Sunday, April 30, 2017

Convergence 1

The sun had set perhaps fifteen minutes ago, and because the sky was cloudless there was still a significant amount of ambient light. I was standing on a shallow sandbar surrounded by rocky dark water. Everywhere around me fish swirled and boiled. Most of these fish had traveled a long long way to get there, though some had simply wandered upstream from slower, deeper water in the same watershed. A few of the fish there had likely come downstream from deep, dark wintering holes. This was major biomass, a bunch of different species of fish, some birds, and a few small mammals all converging on one piece of water. This is something both chaotic and organized, and it doesn't ever last long. That's why I was chucking my rod and shouting expletives about loosing a fish... I'd played this game for three years and there went the payoff, slipping through my fingers like fine dry sand. Watching my fly part ways with a giant fish I've literally waited years to encounter... that was truly painful. But, as I am so fond of saying, let's start from the beginning.

Thursday, April 27th. 5:46 P.M.
I hit the road. The last week had shown a warming progression and that was starting up the bulk of the herring run. That's what I was looking for. The run shouldn't be in full swing yet, and I didn't want it to be. Optimally I could fish all the way through the week or two when herring were coming in. The rise, peak, and fall of the run if you will. Why am I so obsessed with the herring run? The herring bring in large predators, stripers being the primary focus at the moment. In the coming month perch, stripers, bass, and walleye will all be targeted in the same water. I got on the river and got to work swinging big deceivers. Herring were popping up here and there but I did not spot any stripers until I worked my way upstream. There were some big fish working around a shallow rocky stretch of water, busting on fully grown alewives. I couldn't see them at first so I did not realize exactly how large they were. I very quickly realized that bringing only a two hander was a bad decision. It's a great tool for down and across swinging, not so good for fast stripping and casting upstream. I did what I could though, and I nearly bronzed my waders when I saw a striper that was easily 25 pounds follow my fly before dodging off after an actual herring.

Before darkness fell completely I struggled with the spey rod and saw a few more big stripers. I also had a herring attack a herring pattern only a fraction smaller than itself. That was a first... every time I've fished big streamers around river herring I've seen them chase them, probably assuming they were river herring of the opposite sex. But attempting to eat it, that is something new.

I ended night one without a striper, but I was so much closer. Last year I had seen a few when I wasn't fishing. Now I had gotten them to look at a fly. I got home at 11:10

Friday, April 28th. 5:38 P.M. 
I hit the road. In the morning I had tied a few flies that I thought would get the job done. And of course I brought the single handed rod. It just felt right. tonight would be the night. When I got to the river the herring were splashing all over the place. As the tide dropped and the structure started to come up in the rocky shallows I started to see stripers. Seeing a 15-30 pound stripers come cruising over a shallow sandbar that I have caught smallmouth and stocked trout off of... surreal. Just surreal. An hour into the session I watched a schoolie come up behind my big herring fly. It did exactly what I hoped for and inhaled it. I strip set and the fish was on. This was it. This was the fish I've been looking for. Then, slack. First fish of the day lost. About ten minutes later I watched a 20lb striper cruise up the sand bar. I put the fly in front of it and it turned on a dime and looked hard for a second before cruising off in a hurry. 

I was getting shots at big stripers, this was good. After the sun had fallen well bellow the horizon, while I wasn't paying attention, my fly got railed by a massive fish. I stopped the line, pointed the rod at the fish, and pulled hard. The hook was set and in my mind set well. In three feet of water 50 feet from me was a very angry monster, thrashing violently. I could see it, plain as day. This was the biggest striper I had ever stuck a fly to. It began taking line until it was basically on the opposite shore. It then turned down and slapped it's tail repeatedly and powerfully on the surface making a hell of a commotion. Then, disaster. Everything went slack. I swore so loud it echoed up the valley and probably woke up every bat in the state that wasn't already up. I threw my rod down. That was the one. That fish meant as much to me as any other well before I had even lifted the rod to begin the fight. I had already worked so hard. 
Times like that are when fishing just isn't fun. But I was already there and had to keep fishing. Maybe, just maybe, I would get more than two shots. Well, I did and it was indescribable. My heart was beating faster and louder than it ever has a right to. This little schoolie striper, from skinny fresh water, during an exceptional herring run... truly indescribable. I was on top of the world. And, icing on the cake, right at twilight I was using a big popper and got to watch a keeper striper come flying downstream and slam it. This time I wasn't quite as stressed as I was landing the first schoolie although it still was a bit stressful. After an amazing shallow water fight I landed the thirty inch topwater striper and was truly high as a kite. What an incredible fish caught in an incredible place. 

I was home before 11:00.

The saga is not over, nor is the convergence of bait and predator. More to come.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Exploring More New Water

Once again I could have written this last night but I was busy doing something awesome, and once again you will have to wait to hear about it. 

Yesterday my mom and I went out to explore some new water again. The first set of small streams was not completely new to me, Kirk and I explored them a little bit in the winter a couple years ago. At the time the were essentially frozen solid so for all intents and purposes this was a whole new stream to fish. Unfortunately it seems to lack wild trout. Some fallfish were caught and a really large bass was seen. 

In hopes of finding some of the target species we changed spots, another river which I had not fished. In a great big pool there were some good trout rising. I tied on a sedgehammer and missed a couple of takes. When that stopped working I changed to a super simple secret fly two sizes smaller than the sedgehammer and that did the trick. I landed a beautiful silvery brown.

Mom didn't land a fish today but she is improving by leaps and bounds. It won't be long. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Homewater Rainbows and Browns

So yesterday was a little weird. I would have written and posted this last night but I was doing awesome things, more on the later. But late morning early afternoon I fished my home river, which was in great shape with the rain but still higher than is good for a mayfly hatch. I had to nymph again. First fish was a very colorful salmon parr. Soon to smoltify, I'd say.

Not a five minutes later I hooked a sizable fish on the downstream drift. I was totally expecting a big brown given the spirited fight I got from this fish. Nope. It turned out to be a rainbow. This is pretty early in the year to be catching stocked rainbows here, but this wouldn't be the only one I'd catch this day. 

A few casts later I caught the fish I was here looking for, a gorgeous wild brown of good proportions. Instantly I was feeling better about the day. 

As I worked my way upstream I picked up a salmon parr here or a brown there, nothing serious. I did break off a 12 inch brown in one pocket. What a bummer that was. When I finally did hook a really good fish it was another surprise rainbow that took me on a 30yd run down the rapids. That one I thought was going to be a 18 inch wild brown... kind of a disappointment but whatever. 

I continued to catch small wild browns, a great sign that this stream will be healthy if the water level remains good through this summer and fall, but didn't get anything substantial until I got to where I caught the 11 inch wild brown last time. There I caught two fish, one smaller light colored one and the first a bigger extremely dark fish. What cool color variation! 

Dark brownie

Light brownie
Not far upstream is a huge boulder that I always make a drift next to but never ever catch a fish. Not a single one in 6 years. Yet today there was a trout there and I hooked it. It was a very nice brown, over 10 inches, and it ran downstream with me following closely behind. 

One more spirited healthy wild brown trout and I called it a day. See you again soon, favorite river. Hopefully the fish will be rising.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Fish That Likes to Kill

Noah and I went looking for big semi-anadromous white perch again yesterday. We were once again wildly unsuccessful at finding our target. Usually by this time of year the places we have looked should be just packed full of them, but all we caught were yellow perch.

Yes I was fishing a hair jig with a fly rod. Suck it up. 

Eventually we decided to give up entirely on the hope of getting these white perch. We weren't done fishing though, far from it. We just moved water bodies and changed target species. We traded tidal water for landlocked water and temperate bass for black bass and pickerel. As it turned out that was the best decision we made all day. It turned out that many of the predator fish were in the shallow weedy water and they were hungry! Especially the snot rockets, which are honestly one of the most fun freshwater fish to catch on fly. Especially topwater bass bugs! These fish really seem to enjoy killing stuff. They hit flies so violently and aggressively its just crazy. The conditions were cloudy with light wind, warm water in the shallow muddy flats and weeds just starting to reach the surface. This makes for the best non-weedless topwater fly pickerel and bass fishing you can possibly have in the spring. The fish were often in less than a foot of water and the takes were extremely visual, even more so than usual. The fish would come flying over to the bug making a big wake, often from ten or more feet away. Pickerel are built like missiles and hit a fly like they really mean it harm. I was using foam "Ploppers" and getting strikes pretty much constantly from very shortly after we got on the water until we left.

Catching a few chain pickerel here and there on topwater is awesome and makes for a good day of fishing. Yesterday I was catching them all over the place constantly. Easily the most I've ever caught in one outing. It truly was incredible. There were pickerel seemingly everywhere, with murder in their eyes and teeth ready to tear through foam and leader. I lost only one fly but had to cut and retie about ten times. Mixed in were a few chunky pre-spawn largemouth, a nice black crappie, and a couple of bluegills. Fun, fun, and more fun!

You may be thinking "We've all seen chain pickerel photos before. Why did you take photos of every single one?". That's just it, I didn't! I caught so many pickerel and bass that the sum of photos of every few fish and most of the larger fish ended up being quite substantial. Not only that, I haven't included five fish that were on the smaller side or the photos didn't turn out well. So yeah, you still get a pretty stupid number of run of the mill snot rocket photos, but that just goes to show how fast paced and productive the fishing was.

Right now there is a crazy amount of fishing options to look at. I've had a pretty incredible spring on the Salmon River, and I know how boring constant posts about stocked trout can get. So for a while I'm going to pull away from that and focus on some more natural fisheries. My home river is going to be really productive here in the next week, and I've got to put in some hours looking for early nigh times stripers, so there is plenty of good stuff coming up. Even the possibility of some bowfin. So stay tuned.