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.

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