Salmon River for First Great Lakes Steelhead

So I turned 40 last year and my wife was gracious enough to allow me not one but two fishing trips with buddies. I took them throughout the fall and early winter. My first trip was to Pulaski in NY to the famed combat-fishing stream known as the Salmon River. For many East Coasters this is as good as it gets. An easy flight from the Eastern seaboard to Syracuse will land you within a 2-3 hour drive of several good migratory rivers off Lake Ontario for big browns, Chinook, Silver salmon, big resident rainbows, and two varieties of lake-run Steelhead (Skeena and Washington-strain). And because Canada stocks just about as much as the US, there’s the genetic drift of their stocked salmonids as well. All this adds up to thousands of fish making runs into the Ontario tribs on both sides of the border to do one of two things – spawn, or eat spawn.

20141019_164606

20141018_074311

Daniel and Joel Steelhead Salmon River

I called up my two closest fishing buddies, Mark and Daniel of the original Gowanus Noodlers, and we hit it in early November. Guests of the wonderful, new and luxe, Tailwater Lodge, we had impeccable accommodations in a converted schoolhouse that sits on the river. We were also guests of the Douglaston Salmon Run, a fine fishing camp that has the first two miles of the Salmon river. The camp’s manager Garrett Brancy runs a tight ship. DSR as its known, belies the stereotypes of the combat fishing perception this river has. Yes, you’ve got to work hand in hand with your guides to stake out some water early and essentially park there to hold your spot in the river. And yes, you’ll see lots of sports on the water (solitude this ain’t). However, DSR is catch-and-release, has several riverwalkers to ensure regulations are being followed, and a very comfortable reservation system that creates fairness among anglers. An interesting fact, the Barclay family opened DSR as a private water sport fishery in 1989. The property has been in the family since 1807, when it was settled by Colonel Rufus Price, an aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The Barclays advocate sound environmental practices in fisheries, farming, forestry, and natural resources management and are heavily involved with how the Salmon river is managed by the State.

20141018_095511

20141018_130041

20141018_130026

With a very affordable day rate, I recommend you use DSR on your visit to the Salmon, especially if you are a fly angler. DSR is also a TU endorsed business and the same family is behind the new line of rods and reels from Douglass Outdoors. DSR has top notch guides who are experts in single and double-handed spey casting. We were most fortunate to hook up with Mike DeRosa and Dave “Rocky” Rockwell of Zero Limit Adventures who got us up early and on the water in the best position to fish by no later than 5am. Mike was one of the best guides I’ve ever had frankly – he was a patient instructor and guide and got 3 guys spey casting within just a few short hours. Importantly, he gave us the necessary tips to hook and land big fish. Sure, learning the fundamentals on the water cost us a few fish initially, but the river had more than enough to spare and soon we were into steelhead that would come in waves throughout the day, following the big chinooks that ran upstream often in front and behind us. Though it was cold and overcast, and often wet, we barely noticed it because we were so dialed-in to the fish. Our 11′ 7wt switch rods would zip out line in a steady rhythm between roll casts and spey casts. The line would come taut as our guides nymphs were sucked down by compliant chromers. Many fish were brought to hand by each of us.

20141019_073706

20141018_150605

In true fish-story fashion, at the very end of the second day after hot and heavy fishing, I had taken a long break to sit back and watch my buddies fish. I wanted to savor the moment and eventually went for the proverbial “last cast” and caught my largest great lakes steelhead of the trip. Rocky yelled “big fish! big fish!” when the feisty rainbow cartwheeled twice out of the water and then zipped downstream. We were desperate to keep her out of the rapids. With a dive Rocky went in and netted here. Words failed us all as we just soaked in the moment.

20141019_164035

20141019_164154

I know we were lucky, that this type of fishing just doesn’t happen often, but I figured you know what, maybe I as due. I’ve prayed to the fish gods long and hard these many years, and all I really wanted was for my friends to have a good time. I smiled down on the steelhead before me, and gently released her back in the water, thanking God for such creations on this beautiful earth. And I think he smiled back on us.

20141019_173534

 

Advertisements

Night Fishing the Salt

I recently attended the IFTD/ICAST show in Orlando. I wisely took a few hours at the end of the trip to de-stress and wind down from some very long intense days of meetings with the industry on behalf of TU. With the help of Mike Hodges (author of  On the Fly On the Bay) and TU’s national comms director Chris Hunt (author of Fly Fishing Idaho’s Secret Waters) – we managed to get some dock fishing in after the show with Capt Ethan Kiburz on Tampa Bay. We got into lady fish, speckled trout and I got some very nice reds, but the Snook weren’t biting. We saw some BIG snook too.

Hunt wrote about the trip in detail for Hatch magazine which you can read here.

nightonthebay1-1

20140719_212340

20140719_230403

PART_1405829076723_image

PART_1405834471978_image

 

Henry’s Fork

P1010425

About a month ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit with some of TU’s most important donors at the Henry’s Fork Lodge in Idaho. Ah, the famed Henry’s Fork. The stuff of fly fishing dreams, and nightmares if you’re a nube on Harriman’s Ranch. Our trip, brilliant calculated, ran just a week or so before the Harriman State Park opened and so thankfully we were spared the hordes of anglers who regularly make the pilgrimage to the state park’s opening. I was fortunate enough to float the box canyon stretch of the north fork of the Snake River twice, once with the famed Mike Lawson’s Henry’s Fork Anglers, and again with the young upstarts from TroutHunter.

Two great floats, two very different trips. The first float with a Lawson’s guide name Smitty was on a bluebird day requiring going deep with a two nymph rig, small flies and carefully fishing the slots. The second float was a race against a big front that produced fewer fish but more drama.  And later on my trip I hiked into a lower stretch of the Henry’s Fork below Mesa Falls for a long and grueling afternoon of hike/fish/hike action.The hike was worth it (even the sprained ankle) to get the sense of isolation and beautiful wild rainbows.

Perhaps the best part about the trip, was the chance to fish mammoth dry flies as the famed salmonfly hatch was slowly progressing up the river. Low flows may have had some of the guides grumbling, but for a relatively new to the West angler, casting size 8 and 10 salmonflies to big willing rainbows was pretty much the pinnacle of my fly fishing career to date.

P1010433

P1010443

P1010447

P1010457

P1010458

P1010461

P1010465

P1010466

P1010471

P1010476

P1010481

P1010484

P1010489

P1010492

P1010495

P1010503

P1010511

P1010517

P1010518

Huckberry Explorer’s Grants

You may be a bit over the hipster thing, but hold on a minute. We owe a little thanks for this cultural moment. Why? Because hipsterism has at its core a feeling that alot of Gen Xers and Millennials dig – nostalgia. And that lust for a classic bygone era lifestyle (of which there are many) has emboldened a younger generation to start appreciating what boomers, and especially the greatest generation had access too – great music, great vibes, and unplugged experiences. And honestly, its not just an empty nostalgia. The Millennial and Gen X tendency to obsessively remix and co-create with previous subcultures is leading to some exciting new values that really distinguish this generation from recent ones. This is no more evident than in the return of the pioneering spirit of wanderlust that permeats Tumblr and Pinterest boards, retro-looking saloons and barbershops, throwback brands (and branding), and adventure media. Fueled by the explosion of access to digital archives, dead stock, and resurfaced brands and stories by niche bloggers who intimately obsess over vintage Levi’s and #Van-Life, the new spirit of adventure isn’t confined to mining the depths of the internet into the wee hours. Its coming to life as new adventurers foresake their day jobs or postpone weddings to hike the Appalachian trail or Continental Divide. The spirit is present when PhD economists apprentice for free for years to learn the art of butchery (like my brother). Its present when fishing bloggers get together to tour Alaska’s embattled Tongass wilderness to help protect it. And its present when new brands start sponsoring expeditions to help their fans make their next adventure a reality.

14_02_explorergrants18

The Huckberry team is introducing Explorer’s Grants to create an inspirational karma loop of adventures for its fan. A few lucky applicants will get a serious cash infusion – a thousand bucks! – for their planned expedition and a selection of gear from some very cool brands, including Poler, Nemo, Topo Designs, and Goal Zero. They want you to document the journey and make the whole story available to Huckberry of course, but its all in service of the karma loop. The judge of the grants is none other than the #microadventure inspiration himself, Alistair Humphreys, a National Geographic Explorer of the Year and professional adventurer.

For the details, check out Huckberry Explorer’s Grants page here. If you’ve got an adventure planned or have a dream microadventure in mind but just needed the kick in the pants to get started, you’d better get on the application now. The deadline to submit is March, 31.

800px-Potomacwatershedmap

To get your juices going here’s  my own microadventure idea to steal for your own to get you started:

FLOAT THE POTOMAC – starting in West Virginia on the North branch of the Potomac above Jennings Lake in Western Maryland, float the Potomac in a kayak all the way to the mouth of the Cheasapeake Bay with stops at the Savage River, Harpers Ferry (Anglers Inn), Conococheague, Great Falls, and Occoquan. My goal would be target as many fish species as possible, trout, bass, gar, stripers, snakehead, etc.

When: Mid-summer or early fall

States: WVA, VA, MD, DC

What to take: My Orvis Hydros 5wt flyrod, a shit ton of crittermite flies, Poler napsack, lots of goretex, waterproof digital camera, Freedom Hawk kayak, Garmin, Goal Zero Lighthouse

Estimated travel: 2 Weeks. 450 miles.

Blue Ridge Tour

Well the all along the South from Louisiana to Georgia, the South is getting a dose of the legend, myth, and quackery that some have called climate change. But seriously, I can only imagine how beautiful the Blue Ridge must look under a veil of snow. Fortunately I fished the most Southern tip of the Blue Ridge over the holidays in balmy 50 degree weather.

At the beginning of the Appalachian trail in the Hiwassee basin, I was able to touch a few native browns in the headwaters of the Noontootla river. I scouted the Toccoa delayed harvest section for next visit (it was blown out). I also found opportunity on the Smith and Amicalola creeks during my two weeks in Georgia with the in-laws. Put a nice dent in the No Nonsense Fly Fishing Georgia guidebook, but I’ve only just begun to explore all the coldwater fisheries here. Most Georgians don’t even know they have 4000 miles of trout streams in Northern GA. I keep thinking I should be taking more advantage of the TU website to find fishing companions when I travel. In fact, I hope in just a few years to be able to take my daughter to one of those spots I’ve come to know so well, that she’ll be guaranteed her first Georgia trout on her first cast at least.

Noontootla
Noontootla Creek
Noontootla Wild Rainbow
Noontootla Wild Rainbow
Toccoa River
Toccoa River

Toccoa River Sign

Toccoa River Flyfisher
Toccoa River Flyfisher
Amicalola Creek Brookie
Amicalola Creek Brookie
Tailwater stockie
Tailwater stockie
Smith Creek Brownie
Smith Creek Brownie
Feisty Bow
Feisty Smallstream Bow

Onward Reserve Drop-in

While visiting the in-laws in Atlanta over the holiday, I managed to sneak out for a short side visit to Athens with the wife and baby. The plan was to walk the downtown and grab lunch at one of Hugh Acheson’s places, either the National or Five and Ten. Being a Sunday though, things were slow or closed. Neither of Acheson’s places were still open for brunch by the time we got to town. Fortunately, we were able to hit Onward Reserve.  OR are among the few highly curated and high-quality modern but traditional menswear and lifestyle shops in the South. OR was born out of the online flash sale site 5 Mile Club, but now has two retail storefronts, one in Atlanta and the original in Athens.

Walking through the shop, I kinda wish I hit this place before my recent work trip to St. Simons Island… OR carries several hard to find top notch southern apparel brands, including their own-label brand. You can find Southern Marsh, Smathers & Branson, Cotton Bros, Social Primer, Martin Dingman for example. They also carry iconic brands like Barbour, Hudson Satler, J.W. Hulme & Co. Their Filson selection is pretty damn good and mixed in you’ll find Beretta, Wm Lamb & Sons, and even Yeti coolers.  I was just window shopping but couldn’t leave without a set of Smathers & Branson knit rainbow trout coasters for the man-cave.

They also have an immaculate and well-put together website. Their cracking website has a an extensive selection of “Made in America” goods, and a great blog with stories and recipes from the OR guy’s adventures. You can find guidance on many tasks in the OR man’s life from making Venison poppers to picking a hunting dog, and from tips on being a groomsman to how to stock your bar. Its short, to the point advice that can instantly improve a guy’s life. So, If you’re in Atlanta (Buckhead) or Athens, they are absolutely worth a stop in. They’ll make you a Makers and Ginger if you’re so inclined while you browse. Or hit the website or wait a just a little while because they’ve got expansion plans for Nashville, Houston, Charleston and DC.

????????????

????????????

????????????

????????????

????????????

????????????

????????????

????????????

????????????

After our walk around downtown, we knew we needed to eat something, so we hit Mama’s Boy on the way out of town. It was a balmy 50 degrees so we sat outside and ate fried green tomatoes, biscuits and gravy, and short rib hash, while washing it down with some the best strawberry lemonade I’ve ever had.

????????????

????????????

????????????

2013 Trout Wrap-up

So many things to be thankful for in 2013 its kind of unbelievable. Everything centered around the birth of our daughter of course. We bought and moved into a new home in Silver Spring, and soon after had our girl, Yunah Anne. Then I doubled down at work with conferences and business travel to Austin, LA, Boston, Nashville, Manchester, Charlotte, New Orleans, and Kansas City. Somewhere in there we celebrated the traditional 100-days thing and had family travel to NY, Atlanta, Grafton (VT), and the Shenandoah. We got the house in shape and enjoyed the bountiful garden though I must have raked several tons of leaves (thank you suburban living). Phew! I can’t believe how fast it goes. You have to pay attention every day or you miss things. The fishing was pretty successful despite being so busy at work. I dragged along the fly rod on my business trips, but it was only worth it once or twice really. I don’t like to fish rushed. I managed to fish the Gunpowder several times, the Rose River, the Chattahoochee, the Youghiogheny in Western Maryland for the first time, as well as the storied Battenkill in Vermont. I got skunked on the Savage River, Dukes Creek (GA), the bay in Assateague, Virginia (my only saltwater fishing), and on the Toccoa River (GA). And over Christmas holiday in Georgia I fished the Noontootla, Amicalola, Toccoa, and Smith Creek (but I’ll save that for a separate post). Here are some highlights…

Great Rose River rainbow
Great Rose River rainbow!
P1010183
My brother and I killed them on this Rose River trip.
P1010181
Chris with his Rose River bow!
P1010276
Spring bronzeback taken 5 min. from my house on hidden creek.
P1010280
Hidden Creek!
GP brown on a sulphur
This gleaming wild brown fell to a sulphur one sunny spring day.
Battenkill Brown Trout
This rising beautiful 20+” wild brown took some figuring out, but we finally got him on a black ant on the storied Battenkill River in Vermont.
North Fork Shenandoah
The beautiful North Fork valley in Shenandoah, home to some amazing smallmouth fly fishing.
Trophy Smallmouth Bass
This trophy smallie was at least 8 lb and 20+”. He took a black popper on the North Fork.
Shenandoah Fall Fish
The North Fork Fall Fish put up quite a fight too.
Youghiogheny River 6
The “Yough” didn’t disappoint with amazing natural surroundings and plenty of action.
Youghiogheny River 5
One of many good sized rainbows above the pump pool!
Youghiogheny River 10
My best underwater shot yet! On the Yough.
Youghiogheny River 13
My nicest trout from the Yough fell to a black stonefly pattern I tied myself.
NCM_0120
A late fall sunset over the Middle Patuxent river.
NCM_0115
A remarkable holdover brown from the Middle Patuxent.
NCM_0162
A true Gunpowder gem. If only they grew bigger on that river!

Youghiogheny October

Two days on the Youghiogheny River afforded me the chance to work on a quite a few things, but none more than my presentation in fly casting. It helped that the “Yough” is a gorgeous freestone stream, fed by the cool waters of Deep Creek lake, surrounded by pine trees, rhododendron and plenty of leafy trees in the midst of their fall colors. I would frequently pause for up to ten minutes or more, perch on a rock and soak in the quiet, solitude and fresh mountain air. Taking all that time to unwind staring at the waters or forest would inevitably result in observing a rise or splashy take. And it was good to take my time because the falling leaves on the water was clearly messing with the trout.

Youghiogheny River 1

Youghiogheny River 3

At this time of year, not exactly a bug factory, the autumn hatches of caddis, midges and the odd terrestrial mixed in with floating yellow, gold, red and brown leaves drifting downriver meant it might be a few minutes before a trout revealed his lie to me. Long glassy runs and pools also meant I had to wade in excrutiatingly slow. I would then have to wait for the water to settle and finally cast, often downstream and across to a rising trout. 6x worked most often, and yet, it was big meaty dry flies that did the trick for me. Upon the advice of other anglers and my innkeeper, Don Herschfield (Streams and Dreams), I used a stimulator in the tailrace pool with great effect. And my own handtied black stoneflies made a good flying ant pattern that drove the rainbows nuts. Goldribbed hares ear nymphs and midge pupae worked in the riffles.

There was an abundance of wild fish and so they challenged me to really stop and consider the best way to approach the trout. I hid behind boulders in some cases, like up at the whale pool, or I would crouch and short cast, feeding line out down a channel toward where I spotted a couple of monster bows. In other situations I hid in plain site, waiting for the sun to come out from behind the clouds before casting so it would obscure my profile OR waiting for the sun to go behind the clouds so my fly would be worth looking up at.

Youghiogheny River 2

On day one I just narrowly beat the 10am release at the powerplant, crossing the tailrace and leaving behind scores of rising fish in that pool. I decided to put in some effort and scrambled a mile upstream to the whale pool where boulders the size of cars and houses dotted the river and forced it into narrow runs and frothy shoots. Here I caught several 1 to 2 year old rainbows, but alas dredging the depths of the pool with a sinking line didn’t produce the leviathan I was expected. I did get brave and picked my way out into the boulders where I came cross some petroglyphs on a boulder facing downstream, but not visible from either bank. The first was of – I presume – either a native or the spirit of a crayfish – as the figure had claws for hands.

Native Fisherman Petroglyph Youghigheny

Net or Spear Petroglyph Youghigheny

Leaping Fish

The others were I believe of the river itself and a jumping fish, and a spear or fishing weir. Of course there was no way to date them, but they were in such an out of the way position, and clearly told a fishing story, I couldn’t help but think they were messages left by the earliest settlers of this valley for other fishermen. And maybe they needed messages written in stone, after all, in Algonquin, “Youghiogheny” means a “stream flowing in a contrary direction” (the river flows south to north).

Youghiogheny River 6

After about an hour, I decided to slowly backtrack downstream, with the the tailrace pool my destination once the release finished at about 1pm. At this stage in my progression as a fly fisher, I have a good sense of where trout will hold, and looked for areas where the river was forced into a narrow run, near the base of the largest boulders and the tailouts of micro-pools. I caught several more 2 year old rainbows this way nymphing.

Finally, I arrived back at the head of the long tailrace pool…and found rising fish. A caddis brought up my largest fish of the day. Easily 25″, the rainbow took off downstream like a bullet, scared the hell out of me, causing me to break him off. For the next several minutes the bow kept porpoising all the way downstream toward the bottom of the pool. I bit my hand I was so excited. Each jump into the air revealed the largest trout I’d ever hooked, but didn’t land.

With no further hits at the head I made my way into the bottom of the pool – and received great advice to tie on a stimulator which very quickly produced. There were easily twenty to thirty rises going on at a time. And my two largest fish of the day among others were on the stimulator or an adams. The pool was electric and fish came to hand every five casts for the next hour. Finally, I climbed out of the pool and sat on a rock, and watched the sun retreat over the hills as a fellow angler continued casting. There seemed a natural conclusion to a great day as the monster rainbow I hooked and broke off hours earlier porpoised one more time mid-pool, still trying to dislodge that pesky caddis, which I should add was barbless.

Youghiogheny River 10

Youghiogheny River 9

Youghiogheny River 7

Youghiogheny River 5

Youghiogheny River 4

Weary, but satisfied, at dusk I decided to head in as a river otter slipped into the pool looking for dinner. And I’m pretty sure I could hear someone pouring me a beer two counties away. Later on over dinner at the Mountain State Brewing over a delicious amber beer, I was able to recount the day with Don and Karen, the innkeepers and frankly, riverkeepers of the Yough. I think they were very happy to hear the river was fishing well given its occasional troubles. Turns out the Yough has an unsustainable otter problem. Reintroduced with little thought to the wild trout population, the otters push out the trout that need to overwinter in the deep holes. MD DNR’s answer is to just keep stocking, when unmolested it’s a fine wild fishery. Another problem is that the Yough is also a whitewater river, and scheduled releases taking place in the warm months raises the temperature of the river, and that’s not good for trout.

A final problem is the hydropower plant (the one in MD) – while the infusion of cold water in the summer and winter helps regulate temps on the river with minimum flows, there have have been fishkills from poor management in the past. And on occasion the plant has drawn from the warmer part of the water column at Deep Creek. However, Maryland DNR maintains a 4-mile long C&R TFA that begins at the Deep Creek Lake Power Plant and ends at the Sang Run Bridge. Below that, the normal MD fishing regulations apply.

Youghiogheny River 11

Day two I fished secret tributary of the Yough that a friend told me about, but alas, despite lovely scenery, and a couple of juveniles, the trout really hadn’t arrived. So I headed back to fishing the Upper Yough above the tailrace pool. Heading back to the same spot I hooked the monster rainbow, I knew such a prime hole would have other big fish, and it I wasn’t let down. The largest fish of the trip came to hand after casting a black stonefly meant to resemble a flying ant. The lengthy rainbow detached from the bottom, suddenly visible and rose through the water column to the fly, and with a quick turn of its head, he ate. I set the hook with a gentle sweeping motion and fought the rainbow downstream, then up, and carefully coaxed him to my hands. He bore a wound on his back – a stab from a blue heron, but I felt confident he would recover since plainly it hadn’t affected his appetite. At about “19 he barely fit in my hand, after the quick grip-n-grin, I released him under his own power. While I only got into wild rainbows and no browns, I left the Yough feeling very appreciative that places like this still exist. Sure they’re off the beaten path, and you’ve got to drive past prime water like the Savage and North Branch of the Potomac, but I find if you’re willing to walk the extra mile down the path, you’ll find solitude and wild places where wild things still dwell.

Youghiogheny River 14

Youghiogheny River 13

Youghiogheny River 12

Youghiogheny River 6

For more info on fishing the Youghiogheny, pickup a copy of Charlie Gelso and Larry Coburn’s Guide to Maryland Trout Fishing. Or better yet, give Don and Karen Hershfeld a call at Streams and Dreams, and consider staying with them, their hospitality, waffles,  and trout library will knock your socks off.

Smokin’ Trout

Was in Vermont for my dear friend Mark Emerson’s wedding to Jessie St. Peter a couple weeks ago at the Grafton Inn.. Though we came in on a wet and soggy day, the weekend quickly became sunny and bright. It was a beautiful, simple ceremony among a small group of family and friends in a field below a bower of wildflowers and next to a tiny trout stream, the Saxton. Grafton Vermont is absolutely beautiful little village and if you’re passing through I recommend stopping for lunch.

We also passed through Manchester where we made the obligatory stop at the Orvis outlet store. I scored sunglasses but couldn’t get the reel I wanted because the usual salesmen was on break. The bright spot in Manchester was discovering the Smokin’ Trout off the beaten path. This eclectic gift shop was a fly fisherman’s dream. The owner Buzz is a fantastic tall tale teller and will regale you with quite  a few fishing yarns while you shop. A dusty outpost whose main fare is cigars, the rooms are full of bric-a-brac and antique fishing and fly gear, first edition and rare books on the art of the angle, pictures, rods, you name it. I spent a half hour mulling about and wound up leaving with a copy of Nick Lyon’s the Seasonable Angler and a box of 3 dozen hand-tied flies including many hard to find “extended body”mayflies.

NCM_0067

NCM_0061

NCM_0063

NCM_0065

NCM_0058

NCM_0059

NCM_0064

NCM_0066