Fly Patterns Gear Philosophy Streams Tips And Technique

My Take on Pacific Salmon Fishing in the Salmon River, NY

Photo taken from “Trout and Salmon of North America” by Robert J. Behnke
Illustration by Joseph R. Tomelleri

     I‘ll be honest, I am not much of a Pacific Salmon fly fisherman.  There are many reasons for this the first being I have more passion for pursuing trout, landlocked salmon and steelhead than I do the two species of Pacific Salmon that were introduced into the Great Lakes. Salmon runs on the Salmon River start as early as August. At that time of the year and into October the weather can be very nice. Nice fare weather combined with increasing numbers of big fish in the river will also bring out hoards of fisherman.

   Years ago,  when I first started fly fishing the Salmon River, I took a drive from South Utica, where I lived at the time, up to the river with my sights on fishing the Sportsman’s Pool.  It was October 5th and I was pretty excited at the chance of hooking up with a salmon.  I was up early and was at the parking lot well before sunrise.  There were not many cars in the lot so that seemed encouraging.  I walked to the river down the trail and had the head of the pool to myself when I arrived.  It was still to early to start legally fishing so I checked over my gear to pass the time.  As I waited more and more fisherman arrived at the pool on both sides of the river. By the time fishing was legal the pool was elbow to elbow with fisherman eager to fish.  I never made a cast and decided to leave.  I drove 30 minutes to Taberg and traveled north and decided to fish The East Branch of Fish Creek, a stream my father had taken me to fish many times as a child and teenager.  The pool I picked was void of fisherman and I was excited to see trout rising to the surface.  I spent the late morning casting elk hair caddis dry flies and caught a few nice browns.  Though not a whopping pacific salmon it was a great day and just what I was looking for: some solitude, gorgeous weather, a beautiful trout stream, some room to cast and some rising trout.

Spey Fishing the Hemlocks
Fishing the Salmon River in October
Photo by Jessica Lettich

   Over the years I have mostly avoided the Salmon River during the salmon run but a certain friend will convince me to give it a try from time to time.  One time in the early fall of 2013, my buddy called and said “Let’s go up and give it a try, it can be a warm-up for steelhead.”  I guess that was convincing enough so I decided to make the trip. Since that first trip to the Sportsman’s Pool back in the 90s, I have learned that the river is quite long and has over ten miles of public water below the dam at the lower reservoir.  There are many spots to try and it’s possible to find a whole run to yourself during salmon season, even on a weekend.

   Another thing that deters me from spending time pacific salmon fishing on the Salmon River is the techniques I see used to fish.  I am by no means against putting a mild bit of weight on the leader to help the fly sink, but the amount of weight used by many fisherman is absurd.  Overuse of split-shot can lead to lost flies and monofilament on the river bottom.  Considering the amount of fisherman using excessive weight and consequently loosing gear in the Salmon River, its easy to imagine the accumulating waste on the river bed.  Although snagging salmon was banned in 1994, the Salmon River seems unable to escape the snagging culture.   I enjoy fly casting and Spey casting techniques to much to add excessive weight to the leader.  When I fish for steelhead I choose to use floating lines with sinking leader systems so nice casting loops are still possible.

Salmon River Chinook Salmon

    On one particular outing,  September 28th, 2013, my buddy and I were fishing up river in the upper fly fishing only section of the Salmon River.  It was in the afternoon,  after a morning of no hook-ups and it was a perfect fall day on the river.   I had decided to fish a bright fly that I had tied the night before.  We found a nice section of water and there were no other anglers around.  Afternoon on Sundays have become a good time for locals to fly fish as many anglers are heading home after the weekend.  In this particular area, we could see fish moving up through the fast water, which is a perfect behavior to target salmon with a fly rod.  I was fishing a 12 1/2 foot 8 weight spey-rod with a weight forward 9 weight spey line and a 3.9 inch per second sinking leader with 3 foot 12 pound tippet.  I positioned myself well upstream of what looked like the main area fish were moving through.  It was at the fast water tail-out of the pool and seemed to be about 2-3 feet deep.  The area I was targeting was about halfway across the river.  The river bent to the left below where I was standing. I stood far enough above the bend and the fish activity so I could get a nice slow swing and even get the fly to stop and dangle straight downstream into the seam the fish were moving through.

Silver, White, Flame,and Pink Wet fly that took a King Salmon on the dangle September 28th, 2013

   I made some casts and swung the fly through the tail-out; trying to keep the presentation slow by adding subtle mends and let the fly dangle in the current after the swing was completed.  After a few casts as the fly was dangling in the current,  the line went tight and I was hooked into something that grabbed the fly.  After an intense fight with some jumps and runs up and down the pool,  I was able to land a very dark but still healthy male Chinook Salmon.  I was pretty happy and knew I had learned something that day.  With a little patience to find a nice spot and thought towards presentation a King Salmon will aggressively hit a fly.

Fly Patterns Gear Philosophy

Grandpa’s Favorite Fly

Grandpa’s Favorite Fly    by Matt Chapple

September when the leaves start to fall

Each  year as the end of summer approaches, when the air temperatures start to drop and the first leaves start to flutter down into the water, fond memories of fly fishing in the Adirondack foothills rise from the back of my mind.   My first and of course most influential fly fishing mentor, Grandpa, loved to fly fish for brook and brown trout at many “off the beaten path” places in the Adirondack foothills.  He pursued the  solitude of nature as much as trout, and he was always willing to take me along. 

A simple fly box with some of Grandpa’s wet flies. The box was made from a cough drop box and some glue and felt.

September was his favorite time of year to fish. He loved the fall colors and brisk air temperatures and of course the lack of biting insects which swarm the woods in the spring.  He wasn’t in search of a place to catch big fish or even concerned about how many fish we might be lucky enough to entice into rising to the fly.  The fun was about the journey, about spending time in nature and spending a day with family or friends in a beautiful setting.  He had a simple fly rod, a Horrocks-Ibbotson, made in Utica, NY,  where he worked as an accountant. I still have this rod, which my father gave to me when my Grandfather passed in September 2004. It is a mere six feet long and if I had to categorize the action, I would say it casts extra slow.  You really have to wait for your cast to develop.  Things were simple.  He used a white  braided silk double taper fly line,  which I also still have.  Just like everything else, He had a simple collection of flies.  He had certain flies for certain times of year and specific patterns for the waters he fished.  He never brought more than one small fly box and the boxes where home-made using materials he found around the house.

Did you ever walk along the stream in the fall and see a honey bee, hornet, or bumble bee flying like it had been sipping on Grandpa’s flask?  Perhaps on a crash course for the stream.   Grandpa had one small box of flies devoted to the same pattern, which he always said was his favorite. He would bring this box along when we would  fish some of his favorite steams and ponds in the late summer/early autumn.  He called the flies “The McGinty.”

Photo by Quinci Chapple: Not the exact pattern, but Grandpa’s wet version of the McGinty.

I have read that a fellow named, Charles McGinty conceived the McGinty in 1883. McGinty was from Chicago and may have been thinking of targeting bass when he thought of this fly. Don’t be fooled however, I have seen many trout fooled by this bee imitation.  Next time you are out in the late summer or early fall,  try casting the McGinty along the rivers edge near the over hanging branches and plant life and see what comes up.  

Photos by Quinci Chapple

Original Recipe for “The McGinty”

Hook:  dry fly 6 to 12.

Thread:  Black 8/0 thread

Tail:  Red Hackle Barbules.

Body:  Alternating Yellow and Black Chenille.

Beard:  Brown Hackle Barbules.

Wing:  White Tipped Mallard Quill.











Conservation Philosophy Tips And Technique

Enlightening Experiences in Fly Fishing: A Brown in The Finger Lakes


      The Finger Lakes are a truly beautiful place to live and to enjoy fly-fishing.   The area is blessed with many majestic waterfalls, gorges and interesting rock formations and is also graced with a variety of migratory fish which enter the tributaries at various times of the year.  The diversity of tributaries in the Finger Lakes, each having unique beauty and many having a scenic waterfall a short distance from the lakes they feed, gives the fly fishing angler many choices for a day of fly fishing.

      One late fall day back in December of 2000 I made the decision to fish one of my favorites tributaries which was a short drive from my home. At the time I was experimenting with different streamer patterns that are intended to mimic small baitfish and had designed a few that had produced a fish or two.  While fishing the colder water of late fall I would usually put a bb sized split shot or two on the leader a few feet above the fly or use a sinking leader to help the fly sink. I was also experimenting with sinking leaders which I created from a full sinking line I had bought for lake fishing.  I cut the sinking line into different length pieces and put some braided loops on each end creating a variety of weighted sinking leaders. As with most fly anglers, I thought that I needed to get the fly down by using some weight to get the attention of a fish. On this trip, for some reason, I decided to fish a weight forward floating line and a monofilament leader without any added weight or sink tip.  Something told me to abandon the weight and see what happens.   

Quinci Chapple fishing a fly at Ithaca Falls

     This particular day was a fairly cold day with air temperatures around freezing.  As always when fishing for migratory fish,  I imagine I was hoping, what every fly angler hopes, that there were some fish in the stream and they were in a biting mood.   I parked in the small dirt parking lot on the south side of the stream and walked the short rocky trail which meanders just behind a large pipe that must have been part of the local water system at some point. Its always good to approach the stream and see a limited number of anglers, and on this day I was lucky to find I was the only one fishing the entire area possibly meaning any fish in the stream had not been pressured by other anglers.

     As a local angler of this particular stream for many years, I was acutely aware of changes to the stream bottom and changes to the details of the pools.  Being a short run below the falls this creek has very few pools, but the pool just above one of the two bridges below the falls is the easiest to fish due to the very IMG_0594short walk and the opportunity to stand on the stream side gravel to cast without stepping a foot into the water.  The pool has changed significantly since 2000 as a large amount of gravel has been washed down from above the falls during high water events. This gravel has filled in some of the great holding water that once existed at the tail-out of the pool, affectionately called the “Plumbers Pool” by many local anglers.  During the fall season of 2000, I remember the pool having a nice long deep tail-out on the north side along the beautiful shale cliff. This deep tail-out extended far past the eddies created by the cliff at the head of the pool.  The nice deep channel extended all the way under the bridge, so a nice long-line swinging style of presentation could be achieved and a streamer could swim nicely through the tail-out while standing at the head of the pool.

IMG_2385     My streamer experimentation had led me to a great book titled “Smelt Fly Patterns”  by Donald A. Wilson, a fly angler and guide from Maine.  The book contains numerous fly patterns to imitate baitfish, particularly smelt.  I had been tying various selections from the book, but the one that really caught my eye was named “The Supervisor.”  I had heard of this pattern before and was working on my own adaptation.  My nature leads me to use materials I have on hand, so I used the color scheme from the fly but instead of a feather wing pattern, the little streamer became a buck-tail version.

Bucktail streamer pattern influenced by the “supervisor”

    In addition to experimenting with streamers I was also interested in presenting the flies without a sink-tip or any added weight, also referred to as a “dry line” in wet fly fishing.  It definitely makes casting much more enjoyable and of course much easier.  On this day in December 2000, I  decided to fish a weight forward floating line and a simple tapered leader with 3 feet of tippet and then the buck-tail “Supervisor” hoping to entice a fish to move up the water column from it’s lie.


     I don’t remember exactly how long I was fishing that day before “it” happened but I will certainly never forget “it.”  I pulled out my journal while writing this article and it says the water on that day was 35 degrees Fahrenheit. A temperature, in the minds of most anglers, not conducive to a migratory fish moving to a fly.   There is nothing written in my journal about the water clarity, but I remember it being extremely clear. I was rolling out some casts over toward the cliff at an angle down towards the bridge while standing at the head of the pool and putting in some subtle mends in the fly line in order to counteract the main current in the center of the pool which was pushing out from the cliff. Using mends can help slow the fly down in order to let the fly swim across the current in a slower more deliberate manner.  On one of the casts the fly landed slightly above the line due to an underpowered cast.  The head of the fly was actually facing down stream when it landed on the water and due to the underpowered cast the fly paused and was suspended for a few seconds as the slack in the line was pulled by the center current. After the slack had been removed by the water’s current, a large downstream loop from the tip of my fly rod to the fly was created, in the shape of a giant letter U.  Eventually, the current began to pull the fly line and subsequently the fly downstream.  The fly traveled several feet with the head of the fly facing downstream and just as the fly began to turn so that the head of the fly was facing upstream a large fish rose up from the bottom to intercept the fly and it’s mouth opened and the fly disappeared. Similar to dry fly fishing I watched the fish rise and take the fly as it swam just below the surface.  At the moment the fish bit the fly and turned, I try to remember what an old fishing buddy, who has since passed,  once told me.  A little experienced voice in your head and a little mind trick that has proved valuable throughout my fly fishing experiences.  As the fish turns,  subtly say to yourself “Now I’ve got you.” before setting the hook.   That day has resonated with me ever since as a sort of an enlightenment.  An angler does not always have to be overly aggressive with the use of weight because with the right conditions, a certain attitude and an eager unpressured fish, amazing things can happen.

Finger Lakes brown taken on a bucktail Supervisor

     I was able to get a good hook set and to land the fish and take a quick photograph before release.  It was a beautiful girthy brown trout.  I try to be conscious of my impact on the places I fly-fish.   Both my Father and Grandfather taught me to respect the outdoors and strive to never leave anything behind except my own footprints.   This philosophy has also influenced the way I fish.  It is one of my goals to avoid loosing monofilament or flies in the river bed or surrounding areas.  I realize that it sometimes happens, however; by being aware an angler can help minimize these occurrences. One step towards this goal is to work from the “top down” and consider fishing without additional weight or sink tips before adding weight. You just might get the experience of a lifetime.