Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Today was the pick of the week

I couldn't help it.  With the weather forecast showing today as the "pick of the week", I decided a day fishing would be better than a day at the office!  Sunny sky, low humidity, low 80s.

I drove 45 minutes to a "secret" location on the Merrimack River.  I'm sorry, but a promise to a friend is a promise to a friend.  And I definitely don't want my sources to dry up!  (But I will show a few pictures.)

I had the place to myself.  I hadn't fished there since last year.  The water is soooo low this year.   Wading was easy, but the fish weren't in the same spots as last year, and it took a while to catch on.  It was a challenge, but my guess is that I caught smallies (i.e. small smallies) at the rate of a dozen an hour during my three hour visit.

Though the river was low, it was flowing fast.  I fished a conehead combo (the conehead is barely visible in the picture because the gold conehead is behind the hackle, not in front of it).  The technique was to swing it downstream and back-and-forth through the current. 

Too, I had a bit of a casting problem.  I used the 9' 5W that I use 99% of the time for river and pond fishing, but all I had with me was a 4W line.  I need to be more careful, as I use the same Ross reel (I have two of the Cimarron 2's) for 4, 5, and 6W lines and all my floating lines are Cortland 444 in peach.  It makes it easy to use the wrong weight.  Then, add a bit of wind, and at least initially I had a difficult time.  But it is amazing how you can adjust your casting tempo and speed to accommodate the lighter line, even with a fly on the end that would be best casted with a 5W or even 6W.

The fish were small but feisty and acrobatic.  Very much what you'd expect from river-bread smallmouth bass.

[Edit: Thanks goes to my friend Carl who pointed out just minutes after I pushed the publish button on this post that "river-bred" might be more what I was looking for *lots of laughter*] 

Almost all were the same (i.e. small) size as the one shown below.  I did catch one about 10", and the biggest of all (I think) broke me off (2x tippet) when I set the hook.

Below are a couple of pictures of the area.  The Merrimack is a wide river and rough, dark, and dangerous during much of the year.  But in the summer the water gets clear and low.  Smallmouth bass are by far the predominant species.

This caterpillar was a nice find.  It was just climbing around the rocks, probably looking for some vegetation.  It's length was 3"!  With a little research I found out that this is an Acronicta Americana. I am disappointed that it merely turns into a brown moth. I was hoping for a big beautiful rare butterfly.  On the other hand, my best guess is that by now it has become bird food.  A yellow body against dark rocks doesn't exactly provide much camouflage.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Patagonia continues to impress me

Patagonia stuff is expensive so you'd expect their customer service to be excellent.  Well, I just want to confirm that it is.

Here's my story.

I have two Patagonia flyfishing products, a pair of Gortex waders and a pair of felt-soled wading boots.

[Actually, I have two pairs of Patagonia boots.  A two year old pair and a very old and worn pair that has been resoled once and which is nice to have around for the infrequent times when my younger son fishes with me... thankfully he's a size 12 also.]

Because Patagonia stuff is so expensive (in my opinion a good value), I was fortunate to obtain each of my items at discount prices.  Both pairs of boots were bought by mail-order from Sierra Trading Post.  I believe they were listed as closeout or overstock items.  My guess is that the first pair was bought 12 years ago.  I doubt I paid more than $50 for either pair.

My Gortex waders were bought perhaps 10 years ago from our local Orvis Shop, Concord Outfitters, in the middle of the summer.  I paid $200 for the SST model (I think that was what it was called) that listed for $350 or so.  It was a big chuck of change because until then I fished neoprene waders from Cabelas which cost less than $100.  (Nothing wrong with Cabelas neoprenes, except for how hot all neoprene waders are in the summer... in fact, I still have and use my Cabelas neoprenes when the weather permits/requires it.)

What I liked most about the Patagonia SST waders is that the shoulder straps are attached at the waist inside the waders.  To get full chest height coverage, you then need to attach the top of the waders to snaps on the straps that are positioned at chest height.  99% of the time, however, I didn't bother with the chest height snaps and just rolled the top of the waders down to the waist.  This made for much more comfortable (i.e. cooler) summer attire as it basically meant waist high waders with straps, which in a pinch could be pulled up to cover my chest and back and snapped onto the straps.  Because I am a bit over 6' tall, waist height waders are good enough 99% of the time.

Anyway, I am getting long winded here.  

Back to the point I want to make.

After the first season of use (it was actually just a half season), I had a leak or two in the wader feet.  I called Patagonia and they suggested I mail them in to Arizona for an inspection.  I liked their shipping policy: if I paid for shipping to Arizona, they would return ship them at their cost the same way.  In other words, if I shipped via 2-UPS they would return ship via 2-day UPS. 

So, I mailed them to Arizona from the Boston area on a Monday via 2-day UPS.  I got a call on Wednesday and was told that due to the newness of the waders they were going to ship me a new pair!  Awesome.  But the story gets better.  My pair had been size Large-Regular length.  Because I knew the price was the same for the Long length, I asked if it would be possible to send me a size Large-Long.  The rep. said he'd be happy to.  Again, awesome.  By Friday, I had a nice clean new pair with the added bonus of additional leg length.  That was about 10 years ago.

[I like the Long length because there is no binding on my knees when float tubing.  Unless you are kicking in a float tube, most of the time your legs are at rest and your knees are at 90 degree angles.]

The story continues.

Before going on a two week non-fishing vacation to the Canadian Rockies last month, I mailed the waders back to Phoenix for more repairs.  I completely expected a pair of 10 year old repaired waders to be sitting on my front door step when I returned.  I was  disappointed when they were not.  I waited a few more days and called Patagonia Customer Service.  I was dismayed when I found out that Customer Service had no record of receiving my package.  My UPS confirmation clearly showed that my waders had arrived in Phoenix nearly 3 weeks before.  A little checking and I discovered that their sole repair guy was a bit behind in completing his queue of repair work.  I was told that would call me, and he did... several times.  But because of the time difference, we never seemed to make contact.  Finally, I received a voice mail message that due to my being inconvenienced, and as a courtesy, they were going to send me a new pair of waders.

So now I have a brand new pair of Watermaster model waders.  The list price is $300.  I don't think they are quite the comparable model to what I had, as my old pair had double knees. But the waist level straps are much improved over the old model.

I am more than satisfied with Patagonia.  Wouldn't you be?

Patagonia Chest Waders. Shown in-side-out. 
Note the suspender straps attached inside and at waist level.  The buckles
at chest height have cam levers to tighten waders at chest height.

Patagonia Chest Waders.  Shown in-side-out. 
Top section rolled down to create waist-high waders.

This is the buckle design that allows the waders to be pulled up
to chest height and attached to suspender straps.
This shows the cam designed tightening lever in the "open" position

Cam lever is in "closed" position, thereby locking the top of
the waders to the suspender straps.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How small do bugs get?

I was fishing the other day in a farm pond with a small streamer.  Looking carefully at it after each cast I frequently spotted the very tiniest of bugs.  I'd love to know what they are called?  I assume fish eat them.  Frequently I see the sunfish in open water slurping flies near the surface.  I had always assumed they were little midges of some kind, but I never saw any flies.  Could these have been what they were eating?  If so, to match this hatch I'd need about a size 100 dry fly.

Another thought, since these don't seem to have evolved to do much flying, is that this is what I hear the sunfish snapping at in the beds of lilly pads.  Again, I never see any flies.  (Other than the dragonflies and bees which cause bass and panfish to sometimes leap out of the water.

Any idea what this little bug is called?  If you do, just use the comment feature below.  Thanks.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

We're having a heat wave here

I know I shouldn't complain.  We've had a couple of heat waves here in New England, but nothing like the mega-heat some of my fishing friends from other parts of the country are reporting to me. 

Our local ponds seem to have reasonable water levels, but my favorite river is running at about 1/3 of normal flow.  We need rain.  Even our lawn is getting brown, which rarely happens because we abut wetlands.  Again, compared with many parts of this scorched country, I have nothing to complain about.

For us in New England, a heat wave is achieved at the end of the third day of temps of 90F and above.  As far as I recall, we haven't hit 100 yet.  Well, maybe they did in Boston one day.  I think we'll be into our third heat wave next week, but the temperatures are projected to be only very slightly over 90F.  We do get oppressive humidity, however.

For me, today was a hot day.  The temperature was around 92F when I finished three hours of drifting and kicking on a nearby pond.  There was no wind and this was the killer.  I was sweating buckets.

Anyway, all of the above thinking helped me rationalize my choice of a post-fishing treat.  What flavor?  CCCD (chocolate chip cookie dough) of course!

Kimball Farm is known for its large portions.  This "regular" size serving was even bigger
than it looks.  I usually buy the "kiddie" size, but forgot. 
By the time I reached the level of the cup, I am sure
I'd eaten a pint of ice cream.  (That's probably not a good thing.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A bit of panfishing this week: the "Marabou and Mallard Streamer"

I have a lot of summer fun fishing for panfish in a local farm pond from a float tube.  Only a few people have a permit to fish it, and I seem to be the only fly fisher.  Occasionally, I will see mini-bass boats with electric motors (these are the boats that you can put in the back of a pickup truck or on the roof of a car), but the fishermen driving these boats are usually fishing baitcasting and spinning gear.  Nothing wrong with that.  They pull out some wonderfully big bass from the weed beds. And the pond is catch and release.

But fishing for big bass in the weeds is difficult with a fly rod.  Even if I were fishing an 8- or 9-weight rod, its pretty hard to get the leverage needed to pull bass basically straight up out of the weeds, when I am sitting at water level in a float tube.

My approach is to fish lighter tackle and aim for the panfish (mostly bluegills) and smaller bass that hang out at the edges of the weed beds.  I cast toward the weeds that surround the edges of the pond, and I kick my way around the circumfrance of the pond in a counterclockwise direction. (Is this because I am right handed?) When I get a hit, a bit of initial leverage with the rod will generally keep the fish from escaping into the cover and entanglement of the weeds. 

Gear Used

Of course, any kind of float tube will do the trick.  I've been using a Hobie Float Cat for years. For this kind of fishing I like a 9 foot 5-weight.  Unless the fish are particularly finicky, I'll use 2 feet of 3X tippet.  If I need to drop a nymph deep, I'll use tippet as thin as 5X and keep my fingers crossed.  When using my float tube I use an old Cortland 333 5-weight line, in white.  It is not as slick and stiff as newer lines, so it falls on the apron of my float tube in small coils.  Theoretically I guess your casting distance is diminshed with a floppy flexible line, but when fishing for panfish in a float tube, distance is not an issue.

 Fly used and how to tie it: the "Marabou and Mallard Streamer"

Last week I had great success with some small weighted streamers, which you can see in a couple of the pictures below.  The underbody is 8 wraps of thin lead wire.  The body is tied with a single marabou feather.  Simply tie it in by the tip, to create a tail about half the length of the hook shaft, then twist the rest of the feather into a rope, then wrap the rope up the shaft as if you were tying a woolly bugger body with chenille. 

The last step is to use a mallard feather to create a soft hackle collar.  I tie it in by the tip and wrap a few turns around the hook to create a soft hackle collar. I typically snip the hackles off the bottom.  This is what makes it look like a streamer and not a soft hackle wet fly.  This approach also helps the fly ride in the water with the hook tip down, rather than spinning.

This black version was used for the sunfish above.
I dressed it up a bit from the original recipe with 4 pieces of peacock herl, as an underbody.
Tail and body are made from one black marabou feather.
"Wing" or collar is made from dun dyed mallard. 

I keep a few of these flies in my "Bugger Box".
I like having both dark and light colors.

Yellow marabou feather for tail and body. 
Hackle/collar/wing (I'm not sure what to call it!) is orange mallard

My experience is that the bass usually prefer black.  Not this time.
If there are any pickeral around, they'll go for the bright colors.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fly tying glasses with LED lights

I'd never seen these new fangled glasses until my friend Paul pulled them out last week as the sun went down.  I guess you can find them just about anywhere: Target, Walmart, etc.  Where have I been?

I wish I'd taken a picture of the glasses themselves.  But you get the idea.  There are two LED lights, one on each side.  He loves them for tying on flies in the dark.  I wonder how they'd be at the tying bench. 

Has anyone else tried these?


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fishing with friends

I fish alone frequently and always enjoy it.  But there is something special about fishing with friends.  It seems that a number of times on this blog I have reported about my power trips to northern New Hampshire to fish for the day with a car full of friends.  It's always a great time, though I am really exhausted the next day.

These are day trips.  I get picked up here in Massachusetts by friends who actually live further away from our destination than I do.  After a 7 a.m. pick up time, we stop for a big breakfast in one of several spots on the way north.  We end up hitting the water in the Mt. Washington Valley area about 11 or 11:30 and typically fish one or two spots on up to four rivers/streams before heading home about 9 p.m after fishing the evening hatch (when available!)  I'm usually back home by 11:30 p.m. and my friends have another hour or more before they get home.

Well, Tuesday (July 3) was my first such trip this year.  I'm usually good for 3 or 4 of these sorties per season.  Below is a series of pictures taken Tuesday approximately in chronological order.  My friend Jim took several of them and I posted them here because they are the only pictures with me in them.... Not that that is necessarily a good thing!

Fly Used:  All the fish shown were caught with a size 14 pink-post herl-body parachute.  I tie some with a tail of pheasant tippet fibers and some with no tail at all.  The pink post is tied pretty thick, so I can see it better.

Breakfast at Poor Boys, exit 4 or 5 on Rt. 93 in New Hampshire

Taken by Jim Eno

Taken by Jim Eno

Taken by Jim Eno