Friday, July 13, 2012

Pennsylvania River Carpin'

Headed for the river early Sunday morning after a bit of a hiatus for work and family activities, including some time at the beach.  Sitting on the beach is a point, but upon my return to the real world with one day to catch up on all those post vacation chores, I woke up with the sun and headed for the river, for my kind of relaxation.

Ghost carp stalks the skinniest water

Signals were mixed as I worked my way across the growing gravel bar.  Two weeks of searing heat and sparse rain showers had the river shrinking rapidly.  It was obvious carp were, or at least had been, present, but it appeared as though one carp refused to move to deeper water, and had paid the ultimate price.  Of  course appearances can be deceiving, but I believe some carp may be stubborn enough to allow that to happen.

Carp were not tailing in the skinny water as they had been at this spot in years past, but as I reached the long deep pool below the skinny water, I began to see carp, some large, cruising in groups of 3-6.  After a painful number of refusals, I took the hint and changed flies.  The small conehead olive wooly bugger I tied on more closely matched the color of the river water and, almost immediately the fly was getting more attention - mainly from the small smallmouth and rock bass abundant in the river, but soon enough a group of cruising carp took notice of these small eager fish fighting over this apparently tasty morsel.  The biggest bruiser in the bunch decided to beat her buddies to the treat and gobbled down the fly with such gusto that I nearly forgot to set the hook.  Nearly.

After 10-15 minutes (time flies when you're having fun) and one long run into my backing, the brute was brought to hand.

Poor cell phone photography aside, a handsome fish indeed

Put a good bend in the 7 wt.
Nice tail.

The Release - almost as satisfying as the take

Can't wait to get out and try for some more.  A family trip to Maine, to visit relatives and Acadia National Park, will keep me off the river for a  bit, but will hopefully afford some good bass fishing as well.

Fish On.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Get a Grip

Being relatively new to the fly-carpin' game, preferring to travel light, and prone to wandering rivers on foot, I haven't found a net set up for wading that I like, but I admit a net is a good idea.  I'm very intrigued by Mr. P's recent article "Nettin' Carp Like a Gunslinger".  

I'm an advocate of landing a fish before it is entirely exhausted and I do my very best to handle fish gently, and quickly, before releasing them.  Additionally, I like any excuse to buy another piece of fishing tackle.  For those reasons, I'm likely to soon acquire a net for fly-carpin' on foot.  In the current absence of a net I am having good luck using The Fish Grip, a tool that I find to be head and shoulders above the better known, and more expensive, Boga Grip.

The Fish Grip Green
Fish Grip above, Boga Grip below

The locking mechanism of the Fish Grip is more like a Vise Grip than a Boga Grip and, with its smooth jaws, the Fish Grip can be pinched behind the front or corner of the a carp's bugle like mouth to more gently, and securely, hold the fish, in the water, while a hook is removed or a picture is taken.  The Boga Grip has a built in IGFA certified scale, but a carp needn't, and shouldn't, be lifted by the lips, so the scale isn't a plus to me, at least with carp.

Oh, yeah...and the Fish Grip... 
  • is available in a variety of cool colors
  • costs $12, rather than $120 like the Boga Grip
  • weighs a fraction of the Boga Grips weighs - making it handy to travel, and wade, with
  • it floats (the Boga Float will run you another $15)
  • can be easily be carried by clipping to your vest, belt loop, shirt, or nipple ring.

Both Grips are made in the USA.  

The Boga The Boga Grip does have a pivoting head which, sellers emphasize, allows fish to be revived in the water.  I suppose a pivoting head would have some advantages, but I've never had any trouble reviving a fish with the Fish Grip, and I have seen several complaints that the Boga's pivoting head results in some tremendous line tangles when trying to land and unhook large feisty specimens.

One of the best features of the Fish Grip is the extra safety factor afforded when removing treble hooks, and the fact that kids can use it when removing hooks or posing for that fishy shot with panfish or bass.

The Fish Grip helps Henry get a handle on a farm pond bass

Give the Fish Grip a shot and let me know if you're as happy with it as I am.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Another Type of Flats Fishing Trip

I put the carp flies on the shelf last week and headed for Havre De Grace, MD for a different kind of flats experience.  A Baltimore based fishing buddy and I had been attempting to get a good trip to the Susquehanna Flats for over a year.  The weather had proved to be our nemesis - but finally the stars aligned.

If you haven't heard of the striped bass fishery at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, and the top of the Chesapeake Bay, you are not alone.  The fishery is gaining notoriety quickly, however; as steady supplies of stripers, or rockfish as they are locally known, and a special catch and release season on the flats, combine for an amazing opportunity.

Over seven square miles of flat water, averaging about 4 feet deep, with little to no structure, can be an intimidating site, particularly when you factor large grass beds just under the surface, tidal influences and the distinct possibility of running a larger boat aground if you don't have the necessary knowledge of the area.

Stripers have a fascinating life history and migratory route.  Most will winter off the coast of the Carolinas and follow the coast north, up through the coast of northern Maine, through the summer months, to stay on the feed and in their comfort range of 55-68 degrees.  Perhaps the most important stop on the way is the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries where the fish gather to spawn and put on the feedbag.

The Susquehanna Flats, around about the month of April, offer one of the best chances to get up close and personal with these great fish, using light spinning tackle and fly rods.

Capt. Jeff Lewatowski was our guide of choice.  Jeff is a great fisherman with tremendous range.  He has fished a lot of water, including a stint guiding in Alaska, but now plies his native Maryland waters professionally, chasing everything from fly-rod trout in the Gunpowder River to flounder, tautog, sea bass, and stripers in the salt, near Ocean City, MD.  Whatever he is fishing for, he likes light tackle and fly rods.

Capt. Jeff, in the foreground, knows the flats like the back of his hand.
 In fact Jeff's only flaw seemed to be his skepticism for carp on the fly.
Spoken like a fellow who never tried it.
In 2011, we tried repeatedly to get a Susquehanna Flats trip together, but record rainfall blew the flats out for more than a month, and the entire season was a loss.  Spring 2012 brought much more cooperative/drier weather and the bite was on again.  It still took us three tries to hit a day when the fish were there and the wind/rain was not, but it was worth waiting for.

This one put a nice bend in the 8-wt.
The fishing was good and the weather was great.  Light winds and temps in the 50-65 degree range allowed us to get the fly rods out.  We used spinning gear with 12 lb. test mono to cover a lot of water quickly and dial in on pods of agreeable stripers.  It took a couple hours to find the right spots, but we boated about 30 stripers, which included about 10 on the fly.  It looked like most boats we saw were struggling for bites, but Capt. Jeff had us drifting through enough fish to keep us smiling all day.  Big Lefty's Deceivers were the fly of choice, and when those fish hit, they took care of the strip set for you, including some great takes, right at the boat.  I should have taken more pictures, but when the bite turns on, they can come fast, and furious and holding a camera is the last thing on your mind.

Finished up with the best of the day

We weren't able to lure the biggest fish into striking that day - fish in the 35-45 inch (16 - 40 lb.) class are not uncommon - but after fighting a couple 10-12 pounders, I can hardly imagine a 40 pounder on the fly or, on the perfect day, on a popper.

OK...I can imagine it...and I want it bad.

Capt. Jeff's 23 ft. Parker was a very nice fishing platform.  Ryan works the drift.

On a Carpy note, Capt. Jeff did happen to mention that his boat brought in a 30 lb. carp on a jig earlier in the season.  He then sent me the picture below.  I think I feel another outing coming on later in the season.

Susquehanna Flats Carp

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pretty Crappie Day

Headed to our favorite spring fed pond to target some LARGE cruising grass and common carp with the fly rod.  I can't seem to find these carp mudding or tailing.  They always seem to be cruising in one or two large groups.  They act as if they are looking for something, but I never see them actively feeding.  Whatever they are looking for, I ain't got it...yet.

I got a couple good looks throwing a dragonfly nymph, but no carp takes.  I did catch a couple small bass and bluegills, somewhat accidentally, in the process.  I am a carp enthusiast, but I'm no carp snob.  So...knowing there were some nice bass lurking somewhere just off the, soon to be spawning, flats; I put down the fly rod and grabbed a light spinning rod with a Rapala X-rap suspending jerk bait.

and we caught a GOOD fish...  


Then we caught a BETTER fish...


Then we caught the BEST  fish of the day...

Other than that is was a pretty crappie day...


Friday, March 30, 2012

Poling the Flats (and the River)

As I discussed in my last post, I now own a great set of canoe stabilizers.  Fishing with kids, paddling with dogs, and standing to cast, promised to be much safer and easier.  I can paddle, or motor, to the fishing grounds, deploy the stabilizers, stand and cast.  But if I really wanted to pretend to be a Pennsylvania flats fisherman, I was going to need a pole.  

After some research, I decided several hundred dollars for a graphite pole was out of the question.  Returning to my simple and cheap mantra, I considered a wooden closet rod, from the hardware store, but I kept picturing my capable Belizean flats guide Severo Guerrero, poling his Panga through the flats with a mangrove pole.  Surely natural would be better, and cheaper.  

Ace guide Severo poles the flats in Belize

Then I found a great video and instructional article on poling a canoe on the river.  

That video featured a bamboo pole and an impressive amount of poling through shallow riffles as well as flat water.  It dawned on me that I had a friend with an impressive stand of bamboo.  One phone call and one ten minute trip later, I had a 12 foot and a 14 foot pole at my disposal - no charge.

Poling is an under practiced and under-appreciated skill on the river these days.  As we ferry vehicles to our downstream take out locations, it is easy to forget that for most of the long history of river canoeing, a downstream trip would have, more than likely, necessitated an upstream trip.  In the shallow wide rivers common to the Appalachian Region, poling upstream would have been a necessity.

At this point, my poling adventures have be limited to flat water with my stabilizers deployed, which has gone quite well.  Standing while navigating shallow lake waters, dramatically improves your view of the lake bottom and fishy targets.  Poling is clearly an acquired skill, but after an hour or two of practice, I was already feeling more confident in steering the path of the boat through the shallows.  The boat is quite  responsive to small changes in the angle of the pole, how you shift your weight as you push off, and how the pole is handled.  I assumed it would be difficult to navigate deeper waters with a pole.  While I wouldn't leave home without my paddle, it turns out the surface area afforded by a the 6-8 feet of pole in the water is significant and serves as quite a nice, albeit long and narrow, paddle.  A slightly modified J-stroke does a respectable job of tracking a straight line.

I am really looking forward to poling the river, but I'm waiting for water temperatures to warm a bit, anticipating a learning curve that could result in clumsy incidents, leading to wet clothing.  I'm optimistic that, if I become a respectable river poler, this could allow for rewarding solo river outings, when a fishing companion and/or 2nd vehicle can't be found.  I picture poling upstream from my vehicle through 2 or three good pools, or flats, stopping to target feeding carp, then floating my way back; or, floating downstream to fish, and poling my way home.

Part of the fun of fishing is, of course, planning how things should work out...then finding out how foolishly misguided your planning, or your assumptions were.  Either way, it usually results in a good story.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Stable Platform

I have always loved a canoe. 

There is just something about paddling quietly on flat or moving water, and there is no better way to observe the world around you.  Many of my best wildlife viewing experiences have taken place in a canoe. 

The sound of internal combustion just doesn’t mix with my ideal outdoor experience.  ATVs, UTVs, 4x4 pickups and outboard motors all have their place in a dedicated outdoorsman’s arsenal, but each are overused these days.  Nature is best experienced with a minimum of distractions.  My wife would point out my hypocrisy, by pointing to the enormous pile of gear, accessories, gizmo’s and gadgets that mark my outdoor obsession. 


But as any overgeared outdoorsman will attest, the real trick is to select just the right equipment for any outing, minimizing weight and clutter and maximizing comfort and enjoyment.  Fortunately, I can always find a more obsessed fisherman, hunter, archer, boater, or gun nut (who I then point out to my wife in a sacrificial manner) to make me look more moderate in the consumer consumption department.

But I digress.  In the end, I like things simple and cheap.  My Old Town Pathfinder 15 ft. canoe is just that.

I have fished small and large water – ponds, lakes and rivers.  A couple years ago, I added some comfy seats and, for larger waters and windy days, a 30 lb. thrust trolling motor - and my back now enjoys long days and windy lakes a good deal more.

I know there is a lot of buzz on kayak fishing of late, but I gotta admit, I've never been a big kayak guy.  They've always felt a bit cramped, low to the water and less versatile when compared to my trusty canoe  I admit I am intrigued by the recent development in fishing kayaks, particularly the sit on top models, which allow stand up casting and provide a good deal of flexible and water tight storage.  Hobie's innovative Mirage Drive even offers hands free locomotion - that sounds good.  What I am not intrigued by, is the opportunity to spend several thousand dollars on a one man boat.  With a dry bag, a cooler and a couple tie downs I’ve got everything they’ve got, and I can add another paddler, a dog, and still have the cargo capacity for a camping trip.

Canoe carpin’

After being bitten with the fly carpin’ bug, I was looking to cruise some local lakes.  I was also looking to do more sight casting to local bass in the spring of the year and I sensed the canoe needed a little tricking out.  I put on an extensive search for the best canoe stabilizers/outriggers on the market.  There are a good many options out there, but I was looking for something well made, easy to deploy, and hopefully easy to use on rivers, as well as lakes.  That turned out to be a tall order, until I stumbled upon Kay-noe stabilizers

Fred and Aaron, who are in Florida, originally developed their stabilizer for kayaks, but a modified design works equally on canoes.  In fact, they can turn a canoe into a full-fledged poling skiff.  I gotta admit, if canoeing the freshwater flats is as addictive, and productive, as I hope, I could see one of their casting platforms in my future.  Their work is now patent approved.  As an added bonus, they are great to deal with and you get to deal directly with a small, American made, family owned business.  

I've only had a couple outings with my new stabilizers, but I am one satisfied customer thus far.  Hopefully, I'll soon have some good fish to credit to the my, now more stable, fishing platform.

In my next post, I’ll explore another canoe carpin’ accessory – my new, very old, form of locomotion.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Happy St. Carpatricks Day - To a Great Fishing Buddy

Mid-march in Pennsylvania.  We are usually stoking the fire and shoveling the last, and often largest, snow of the year.  This year, the groundhog got it all wrong.  March came in like a lamb and looks to stay that way.  A week of temps in the low 70's had crocus blooming, grass greening, and carp cruising the shallows in local ponds and creeks.  There are so many spring chores to undertake around the house and farm, that it was impossible to know where to we went fishing.

With his seven year old sister otherwise occupied with softball and Girl Scouts, my youngest fishing buddy and I headed for the nearest farm pond, where we were able to trick one respectable female largemouth into inhaling our jig.  The first cruising carp of the year were spotted and we agreed to return soon with the fly rod.

Henry tests our new "Fish Grip" before a  quick release

The next day I remembered a trout fishing buddy had clued me into some potentially good carp water on a small creek near home.  After a nice visit with the landowners, we had made some new friends, had a new place to fish and had seen several tailing carp.  A couple days later, with only a half-hour to fish, we returned with fly rod in hand.  

In short order, we had located three tailing fish.  Knocking the rust off the casting arm, the third cast was a charm.  The carp turned on the small crayfish fly, gave the tell-tale dip of the head and a quick strip set had the fly firmly embedded in its soft mouth.  After a short but exciting game of tug-of- war, Henry took over the rod as I ran downstream to see where we had left the net.  Teamwork paid off and soon we had our first carp of the year to admire - not the largest, but a great fish to start with. We were batting 1.000 - I briefly considered taking the rest of the year off to maintain a perfect season...nah.  

Fly carper in training admires the first blue collar bonefish of the spring.

We headed to bigger water on Sunday and took our first float trip of the year.  It took 3.5 hours to float 7.5 miles of the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River.  The water was slightly discolored due to recent showers upstream, but we still spotted several large carp cruising and/or feeding.  Water temps were in the low 50's and I didn't want to hold up the rest of the family in their kayaks, so I hesitated to jump out of the canoe to take a shot at the couple tailers we did see, though I'm already kicking myself .  We'll give them another week or so get active.  We did manage to boat one modest smallmouth and lost a great battle with a small muskie on 8 lb. mono and a suspending jerkbait.  

4 year old bow mounted trolling motor.
On Sunday evening I had a chance to sit down and reflect on the weekend, and, while many chores were left undone, a few great memories were made, and the family is united in anticipation of a great summer ahead.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Confessions of a New Carpaholic

I have a confession to make...I've recently become a fly rod Carpaholic.  I can't even explain exactly how it happened.  I've always loved to fish...for anything...with anything.

I grew up in central Pennsylvania using light tackle to chase smallmouth bass in rivers and creeks, and largemouth bass in farm ponds.  I still have a soft spot for small lures, light mono and a good spinning reel.

As a self-taught teen, I learned that a fly rod offered the most fun way to catch any type of fish.  Still,  the fly rod was a challenging route to take, and often, it just didn't seem worth the hassle.

In my twenties, pursuing my academic interest in Stream Ecology took me to some interesting places, and some fly rod success, peaking with a couple summers in Alaska, where I was introduced to beautiful rivers and bigger fish - swinging streamers and sight fishing for large Pacific salmon.  Awesome! Such great fun to throw larger loops and cast for distance and accuracy.

Eventually I returned to PA and found that stocked trout did not hold the allure they once did.  I loved flyfishing for smallmouth, but didn't have great water in my backyard.  I did some trout fishing, but I had the urge to throw more line to fish I could see.

Fate smiled upon me when my brother mentioned he had a earned a free trip through work.  He mentioned Belize was one of the possible destinations and I jumped out of my chair.  "Bonefish on the flats"  I was in heaven.  Sight fishing to beautifully spooky fish in an ecological wonderland.  I narrowly missed my shot at a school of permit, but I relished attempting to send my weighted fly over 100 ft. to hungry fish I could see.

As I researched my trip in the winter of 2011, I read that fly fishing for carp was an excellent way to prepare for a bonefish adventure.  "Surely not", I thought.  I had never intentionally pursued those homely fish, and the few times I had cast in their direction, they seemed paranoid and unwilling to follow a "real lure".

Still, I enjoyed the bonefishing so much - the combination of hunting, stalking and fishing - that I knew I'd need to give carp a try.

It only took one outing to convert me.  I headed for some bigger water - a river where I had seen plenty of carp through the years, but never given them a sporting thought.

I showed up at first light on one warm August morning.  And there they were.  Fat tails in skinny water.

A beautiful summer morning

I blew a few good chances, but other tailing fish continued to move up into the shallow edges from downstream.  Finally I connected.  One large carp proved too much for my knot.  One broke the hook (I'm still trying to figure out how that happened).  They all got away that day, but I was hooked.

On another outing to a smaller stream, I finally managed to catch a carp on the fly - not the biggest, but I had a taste of success.  I spent the winter consuming every flyfishing for carp book, blog, website and free tip I could find.  I bought some flies, tied some flies, and annoyed every fishing buddy I could find with the potential of this new addiction.

Success! A worthy adversary on a 6 wt.

Big Fish!  All summer! No Crowds!  Nearby!  Small Streams or Big Rivers! Sight Fishing!  Did I mention Big Fish?

Very few of them seemed to get...but I knew I wasn't crazy...Right?