Monday, July 28, 2008

A Golden Opportunity...

Jarret: "Did you see the gauge?"

Me: "Yep, not good."

Jarret: "Well, the Allegheny should fish. I don't think they got much rain up north."

Me: "OK, let's plan on that then." forward exactly 24 hours...

Jarret: "You see the gauge for the Allegheny?"

Me: "Yep, not good."

Jarret: "What do we do?"

Me: "It looks like the trout float will fish. There's a lot of big fish up there. We might do pretty well with the water being warmer."

Jarret: "OK, let's go."

Me: "We're floating on Friday and need a third, you in?"

Brian: "The baby is due in less than a week, but the doctor says it should be OK, count me in."

This was a brief synopsis of a series of short phone calls made over the course of a week that provided nothing short of typical, unpredictable summertime weather. To add to the unpredictability, there was a good chance that a baby might try to make it's entrance into the world while we were mid-float...if we could find water to fish.

Gauges were carefully watched, doctors were consulted and the call was made to try to squeeze in a last minute float before the water ran out on the upper river and we couldn't get the boat down without making the chines look like a jigsaw puzzle.

Things got off to a good start with J raising two fish right off the bat, but we were met with lots of muddy water about a mile from the launch and we began to question our logic. Fortunately, we aren't as dumb as we were feeling upon seeing the muddy water and the muddy, dropping water was enough to counteract the high, bright sun and keep the big fish on the bite.

Over the course of the float we dodged many objects including rocks, kayaks, rafts, canoes and even our own weighted streamers. Though it wasn't pretty, throwing the big, heavy stuff provided some very exciting takes and fights from fish that would rival anything you would find out west...

It should be clarified that when I say weighted streamers, I don't mean conehead wooly buggers. I'm talking articulated wet wash cloths that are weighted with 30 wraps of .20 lead wire and large dumbbell eyes. These are serious flies aimed at catching fish that eat squirrels for snacks. In short, you just don't want to get hit in the head with one...

After returning home late, trout boxes were swapped out for smallie flies in preparation for a much anticipated Saturday trip with Matt - who was home for a week before football camp would start.

The river was a bit off color, but provided some great fishing on top waters and streamers alike.

Rowing the boat with an offensive lineman sitting in the front and my Dad in the back was definitely a bit different than what I was used to, but we managed pretty well and were into fish pretty much all day. I even picked up my first small musky on a fly...

Unfortunately, Matt is done fishing for a while, but plans have already been made to do some steelheading once the football season ends and a trip to VA for some striper fishing may be in the works as well...
I wish I could predict what this weekend will bring, but after the last few weeks, I'm not even going to try...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Smallmouth, Topwaters and T-Storms...

Jarret and I got an early start to the weekend on Thursday night by taking an after work smallie trip. To be quite honest, I can't think of a better way to unwind from a day of work than wet wading in sandals and shorts and having smallies blast topwaters!
Though Thursday was a blast, it was a merely a quick fix. The real excitement would happen on Saturday, when Josh, Kurt and I were planning a 14 mile float on the Yough. This would be the longest float we have ever done and we were all very excited to say the least.We got off to an early start and had the boat in the water by 7. By 7:02 there were fish cartwheeling though the air and pulling our lines tight. Not a bad start for sure...

We had planned on trying to keep track of just how many fish were being caught, but it just became too much of a chore. All I can say is that this river has a very healthy population of smallmouths that are more than eager to eat flies...including some real tanks. The highlight of the day came with the biggest smallmouth I've ever come across blasting a Gurgler and pulling line like a steelhead.
I returned home around 9:30 in time to shower and clean the boat up for yet another float on Sunday.

Sunday came and I hit the river with Meg and her Dad. Thankfully, this would be a bit shorter float. My hands looked and felt like ground meat from rowing a few too many miles and getting spined and jabbed with hooks while unhooking fish on Saturday. What a terrible problem to have huh?

Anyway, the day proved to be a memorable one with Meg and Tom getting a bit more comfortable on the oars, catching a good number of fish on gurglers (even doubling up at one point) and laughing with me as we got completely soaked in a thunderstorm that popped up about 1 mile from our takeout.

This wasn't your average thunderstorm. This was one of those Forrest Gump "it even rained upside down" kind of storms that blew in so fast that we would have barely had the chance to get our rain jackets on...if we had them. Needless to say, everyone took it in stride and had a good laugh about just how much water could fall in such a short time.

Smallmouth season is definitely going well and I'm extremely excited about searching for some more big fish, but talk of two-handed rods and big, bright chrome fish is becoming more common in my circle of friends. It won't be long, I just hope we can all hold out long enough for the fish to arrive before we all lose it...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Meghan's Turn...

The weekend began with Meg and I taking an impromptu run to Ohiopyle for a day of laying next to the river, bruising our butts on natural waterslides and raising enough fish on Stimulators to make us forget about the snakes that seemed to be around every corner.

Saturday is a day that will live forever in infamy as the day that my sometimes huge male ego was crushed to pieces by none other than my own girlfriend. Dad, Julia, Meghan and I spent the day floating the Yough looking for smallies and whatever else felt like eating what we were throwing at them. "Whatever else" ended up being, smallies, spotted bass, rock bass, sauger, saugeye and a walleye that would count as a trophy anywhere in the country. Throw in shots at carp, sheephead and the odd chance at a toothy critter and you have a recipe for a very interesting day (and that was just the fishing). Compound fishing with the antics of Julia and Meghan - who have earned themselves a reputation a reputation as "Matches & Gasoline" (I'm not sure which is which) - and the day is that much more entertaining.

To fill in the blanks; We had floated over 3/4 of the way throwing 8 weights rigged with standard smallie foods such as Gurglers, Lazy Strippers and both floating and sinking Clouser Minnows. For the uninitiated, this is about as close to rapid fire fishing as you can get. Hit the banks, strip the fly back and hit it again...and again...and again. Tired of fishing? Good. You can row until you are ready to fish again.
We may take it a bit easier on the girls, but I assure you that by the time we had reached the afrorementioned 3/4 point, there was a good bit of talk going around about sore casting arms and wrists. It is for this exact reason that Dad sometimes (very quietly) stuffs a spinning rod under the rowers seat.
I swear it wasn't two minutes after Meg tied on a 1/4 oz white spinnerbait when her drag started screaming and the biggest smallie of the day came into the boat.
Everyone was excited (except for Julia who had some choice words for Meg) and before that could even wear off, Meg's rod was bent in half again. This time, the fish was fighting hard, but a bit differently. It stayed deep and took a couple short runs before I caught a glimpse of it and screamed "Musky!" It turns out that my 4 years pursuing a fisheries biology degree were a complete waste of time, because I can't tell the difference between a musky and the biggest walleye any of us have seen in quite some time. The fish taped out at 24", which coincidentally was just small enough to fit right in our cooler and into a frying pan (in fillet form) shortly after. Yes; we are murderers, but if all fish tasted like walleye there would be a fillet knife shortage and no fish left to catch.
We returned home shortly after dark and I had made plans ot meet Dad back at the river in the morning. Upon looking at the weather forecast - which was calling for an 80% chance of severe T-Storms - we decided to bag the trip to avoid the risk of becoming barbeque.
Imagine my suprise when I woke up and saw just one little green blob on the radar. I swear if I ever see a weatherman on the street...
There was no time to be angry! It was 8am on a Sunday, and a cloudy Sunday nonetheless. I grabbed my gear and headed to the river to a creek mouth where I spotted and promptly proceeded to spook 3 of the biggest carp I have seen in quite some time. These weren't big, they were BIG. Big enough to have me wondering if 200 yds of backing was going to be enough. Needless to say, I never got to find out the answer to that question for multiple reasons...
Reason #1) Carp don't respond well to a weighted fly landing on their head in 8" of water.
Reason #2) It's hard to change flies when your hands are shaking
Reason #3) Carp are smarter than I am
The first two reasons are undeniable. Anyone who doesn't spend a considerable amount of time with me may question the third. But I swear, these fish are something else. To watch 15 lbs of fish swim up to your fly... smell it...and turn away to continue feeding and never look at that fly again is something that anyone who is breathing should try at least once. I'll leave it at that.
On the plus side, I stumbled onto another opportunity for a mixed bag day when I wandered up the creek and found chances to catch Carp, Sheephead, Smallies, Largemouth, Smallmouth Buffalo (I told you I had a fisheries degree) and even a Channel Catfish. I wish I could say I salvaged my ego by catching everything I saw, but only the bass were cooperating by trying to knock the claws off of my crayfish!

Although the day was somewhat salvaged, I still hate the weatherman, I need to fool a carp again and I will be out fishing again this weekend. The forecast is calling for 90 degrees with a small chance of a shower...I may pack my snowsuit just in case.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Long Weekend...

There are some things that tend to get neglected when you spend a lot of time fishing. For a number of reasons including early rises, long weekends, late returns from trips and a borderline compulsive habit for keeping gear organized, my social life tends to take a bit of a hit during fishing season. Add in the fact that all of our different fishing "seasons" tend to run together here in western PA and the circle of friends of a person who spends a lot of time on the water tends to get rather small. Normally, this doesn't bother me much because I'm fortunate enough to have a very understanding girlfriend and friends who are just as passionate about fishing or can tolerate my lunacy enough to not tell me how crazy this has all gotten. This still doesn't mean that it isn't nice to get out and act like a normal person once in a while.

It was for this reason that Meg and I were pretty excited to head to Jarret's cabin for a weekend of drinking, eating, yelling, blowing up random objects and otherwise acting like a member of the normal population on the 4th of July. There was one small hiccup; Jarret's cabin is about 2 miles from some very good smallie water on the upper Allegheny. After some talking with Jarret, we both decided it would be best to take the boat and gear, but save the serious stuff for a later date.

We arrived at J's on Thursday night to find the Allegheny high and dirty, but slowly dropping. It was pretty clear that the river wasn't going to fish very well anyways, which made it easier to handle our previous decision.

We got to bed after the standard campfire antics on Thursday night and decided to take a short float on Friday so that we could be back in time to meet up with more people that were driving up. Meg, Jarret and I did a bit of fishing, and decided it best to just rest for the long night we had ahead of us...

...Saturday morning brought headaches to some members of the group and also some very entertaining stories of who blew what up with the fireworks that were brought out way too late in the evening for anything good to happen. Fortunately, everyone still had all of their limbs and were feeling good enough to go for long float in the afternoon. The plan was that we would haul the cooler full of beer in our boat, while everyone else relied on rafts to get down the river. It was a good compromise that allowed some fishing time, but ended up causing one of the most chaotic fishing moments I can ever remember.

Meg was rowing the boat and I was fishing as we led the group down the river when a good sized pike blasted my clouser from behind a big deadfall on the bank. "Pike!" I yelled as Meg backrowed and dropped the anchor in order to help me land the fish. All at once, I realized I had a knot in my line and the entire armada of rafts crashed into our boat and began to scatter right into the area where the fish was running. I frantically tried to work the knot out while Meg and Jarret pushed rafts away from the boat and worked to get the boat positioned again. After what seemed like an eternity, we all accomplished what we were working at and Jarret slid the biggest pike I have ever caught into the net so we could get a few pictures... must have been dumb luck, because we floated the rest of the stretch and did not even bump another fish.

After taking out, Meg and I headed home so that I could squeeze a last minute float in on the Yough with Dad and Dan, whom most of us affectionately know as Captain.

The three of us met in Layton around 6:00 to ensure we had enough time for a 13 mile float. This turned out to be well worth the effort, because the fishing turned out to be very different than what we had experienced up north. Recent rains had the water a bit off color and the fish hugging the banks. Many casts were greeted with a wake, splash and a hard fight from a smallie. Although no huge fish were landed, consistent topwater action, great conversation and the standard hilarity that goes along with fishing with Captain made the day one to remember...

So with smallie season going in earnest and a desire to hit the Allegheny when it's at a good level, I guess my social life may have to wait a bit before we try for another resurrection. For now, I have flies that need tied, leaders to build and waders to patch. After all, steelhead season is just around the corner...