Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Can't a Flygirl Catch a Break? (from fishing ;)

H: June 25, 2012: I thought I would take a break from fishing this week. The plan was to have a low-key weekend: do some work on Saturday; take care of chores and squeeze in some spey casting practice on Sunday. I ended up borrowing some spey porn from the easterncaster. Turns out he has a whole library full (why am I surprised? ;) I met Craig at Orvis NYC where he was teaching yet another Fly-fishing 101 class. He discreetly delivered my porn in plain brown paper wrapping–inside were 2 DVDs: Sage Presents: The Art of Spey Casting and Rio's Modern Spey Casting (both are of the "instructional" porn genre, not the mindless fish catching kind). I was very excited to watch them on the spot but I managed to exercise some restraint and waited till later that night.

I watched The Art of Spey Casting first, since it's one of easterncaster's favorites. This DVD is basically a compilation of demonstrations given by famous spey casters from around the world during the 1st Annual Spey-O-Rama held at the Golden Gate Casting Club. As Craig suggested, I fast-forwarded through most of the interviews (How many times can you listen to the host ask the same silly question to every presenter, "Should a singlehanded caster be intimidated learning how to spey cast?"). The demos showcased a wide range of spey techniques and different styles of casting using a variety of rods and lines. The presentations also varied tremendously in quality. Language barriers played a factor, especially with the Japanese casters. One Japanese caster actually used a translator. Unfortunately, the translator's English wasn't much better than the caster's!

Overall, it was quite interesting and I definitely want to re-watch certain segments, but it was all over the place. There was also quite a bit of overlap but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as each presenter had their own unique style. I think you're better off just focusing on the visuals of the demos. My favorite segment (purely from a flygirl's perspective ;) was watching the 2 hunky Scotsmen in kilts spey casting and listening to their Scottish brogues. It was very hot educational ;). Definitely makes this flygirl want to head over to Scotland for some salmon fishing! Although sadly, I'm sure they don't actually wear kilts on the river. Bummer!

3 hours later, despite being on the verge of spey porn overload, I watched the first DVD of Rio's Modern Spey Casting, featuring Simon Gawesworth teaching the fundamentals of spey. I totally agree with Craig–Simon gives good demos ;). He does an excellent job explaining the mechanics and I appreciated the segments on common faults. The biokinetic stick figures, I could probably do without. I went to bed excited to put some of this knowledge to work the following day during my practice session.

My backyard.
I live about 10-15 mins (on local roads) from some potentially great saltwater fishing. I'm still baffled as to why I haven't explored this area before now! I checked the tide tables out of curiosity–high tide would be at 3:20 pm. Around 2 pm, after finishing some chores, I headed to the Bay with my switch rod, prepared to wet wade and practice my spey casting. I had absolutely no expectations about seeing any fish, let alone catching one.

As I drove around looking for a good (shallow) place to practice, I spotted several tantalizing schools of bait fish swimming near the surface. But they were fairly far out, 100+ ft. from shore. It's ironic how all weekend at the Salty Flyrodder's Conclave, I had hoped to encounter this phenomenon (every salt angler's dream). Now here it was in my very backyard when I least expected it. Turns out high tide is a little too high for wet wading in my bay (on the east side). There's a long concrete wall running along the shoreline. To access the water, you had to climb down onto rocks below it, and just a few feet out from the rocks, it drops to over waist deep (at high tide). Next time, I'll wear my waders. Plus, the water was kind of gross, not the pristine Catskills waters I've grown accustomed to. I definitely need to find out if there are any local organized clean-up campaigns.

There was a man spin fishing with his 2 young sons along the wall. I settled into a spot not too far from them. I tried practicing for a while but I had very little room behind me (3 ft?) and lots of big rocks. It wasn't working out too well–my line kept snagging on the rocks. Then I noticed the bait fish schools getting closer. Before I knew it, they were within casting range. I had a small sand eel fly on to practice with. I started casting it into the schools and stripping it back. I must have done this at least 30 times. A couple of schools came quite close, about 45 feet away at one point. There were fish leaping, being chased out of the water. I even saw a large dark shape roll on the surface in the distance. There were splashes everywhere! Fins and tails protruding like bonefish. It was exciting and incredibly maddening!

I finally decided to change flies (should have done this sooner!). But as I stared at my meager selection of 12 striper flies, I realized just how woefully unprepared I was. Granted, I had come to practice, not to fish (Right... I had wanted a break from fishing :). First off, I had no idea what saltwater fly is normally used to imitate bunker (which was what I believed these bait fish were). Plus, these were pretty sizable bunker, at least 6+ inches long. I had nothing that big—not sure I could even throw something that big with my 8-weight. They had yellowish fins and tails. I had nothing in yellow.

So, I put on my largest deceiver (3" long) in white and chartreuse, cast it out into the boiling schools in front of me, and stripped it in. Again 30+ times, still no takers. Clearly, no one was deceived. The schools eventually started to head back out. My fingers were cut up from my shooting line and I was feeling pretty bummed. I gave up thoughts of practicing and called it a day. As I reeled in my line, the spin fisherman walked over to see if I had gotten any bites. Turns out he's interested in learning how to fly fish. He told me he had put his bait right in the middle of the schools, but had no luck either. However, he had caught a nice 26-inch striper the weekend before. I guess this means I'll have to return, to my backyard bay. Next time, I'll be better prepared. But knowing Murphy's Law, next time, I probably won't be seeing these boiling schools of bunker. That's fishing!

P. S. It seems recently, I've been so focused on trying to become a better fly angler, I've managed to forget the golden rule of fly fishing (and everything else): Have fun!!! This forgetfulness is most predominant when I'm fishing alone. Next time I'm on the water, I won't forget!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Back to the Salt (Close Encounters at Goose Creek)

H: June 11, 2012: I'm sad to report, no stripers or blues for this flygirl this past weekend. The fishing was really hit or miss on the North Fork (unfortunately, a total miss for me).

The Salty Flyrodder's conclave was fun but completely exhausting! I logged 7 hours sleep over 2 nights, not from any late night revelry, but from being cursed a light sleeper who heard every vehicle on Rt. 48 zoom by at 50 mph. Friday night, I attempted to sleep with the windows open in the back (waterside), through which I could hear the soothing sounds of waves crashing on the beach and rocks... along with the jarring sounds of traffic from the road in front, only 50 feet away from the door. I eventually dozed off around 2 am. I awoke a little after 4 am as pale morning light crept through the curtains. I walked out to the back deck and watched a glorious sunrise transform the sky into a canvas of violets, pinks, orange and gold. I hopefully scanned the waters below for any signs of fish, only to be disappointed.

Sunrise at Soundview Inn, Greenport, NY (North Fork of Long Island Sound)
A lovely sunrise at the Soundview Inn—one benefit to being a light sleeper.
Despite serious sleep deprivation and perpetually slack lines, I enjoyed the conclave. The best part was meeting some wonderful people and making new fly fishing friends, including several female anglers. In addition to Linda and Sharon (fellow Julianas), I met Julie Horowitz, Jean Conelli, and Patty Mazza, my ninja roommate (I barely saw her or any evidence of her in our room all weekend). She and Jean didn't arrive till Saturday morning. All Friday evening and night, I wondered when my mysterious roommate would appear. When I finally met her and Jean, what a pleasant surprise! Jean was rooming with Julie next door so we just left the adjoining doors open, like a fly fishing sorority. When Julie caught her very first fish (at a Salty conclave), a nice blue, we cheered and celebrated.

Saturday morning, I went fishing with Andrew and James from Tight Lines Fly Fishing. The 3 of us drove to Goose Creek, but shortly after we arrived, Andrew was called back to the clave to help out with the beginner casting session. Goose Creek was a pretty spot and there was quite a bit of bait swimming about. James said it looked promising for fishing later that evening. I'd met James (a striper fisherman since shortly after birth ;) several times at Tight Lines. He's a great guy and was willing to show me the ropes. He explained the importance of scouting out spots during the daytime, so when you returned at night, you are familiar with the typography and areas where fish might hold. We waded and fished a long flat stretch of the creek, making our way back to the edge of the deep channel. It felt somewhat like blindly fishing a bonefish flat, except in grayscale (see below :). There were no signs of stripers or blues but it was very meditative—so much so that by the time I started thinking about the time, I was late for my distance casting session back at the clave.

Osprey nest at Goose Creek  (North Fork of Long Island Sound)
An osprey nest at Goose Creek. I didn't dare get any closer!
That afternoon, I had the pleasure of working with FFF master casting instructor Jim Valle, who helped me with my spey casting. For some odd reason, I had it in my head that spey casting in the salt would be significantly different from freshwater. It's the same moves, only modified for a lack of significant side moving current, in most cases. The placement of the anchor is more in-line, plus you have the added element of timing your moves with incoming surf. I learned some great pointers from Jim. In fact, I've signed up for a spey workshop with him and Al Buhr later this summer. The workshop includes spey line design and crafting—perhaps a bit too advanced for me—but how wonderfully geeky is that! :)

At the banquet dinner later that evening, the ladies all sat together, along with a couple of the guides from the conclave, David Blinken and Robin Calitri. I actually won something in the raffle–a cool leatherman wave tool and some scissor forceps (a flygirl can never have enough tools ;). I never win anything, so that was a treat. In fact most of the ladies at our table won something (except Linda :(. After dinner, we discussed whether or not to go fishing. I wanted to go but the general consensus was to wake up early and fish. I was skeptical about my chances of getting any sleep till then. As I walked back to my room, debating whether I should venture out alone, I ran into Andrew. He had fallen asleep and missed the banquet. He was on his way out to fish with James. Did I want to go? Oh, yeah! Even in my sleep deprived state, wired on too much caffeine, I wanted another crack at these Long Island stripers and blues.

We returned to Goose Creek. James geared up in a flash and went down to fish. Andrew and I took a bit longer to get ready. He was clearly looking out for me, making sure I was set up properly. After a funny incident with our car lights, we finally walked down to join James. He was on the other side of the creek. He said there had been some fish working on the surface, but a boat carrying some boisterous passengers cruised by and put them down. It was very quiet and peaceful and pitch dark, except for the periodic glow from some bioluminescent creatures. I had brought along my 11-foot, 8-weight switch rod. Trying to spey cast in the dark when you're still a beginner—umm, not the best of ideas. I wasn't sure exactly where my anchor was landing. I could hear the gentle swoosh of Andrew's line as he authoritatively made his casts. In comparison, mine sounded incredibly loud. I was afraid my clunky presentations might be putting the fish down, so I changed to an overhead cast (ahh, the beauty of the switch rod ;). This was only the second time I've cast my switch rod overhead. I guess it was a good thing it was pitch dark. No one, including me, could see how well or poorly I was casting. But it turned out fine. I was able to shoot a lot more line casting overhead then while trying to spey cast and it was so much quieter. I had no problem feeling the Rio Scandi Short VersiTip line load my rod.

As the tide began to turn, there was more activity. I heard a couple of splashes as fish broke the surface. I couldn't pinpoint the exact locations but I knew the general vicinity. Then the "alien mothership" appeared (that's what Andrew called it :). It was a strange watercraft decked out with small lights on almost all sides and the lights seemed to be directed down into the water. It was moving very slowly in an erratic path with seemingly no clear destination. As the alien ship came closer, we could hear the struggles of it's hapless finned victims flapping on the deck. It became clear that the mothership was a specially rigged flounder poaching boat. The loser man on-board was illegally spearing flounder in the very waters that James and I had waded earlier that afternoon.

Next thing I know, James and Chris (another conclave angler fishing near James) start casting their lines at the mothership. Apparently, Chris said something to the poacher about ruining our fishing chances. I'm not sure how the poacher responded but I'm guessing it wasn't very polite. Well, Chris managed to clock the poacher with his line and fly. The poacher started yelling profanities, then he cut Chris's line. More yelling and cursing ensued. I was afraid things might escalate out of control. The poacher could have landed the mothership, gotten out and confronted Chris. An idiot like that could easily be carrying other weapons besides whatever he was using to spear the flounder. But fortunately, he continued cursing as he went under the bridge and out of the creek. I guess he feared being caught. Needless to say, the fish were put down, again. Chris walked back to his car to get a new line. James, Andrew, and I decided to go try another spot.

We ended up at Orient Point. It was one of the only spots with reports of fish being caught (besides the occasional flounder, sea robin, or Julia's bluefish). But all the best spots were already taken. In fact the whole beach on one side of the Point was jam packed with anglers tossing both flies and bait. We settled into places on the opposite side. There was plenty of small bait but no other activity as the current tides favored fishing the other side of the Point. I watched a lovely moon rise into the night sky. It was just after midnight. It was beautiful and relaxing but my lack of sleep the night before finally caught up with me (of course, a nice striper or bluefish would have woken me up in a heartbeat ;). Around 2 am, I decided to call it a night morning and wished Andrew and James luck. When I got back to the Inn I actually found my ninja roommate in the room, asleep. She would be getting up in a couple of hours. I turned in and slept like a rock for 5.

Sunday, I'm ready to call it quits and hang with the ladies for a bit before driving home. But Craig gets in touch and tells me he and Jim are going to scout out Goldsmiths. I had barely spent any time with Craig all weekend, so I said yes. We drove over and checked out Goldsmiths. It's a gorgeous spot, perfect for fishing during an outgoing tide. I hope to return and fish there another day. We said goodbye to Jim, stopped at Greenport for some coffee, before heading to Orient Point. I wanted to see it during the daytime and Craig had never been there. It's actually quite lovely in the daylight but probably wouldn't be fishing well till much later on. We (the vampire and zombie ;) decide, wisely, to call it a weekend. I got home and crashed almost immediately—slept for 12 hours!

Until I actually catch a nice striped bass on the fly, I can't say for sure, but I'm inclined to believe that I won't be turning into a diehard striper flygirl anytime soon. Perhaps I'm jaded by this weekend's disappointing experience, but it seems so incredibly hit or miss, chasing these migratory fish from shore. You need to hunt them over miles of water and that means driving from one spot to another, to another... And most of your best fishing will be at night. I don't think that's for me, but the verdict is still out.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Salty Conclave XLV

H: June 8, 2012: I'm off to the Salty Flyrodder's conclave on the north fork of Long island and I'm taking my spanking new 9-weight Rise Level rod (still has its plastic covers on the cork ;) and Rio Outbound short line. Hopefully I'll break them in by catching a nice striped bass or bluefish over the weekend. This will be 2 new firsts for me: fly casting for stripers from the surf and using a switch rod in the salt. Wish me luck!

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Reel Comedy of Errors

H: May 26, 2012: The 2 flygirls' second fishing trip of the season together was this past Memorial day weekend on the Beaver Kill. On the drive up we made a "quick" pitstop at a service area on Rte 87 for coffee and breakfast. Big mistake! It took over 25 minutes to get our fast food at Dunkin Donuts and I had to make some illegal maneuvers to escape the heavily congested parking lot. We finally got back on the road about 45 minutes later and ran straight into heavy traffic. We weren't the only ones leaving town for the long weekend. Luckily, the traffic subsided once we hit 17.  

We reached Roscoe just before noon and headed straight to the river. We drove along old 17, looking for a new fishing spot to try. We found a nice one--Cemetery pool. There were 2 other cars in the parking area and some anglers were coming out as we pulled in. They said it had been slow that morning but there had been some cornutas (bwos) on the water. 

wildflower lined path to the Beaverkill river, NY
A gorgeous entryway to the Beaver Kill. Even on the river, the scent of wildflowers was intoxicating.

Cemetery pool was a cool spot. You have to walk down a path completely surrounded by dense and tall vegetation to get to the river. We walked upstream, just below the fast water. I practiced spey casting while Josée worked on her double haul. We practiced and fished for almost 2 hours before deciding to grab some lunch and check into our room at the Reynolds House.

We've driven by the Reynolds House a few times before, marvelling at the gaudy paint job that matches the Sunoco gas station next door and the large wooden fisherbear standing guard on the front lawn. It was the only decent accommodations we could get on short notice. Lou, the owner was very friendly when I spoke with him on the phone. In person, he was even more gregarious. He and Sue are certainly in the right line of business. They seem to truly enjoy meeting and socializing with the anglers who stay at their establishment.

Our room was on the third floor and hot as an oven but it was clean, quiet, and thankfully the a/c worked well. We grabbed a bite at the Diner and relaxed on the porch before getting ready for the evening's fishing. We made a stop at Catskill Flies since Josée's fly boxes were nearly empty. I think she had about 40 flies in her possession compared to my 200. Little did I know, she'd be spending $3,000 at the fly shop that day! ;)

It turns out the shop charged her card $2,989 rather than the $29.89 she actually spent on flies and a loop. They called her the next day to inform her about the error. They must have been stunned when they tallied up the previous day's sales–at least until they realized their mistake. Josée was very disappointed. She thought they had called to tell her she had won their monthly raffle, a pair of Simms boots.

We went back to Cemetery pool and grabbed our spots from the afternoon. I caught a beautiful rainbow sardine shortly after we arrived, but the real action didn't start until 8 pm or so. The variety of bugs out that night was overwhelming: March browns, stoneflies, isonychias, a few drakes, sulphers, 2 different types of bwos(?), and others I was not quite sure of. I'm tying on different flies, one after the other, and unfortunately lose a nice fish to a poorly tied clinch knot. Few things are more aggravating than seeing those dreaded tell tale pigtails :(

Josée had one fish consistently rising right in front of her. I could tell she was getting annoyed and was determined to get it. While looking for more rises, I hear Josée mutter something under her breath. I looked over and she had a fish on. Yeah!!! I also noticed that she was fussing with her line and her rod tip was dipping precariously low. Having recently lost some really nice fish, I REALLY wanted her to land this one. So, I started coaching her (Craig's influence, I'm afraid :).

I shouted upstream, "Keep your rod tip up. It's too low." Josée raised her rod but then lowered it again as she fussed with her line.

"Take your time... Put it on the reel" I yelled.

Josée shouted back, "I've never put a fish on the reel before."

"What? You're kidding me, right?" I exclaimed disbelievingly. Surely she's landed a fish using her reel, at least in Montana...

"No, never!" she yelled. She struggled again with her line as the fish took off on a nice run.

"Okay, hold on!" I shouted back. "I'm coming over."

I walked upstream beside her and noticed that her line was bunched and tangled around and inside her reel. When the fish had taken off, there wasn't enough drag to prevent the reel from overspooling. We attempted to undo the tangles and managed to free her line just as the fish took another run.

"You should tighten the drag on your reel so that doesn't happen again" I said.

"I don't have any drag on my reel" Josée responded.

"What? Of course you have drag" I replied. "Let me take a look."

Well, I inspected her reel and sure enough there was no drag mechanism. What the F!? How did I not know this? We've only been fishing together for over 2 years now. So much for my acute powers of observation.

"Wow! You really don't have drag" I said rather incredulously. 

"I told you so... The guides were surprised, too" she replied. Josée went on to explain how she's been through this very same scenario with the various guides we had out in Montana.

Fortunately, the poor fish was now getting tired or at least tired of us yapping about drags and reels ;). It started swimming towards us and Josée starts stripping in line like crazy.

She barked, "Get the net!... It's coming!... It's big!" (I think a few anglers on the East branch must have heard her, too ;)

The fish is at least 50 feet away and my net is on my back within a second's reach. But I decide to get it ready, anyway. I'm not taking any chances. At this point, it's quite dark out. I can see the line moving closer but I can't make out the fish until it's about 10 feet away. I reach out with my net... Success! Josée's fish, landed. Hallelujah!!!

Josée's shark was a lovely brown, around 15 inches. As we walked back downstream towards the parking area, neither of us could stop laughing at our comedy of errors that night. One thing's for sure, Josée is seriously thinking about getting a new reel.

The 2 flygirls caused quite a commotion at Cemetery pool that night. There had been 4 other guys fishing downstream of us. They all left by the time we finally landed this fish. They must have thought we were either completely nuts or complete novices.

Well, Josée now understands why I have little desire to go back to the Farmington river any time soon (sorry, Antoine). What performance enhancing drugs are in these famed Catskills waters? And I thought it was just the Delaware :). We celebrated later that night with a huge pasta dinner at Raimondos.