantastic fish for this river, and I was more than satisfied with today’s adventure. After a a couple of quick pictures, the trout quickly returned to his holding spot, and I was grateful for our encounter. I decided to walk further upstream in hopes of finding a few more willing fish. Mike stayed back and continued to fish the same stretch. I missed another trout or two over the next hour and returned to find Mike in the same spot. I was surprised to see that he had not moved. He found a few fish and was happy to stay in the same spot. Unfortunately, those fish were smallmouth. Fortunately, Mike loves to catch smallmouth!
It was an extremely enjoyable morning. We fished our way back to the the parking area without catching another fish. It did not matter, we were more than satisfied with the enjoyment the stream had provided us this morning. It was a great way to celebrate the freedom that this country provides to each one of us and more time well spent here in the Flatland.
I love mail! Seriously. There is just something special about finding things in that box addressed to you. That is unless it is a bill. One of the perks of this blog is that people will send us things to try or review. This week I received an awesome package from Isaac Sheehan at MidAm Mercantile. He sent me a handmade leather fishing journal to review and use.
Isaac and I had been corresponding via text messages for about a week. He asked me what I thought about the idea of an on stream journal. I thought the idea was solid, and the journal itself looked to be a very cool accessory that I could see myself using regularly. Isaac decided to send me one for my own review.
I must admit that I was surprised by the quality of this little journal. The leather and stitching were heirloom quality. I was impressed by the thought that went into this cool new accessory. The journal features American leather and waxed cord. There is a cool fly patch as well as a wells as a very neat built in leather tape measure. There was obviously a great deal of thought that went into the design of this little stream side note keeper.
I decided to use mine as a way for me to keep statistics and notes on the conditions, hatches and flies for each trip. The little notebook allows me to keep track of all of the day’s highlights and lowlights while they are still fresh in my head. I also write down the water temperature, the stream’s height and flow, the size and number of fish I caught that day, and where I caught or missed fish. It has become a great tool that I can refer to when deciding on where to fish or which gear to take long before I leave the house.
If you are like me and you love to write or keep records, This little leatherbound journal is the perfect accessory. It fits right in my chest pack or wader pocket. I strongly suggest giving Isaac some business. If you are interested in one for yourself, you can check out MidAm Mercantile here:
Isaac is a great young man that wants for his customers to be happy and satisfied with a product that will last several life times. He also told me that the journal could be personalized as well. With fishing season in full swing, and Father’s Day right around the corner, these little journals would make a great gift to anyone that enjoys time spent on the water.
There are stories and there are legends. Today, we fished in the footsteps of a legend. I am not sure when the legend began or how it even started, but myths becomes fantasy, and fantasy becomes fact. The fact is that Steely Dan is hero in the fishing world. A man that has set a standard that would take me several lifetimes to achieve; a standard that left me wondering if he was even real. Now chasing down Steely Dan has been a life-long dream, but fishing with the legend was something that I didn’t dare think was a possibility.
Yesterday, my cousin Zach and I attempted to chase down the legend of Steely Dan. We arrived at the river as early as possible hoping to find this legendary fisherman. When I pulled in to the lot, I found a man that I believed to be this legend. After a brief conversation, I was sure I was in the company of greatness. Zach and I had finally found this mythical man. We tried not to seem too eager. We limited our questions and followed without looking like stalkers.
Now, Steely Dan is not a flashy man. He is modest in both speech and dress. Most people would have expected to find a man modeled from an Orvis catalog. Steely Dan was fisherman. He wore a tattered hat, a torn satchel, and an old set of leaky waders. Zach and I watched in amazement as this man entered the river. He said very little and merely went about his business of fishing.
Zach and I beat the water to death. In our search for steelhead, we found bass and suckers instead. It was after landing a large sucker that Steely Dan said something that I will never forget. “I don’t want a sucker biting my egg sack!” At that moment, I knew that not only was this man a fishing legend, but he was one of the wisest men I had ever shared time with on a river.
Now yesterday was my birthday, and I think Steely Dan knew. He did his best not to show us up. He would escape our attention now and then. I’m sure he was catching fish when we weren’t looking, but he was gracious enough not to make us look bad. I know he could have easily landed forty fish, but he was nice enough to allow us not to witness the ease with which he normally catches fish.
It was a long and amazing day. Zach and I were exhausted, but Steely Dan looked as if he could have fished all night. At the end of the day, we hesitantly parted ways. I was so excited. I could not wait to share my adventures with my friends and family here. I took several pictures throughout the day, and to my amazement, Steely Dan had managed to avoid them all. It was as if he was never even there…Someday Steely Dan! Someday.
For many of you that follow us here, you know that I am addicted to trout. I don’t care how big or small they are. I love catching them. I love seeing them. I love everything about them. For me, trout are the perfect fish. They live in beautiful places, they sip dry flies, and quite frankly, they are a perfect fish. With all of that said, I live in Ohio. We do not have a plethora of trout streams and opportunities are few to find trout locally, so today I chased bass.
Let me start this by saying that I look at bass as a pacifier. I do not chase pond bass very often. I try to save them for the summer months or for when I am fishing the in-law’s pond. Now don’t get me wrong, bass are fun to catch. I thoroughly enjoy watching a large mouth explode on a surface fly. Summer bass can be some of the most exciting and explosive takes in fresh water, but these were not summer bass.
I got a call from Walt about fishing a local private pond today. Walt is my neighbor. Everyone should have a neighbor like Walt. He had permission to fish a local five acre spot that I knew to be full of bass. In fact, it has too many bass. The majority of the fish there are all around twelve inches. They are aggressive and very fun, but the big fish are few and far between.
With water temperatures still fairly low and the bass gearing up for the spawn, I threw on a large crystal bugger and began to catch fish. In my first five casts, I caught four and lost a fifth. It was the type of fishing that I expected from this spot. We caught close to sixty bass in the two hours that we were there. It was very entertaining, but also very easy. Walt and I finished in a spot that in our last twenty casts, we caught a fish on every cast. It may have been too easy.
The two best times to fish are when it is raining and when it is not. There has been a lot of rain here this week. However, there is just something special about fishing in a steady rain while wading a river. It brings back many great memories of time spent on the water with friends and family. It also helps to scare off any one else that was considering a fishing trip. Tonight was a perfect combination of good water and steady rain. I decided to make my way to my favorite local river.
With storms forecast for the rest of the week, I was figuring that today would be the last day that this water would be fishable. I arrived to find the water in perfect shape, but it was running a little quicker than I had anticipated. I should have grabbed a bigger rod with some sinking line, but I didn’t. I would just make due with the light rod I did bring.
I tied on some heavier tippet and grabbed the biggest streamer I had in the box. I also decided to fish a stretch of water that was unfamiliar to me. I planned on covering as much water as possible. I wanted to find some fish that I could visit later during some of the good caddis hatches that are soon to come.
The creek quickly gave up one of the many small fish that I am used to finding there. As I worked my way downstream, I missed many fish as I worked the crystal bugger through all of the likely looking spots. I managed to catch a few of the short fall stocked fish. There was some great looking water that the floating line would just not allow me to get the fly down deep enough to thoroughly fish. However, I did manage to find a solid twelve inch holdover that crushed my fly.
I was feeling pretty good at this point and then my lovely rain turned into a full blown downpour. It was quick to pass, but the heavy rain seemed to slow the aggressive fish down. I continued to work my way downstream, and I struggled to find another strike. When I did get a fish to chase the fly, I would get only one shot and that was it.
In a likely looking spot, I finally found a fish to blog about. From under a tangle of roots, I hooked a fish that fought harder than I was used too on this creek. I soon realized that this was a much better holdover and maybe my best trout from this creek. After a great fight, the fish was near the shore and generously posed for a quick picture. I was thrilled to find such a nice fish on such a soggy evening.
I think I need to get a little more serious about finding a big fish on this river. My next trip will include a larger rod, a sinking line, and a few articulated streamers!
After a beautiful morning with the family, Matthew and I decided to meet Mr. Mike on the Mad for a few hours of fishing. I had high hopes of finding a few rising fish in the upper stretches, but the beautiful weather and the holiday had several others thinking the same thing. Every bridge crossing seemed to have a car or two parked there, so we had to search to find some quiet water.
We did eventually find some unmolested water, and Mr. Mike found a couple of willing fish. Matthew found a few aggressive chubs, and I followed them both and struggled to find anything. I was fine with that. It was great just having Matthew there with me. He is more fun than even he realizes. He also has an amazing ability to tie the most incredible knots in his leader.
There was a great hatch of small stone flies, but we never saw a fish rise all afternoon. It would have been a great day to chuck some big streamers in the lower reaches of the river, but I am not sure Matthew is ready for that type of fishing and the perils of that type of wading.
We made two additional stops and we were able to find trout in both spots. Mike picked up another while I lost a really nice fish at the bank. One final stop allowed me to find and land two solid fish before it was time to grab dinner and head home. It was a great way to spend a beautiful afternoon.