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?