I woke up this morning and found my brother had already left to go fishing. I went over to the Hazel Bridge to see if I could find him and if anything was going on. The birds were dancing in the air as tiny pale morning duns were providing a small but plentiful breakfast. I still didn't see any fish working. Last night a bunch of guys came to this pool and waited, and waited. A few drakes, some sulfurs, and march browns here and there, but no fish to be seen. On Saturday I did one at the start of some fast water on a hares ear, but that was it. There have been a few, very few, fish taken, and almost all on nymphs. The water on Friday was high, cool, and dirty. Saturday a bit less, still cool, and tea colored. Today, Sunday, the river dropped again and was clear, but still cool. It was perfect for a bird watcher. I have to say we enjoyed picking out mayflies coming off the water and getting picked off by the barn swallows. My brother fished the early morning downstream in front of the Creekside Cabins. He did get one on a brown stonefly nymph fished just outside the fast water. At the bridge I spoke at length with Gary, a New Jersey transplant, and seven day a week Willow fisherman. In short time he told me about the river, past and present, and about the fish, bugs, and fishermen who visit. He said when the fish are on it's possible to catch, he said, 40 fish on good day when the bugs and fish are on. Ryan and I gave it another shot before noon to no avail, but it's always nice to fish with my brother. He's six years younger than me and we have been fishing together since birth, starting on ponds in the Millstone of our youth. As our sibling reunion came to a close, we met at the bridge for a few pictures and to say our goodbyes. My brother and his wife headed back to Jersey and my sister and her man back to Saranac Lake. This trip was a Christmas gift to my brother and I from my sister. What a great present it was. It's always nice to spend time with them. Life just goes so fast. Hopefully this will be the start of an annual tradition. But we did all agree, that next years trip wouldn't be held on the banks of a trout river. After the goodbyes Cindy and I spent some time in Roscoe before heading back to Jersey. We stopped in to say hello to Mary Dette and pick up a few flies. I always like to support her shop. On the way out we stopped and fished at Covered Bridge in Livingston Manor. Like downstream, there wasn't a fish working. I ran a nymph through the fast water but had no takers. This weekend we caught the rain just wrong, but it is good to get water in these rivers. I just wish it wasn't so much and so quick. Even though it was a tough few days fishing, I did learn some things; a wading stick and a belt are a must on unfamiliar high water, I shouldn't blow by the Willowemoc on my way to the West Branch, and how much I enjoy spending time with my brother and sister and our mates.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
First, today is Memorial Day, a sincere thanks to all who have died while serving in the United States military. Their selfless dedication and sacrifice for our country make it possible for me to sit here and think and write freely about whatever and when ever I choose, even fly fishing. I am sitting here in my home office trying to find an image file on my desktop. Forget it. I can hardly see the screen behind the folders and invoices and images. I did find a folder titled Minipi. Inside are the pdf's from the article Chris Roslan and I did for Eastern Fly Fishing magazine that ran in September 2008. Chris is a regular contributor to the magazine and in July 2007 we traveled up to Labrador Cananda to fish the Minipi System for monster brook trout. We stayed at Cooper's Minipi Camps and experienced big fish, in big water, on big flies. Here's the how story and images ran-
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Well during my down time, outside of kids, work, and my woman- I have been researching and trying to figure out how to get this thing of mine going. First, I need to define what "this thing" will be. My goal is to become a fly fishing guide- concentrating on the waters in New Jersey, the Catskills and the Adirondacks. There's no rush, there's more that I don't know then I do. But I would like to think I can take small steps that will eventually lead me to my goal. This blog is a small step, but one that I am enjoying. It would just be like me to drop everything and dedicate my mind and body to it around the clock. I have done it before, with the kids, with work, and in relationships. It's that balance, like a good fly rod and reel, that I need to find. I usually try to plan and rush things, focusing on the end instead of enjoying the moment. Focusing on the take and the catch and release-rather then the correct knot, fly and perfect cast. I am that type that will find a fish working, and stay on him for hours- throwing everything I have at him-instead
of picking my head up to enjoy the scenery or even acknowledge another fish working at my heels. I love to fly fish, I don't even need to catch. On my last trip to the West Branch Matt Batschelet of the West Branch Angler Resort put it best, " As long I have targets to cast too-I am happy". That was well put and true as we discussed the sporadic rises during a heavy caddis hatch.
In my professional life as a photographer, technology has changed it all for me, maybe even ruined it. With point and shoot cameras, ease of transmitting pictures, and the web changing the rules of engagement, I have started to loose the confidence in my abilities and the industry as a whole. The newspapers are on life support, budgets are tight, words and images have lost their monetary value in this free information age of linking, sharing, and networking. I know it's changed everything, not just journalism. My friend, Dave Chouinard, who opened The Fly Hatch in Red Bank in the early nineties, can attest how technology has hurt the local fly shop industry. The internet and ebay was a double edged sword. It changed businesses and the men and women who worked them. Dave is a fantastic caster, fly fisherman, shop owner, and guy. During the years the shop moved to Shrewsbury, and it was a great place. Stocked to the gills, with everything you needed for the stripers at the Jersey shore, bonefish in Andros, trout in the Adirondacks, and every possible material you needed at the vice. The only thing missing was a blue ribbon fishery in the backyard. Around here the stripers, blues and albies come and go. The regulars and fans were just that, but guys are guys, and consumers are consumers. They appreciated the shop and the staff, but still surfed the net for a deal. Money is money. I worked there on and off for a few years before he closed. You could tell the guy that was coming in to test a Sage rod before he bought it online. He acted funny. Non-committal, maybe even a little guilty. But it was what it was. And so eventually he closed. He packed up his wife and two kids and moved to Tampa, and opened The Tampa Angler. A year round fishery consisting of reds, snook, and tarpon. I hope to visit him this year. We haven't fished together for two years, our last outing was a day trip to the Black River in New Jersey in the waters of a private fishing club he belonged to. We had a great time, and lost count of the fish we caught that day. I am sure he will be a huge success down in Florida, and I always wish him well.
On a different note, I was saddened to learn earlier this year that Fran Betters was not doing well. I know he has been sick the last couple of years, but now he is on hospice care at home. I read a letter he recently put out looking for someone to buy his shop. It was a sad read. I remember talking with him at his old shop about passing on the torch. How he needed to find a young apprentice and pass the legacy on. He asked if I wanted to buy it- that he would stay teach me until I was ready to go at it alone. I was humbled and honored, just at the thought of it. The Ausable Wulff, the Haystack, the Irresistable, and so much more. Has anyone done more for fishing the West Branch of the Ausable than Fran? Maybe there is, but I don't think so. Sadly I think that Wulff will sink forever when Fran makes his last cast into his favorite river, and it is his river.
I was on my way to shoot an assignment at Mercer County Park when I saw the stocking signs on some trees along Old Trenton Road. After shooting the job, high school crew nationals, I stopped by to take a quick look. It was kind of a neat setting. A small parking area surrounded by tall pines and a path that led down to the water. As I made way down I saw a bright bag sitting on the banks. Before I approached to check it out further I waited a minute to see if there was any sign of life above or in the river. I watched the water, but couldn't help trying to read the writing on the bag- then I got it- cut corn. I guess that's what gets them here. The water was stained and dark, with no signs of life. It was a pretty setting- but I
couldn't get into it, the bag of corn ruined it for me. As I walked a little bit downstream a large crane took off from the shallows, startling me for a minute. There were trees alongside the stream and their branches hung over the water. I trained my eye on a branch and saw what could be a tasty meal for any trout set up underneath it. A large fat gypsy moth sat motionless on a bare branch.
Now that is a terrestrial! But I guess this water is typical of New Jersey and put-and-take trout fishing. I can't imagine any trout surviving a low-water high temperature summers day here. There is plenty of cover, but between the cranes and the corn, I think holdovers are out of the question.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Today my three year old daughter Erin caught her first fish on a fly rod. We started out the day traveling west to fly fish for trout on the Musconetcong, but settled for a bunch of sunnies at the boat ramp at the Round Valley Reservior. We traveled up Route 287 and then jumped on 78 and got off at the Route 31 Clinton exit. We stopped by the old mill in the center of town to see what the South Branch of the Raritan looked like. We didn't see any bugs or fish, but there was a bunch of bait guys fishing below the steel bridge. I made a quick image before we headed back west to the Musconectcong River.
We found the river and then searched for water that wasn't posted and had easy access. I drove down towards Bloomsbury, and then back up river into Pohatcong, but all we found was posted water on Person Road. And when I say posted, it was posted- on trees, on wires hanging over the river, and everything that you could drive a nail or staple into, it was posted. So needless to say hitting the Musky was out. Interestingly, the NJ DEP changed the stocking schedule this week because of the mandatory work furlough the state enacted due to the economy. So several rivers that were usually stocked on Friday received their allotment on Wednesday. It looked like nice water although again, no bugs or fish.
So it was back east on Route 78 and then off onto Route 22 for a quick outing at the Round Valley Reservior. We parked near the boat ramp and grabbed our chairs, cooler, and my fly rod and settled in for a nice afternoon. The water was crystal clear and soon Erin was pointing out fish that swam out from below the floating dock. This is what this day was about. After a quick bite I put on a hares ear nymph and handed her the rod. No need for instruction, she said she knew what to do. After a couple of scary casts I settled her down and gave her a quick lesson. She was patient, and the fish were also. They couldn't resist the small, and very active nymph "swimming" through the water. Soon she had a "fish on"and it was a dandy. After a quick picture it was gently? released and Erin was back at it. There were some small bass in the shallows and I gave it a shot but there were no takers. At one point a trio of larger bass swam out from under the dock, and my guide quickly pointed them out, but they too passed on our offering. We caught a bunch of sunnies and one small bass, all lip hooked and easily released. Erin let everyone know who walked down to the docks that she was catching fish. It was a treat to watch as she tried to figure out what to do with the line and the reel.
What a great time. Funny how sunnies with your daughter, or son, on a beautiful day in May can easily compare or beat a 20 inch brown taking hendricksons off the surface of the West Branch of the Delaware!
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
What a pleasant surprise. I grabbed this sulphur in the process of hatching off the water. After dropping off my daughter at school I shot up to the South Branch of the Raritan river near Clinton. I forgot that in an hours drive I could have a short day of good fishing and fun. I got into the river and I met an older guy who was frustrated because he had fish rising and wasn't able to get one on. He asked me to jump in because he wanted to see one caught. I had tied on a size 18 caddis emerger earlier and gave a go. Basically there was a pod of 15-20 fish that were working under the wide bridge that we stood under. It only took two casts and I got one, a 10" brown. He was so happy that one of them got caught. He asked if he could keep it for a friend but I played like I lost it before he got over. He really wanted to get one on. I knew that that pattern would get another so I offered him one, but he refused. I went back at it and caught another while he tied on some tippet. I went over to him and said, " Look, take this one, if you offered it to me, I would gladly take it." So he tied one on and a few short casts he had his own. He said it made his day. With the fish in, a quick snap of the neck, and it was tossed onto the bank. He did check use a knife and cut into the trout to check the stomach contents. It was loaded with small nymphs, size 22's, all with a bright green back to them. Apple caddis? I wasn't sure. As we stood there watching the fish rise all around, sulphurs and march browns started to hatch, and it was a nice steady hatch. I left him and headed downstream. I saw some some fish working and gave them a downstream presentation and caught a few more. All 10-12" inches, but their fight was better then their size- and in the fast water it was fun. I made my way down the bend and changed over to a nymph because I didn't see any fish working but had no luck. I worked my way back upstream and hit a nice stretch on the tail end of a run with a few fish consistently rising in the fast water. I caught a few more there and made my way back up to the bridge. By then it was 1230 and time to get going back to Middletown for the afternoon pick up. I called Tom on the way home to tell him of a good days hatches and fishing right here in New Jersey. Hopefully we'll get a chance to wet a line together before the water drops and the temperatures rise.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
First things. I am glad that our West Branch trip this year didn't start Sunday the 17th. With rain the WB was up at 3,000 cfs at Hale Eddy. It has dropped and is today at 525 cfs. Finally the guideboats can float the upper West Branch. Today, I traveled south on the Garden State Parkway and went to the Toms River. I fished the Trout Conservation Area located inside Riverbank Park. The first thing I noticed, and haven't in a long while, was the fresh tire tracks from the NJ DEP stocking trucks that were here yesterday putting in some fish. Funny thing, trout hunters read water, stalk fish, in New Jersey, we read the dirt leading to the river too see where and when they stocked. As soon as I saw the river I was reminded of my early days trout fishing. Maybe 10-15 wide, difficult access, branches everywhere, and not a trout in sight. The water was clear and 56 degrees. I started out with a hares ear and then worked a wet through the many bends and holes that are formed by fallen trees and undercut banks. Not a thing for me. I met up with a bunch of folks using what you really need here, worms, powerbait, spinners, and even a rapala- that took a nice stocked brookie for a guy. As soon as I saw the river I was reminded of my early days trout fishing. Maybe 10-15 wide, difficult access, branches everywhere, and not a trout in sight. The water was clear and 56 degrees. I started out with a hares ear and then worked a wet through the many bends and holes that are formed by fallen trees and undercut banks. Not a thing for me. I met up with a bunch of folks using what you really need here, worms, powerbait, spinners, and even a rapala- that took a nice stocked brookie for a guy.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Yep, had to do it. Last night I went online and navigated my way through the process of buying a New Jersey fishing license off the web. I printed it out and loaded my fishing gear into the pick up. This morning I made the long drive, well a little over an hour, to the Ken Lockwood Gorge. Okay. I'll admit. I didn't get the same feeling as I do when I get to either of the New York West Branches, but it was cool. I fished a section hard below the two pools that are below the parking area near the bridge. Nothing. Mixed it up with some guys throwing metal. This guy got one, this guy nothing. I didn't see any trace of a fish the few hours I was there. Then I walked upstream and met the guys walking down from the other parking area. Oh well- so much for walking my way out of traffic. So on the way back down I saw that caddis were in the air. When I got down to the bridge, there were fish rising. Nice. I put on a caddis, a size 18 and got to it. I picked up 2 quick, after my fly broke the surface, and another off the top. I have to admit, it was fun. The fish were about 10 inches, and all looked like they were related, but it was cool. I stopped and talked to some guys who said they have had good hatches here lately and that the March Browns would be coming off soon. March Browns? Really. So I headed downstream and stopped just before the private water began and jumped in . In a few casts I picked up another, in real choppy pocket water.
I followed the river down and found an old favorite place of mine. I got into the river and the rain started back up. I was fine with whatever happened next as my day was already made. I had already caught some fish on my "return" to NJ fly fishing. In a few minutes I had one on a hares ear. And then the fish turned on. I had at least a dozen fish taking small caddis right in front of, and next to me. I had a blast. Caught some, lost some, but got a warm and fuzzy feeling about fishing here as I had done so many years ago, mostly during my mealworm and fathead minnow days. I continued to fish and when the rises slowed, I switched over to a pale hendrickson emerger. I had more action on the way down river, not fish landed, but more action. I smiled as I came around the bend and saw three large pools that I had fished many, many times before. Today I took at least two fish from each pool, and in one another fish on the way out. It was a blast today. I was home by 4 o'clock. I probably caught 14 fish, all the same size in that 10-12 inch range. I felt like I returned home, and forgot how much fun catching, and releasing, hatchery fish can be.
Well tonight I started looking into becoming a fishing guide. My dream would be to guide in New York, on the West Branch of the Delaware and the West Branch of the Ausable. Then I thought maybe I should start with New Jersey and continue to learn and work my way up to New York. So I looked on line and got the particulars for the testing process and knowledge base for the New York exam. I looked up for New Jersey, but it doesn't seem to be a test/ license for it. There are a handful of guides for New Jersey, mostly for the South Branch of the Raritan-mostly the Ken Lockwood Gorge, and some for the Big Flatbrook. I guess I'll have to finally buy a New Jersey fishing license and start fishing the old haunts once again!
I couldn't help it. I was planning to swing by a neighborhood I am photographing for a long term project I am working on. So I loaded the car with my camera gear, and my fishing stuff also. As I drove up the Garden State Parkway I couldn't help but think what was going on up on the West Branch. So I kept driving. And driving. I got to the No-Kill section in Deposit about 10am. I was all alone. The river was running a little over 300 cfs and looked good. Steady wind kept blowing for much of the morning. I worked up below the Route 17 bridge and settled in to the section below the old train bridge. There wasn't much going on. Gave me some time to reflect on life and try and get my head straight. I worked a hares ear through and then followed it with a hendrickson emerger. Missed two, and that just frustrated me more than ever. I had packed a lunch and planned on heading up to my car to eat since I wasn't worried about losing my spot. As I left the water I met Rick from Binghamton. He's a guy I have seen before here, and have watched him put on a clinic or two in this stretch. He asked me where from New Jersey I was from, and we started an afternoon of conversation. He said I should stick around as the hendricksons were due to start coming off. I watched as he struggled to wade across the river. He was really working at breathing by the time he got across. Emphysema he would later tell me. And then the bugs started, and the fish too. I was fishing into the sun, the kind that makes the river a shiny, silver reflection that difficult to spot your fly and the fish. So I began to cast and cast as the fish went into a hendickson frenzy. I hate fishing into that. I like to hunt one fish, isolate her, and then go for it. So I was making bad casts with a bad drift. So many trout, so many bugs, so little skill on that day. And of course Rick was putting on another clinic, 3 fish over 16- one of which was approaching 20". On his last fish I made my way across river because the fish had taken him down almost near the treatment plant, and I thought the fight might kill him! Rick got him in on his own and after we sat down and talked while the river cooled off. We sat and watched an occasional rise. Around 4 o'clock he left for the day, and I stood in the water waiting for something to happen. I tied a hendrickson emerger on and threw it to some sporadic rises. More casts- more snot. I looked down on the water around 5:30 to see if any spinners were on the water but none were. That's when I made the call. Time to go. I made my way back to my car to the new parking area opposite the Deposit Water Treatment plant and soon headed south on Route 17. I passed the West Branch Anglers and saw the guys lined up waiting for some evening action. As I approached the Gamelands stretch I decided to pull off and take the chance parking on the other side of the tracks. By the time I got down to the river after nearly breaking my ass on that beaver dam, the fish were already working. Spinner fall, a good one. But if you know this tail end of the gamelands pool near the trailers-you know- shallow-flat-and wide. But I had fish in two's in bunches rising for spinners. So I got in the water and got into position. I measured the rise and made a cast. First a little short, then right on, then long- then, the thick green slime. Every cast. And if you waited to every other cast your fly would just sink the second it landed. I stayed for about an hour- then packed it in. I called Tom on the way home to let him know I had to shoot up, even just for the day.