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 Hatches Streams Tips And Technique

Time for Tricos

Time for Tricos
by Matt Chapple

A pair of Cedar Waxwings enjoy a meal of Tricos too

There are many small streams in Central New York, like the Oriskany Creek that produce excellent hatches of the Tricorythodes or tiny white and black mayfly. The Tricos start to emerge sometime in July when the summer starts to heat up.  Look for them as a swarm-cloud over the  riffles of the stream, which indicates a strong population.  They exist in good numbers  in streams with some silt.  One of the most beautiful sights of the year is looking up into the morning sun and seeing a cloud of Tricos performing a mating dance over the water. Though they are incredibly small, ranging from size 20 to 26, these tiny mayflies can provide some of the most exciting action of the year. The hatch is usually very reliable. Once the first hatch starts sometime in July, hatches usually occur every morning until the first really hard frost.

The Oriskany Creek low and clear, but a nice 62 F during Trico Hatch.

Male Tricos, which have an entirely  black/dark brown body, emerge overnight and take refuge in the streamside trees and vegetation until the emergence of the female duns.  Females have a white abdomen and a black thorax. Emergence of the female duns will occur in the morning anytime from sunrise to 9am depending on the weather. A really hot morning will cause an earlier emergence and colder weather will push the hatch later. From sunrise to emergence fishing a sunken fly is possible, and during the emergence you may elicit some strikes with a dry fly/surface presentation, but the best action comes when the Tricos molt and mate.  Some publications have stated that Tricos duns molt into spinners in the air.  It is thought now that they must land to molt.   Some of them may take flight  with the partially molted exoskeleton still attached to the tails. This may give the illusion that the spinners are molting in the air.  The spinner fall will happen in a relatively short period of time, sometime from 9am-12pm.  After the adults mate and die, there will be countless dead and dying Tricos drifting on the surface of the water , in the film or just below the surface.  Because the Tricos are so small,  it can look to the un-aware that the fish are rising to nothing! They can feed on the dead spinners for quite a while after all the spinners have dropped as they drift downstream.

A stealth approach is critical to success on smaller central New York streams. The water will most likely be very low and clear. Casting accuracy is also important.  Fish spook very easily in the low clear water of summer. The best tackle to use for these small central New York streams is a 3 or 4 weight 7 to 9 foot rod, which will help with a delicate presentation.   Cast well above rising fish 10-15 feet if possible in slower water.  The stealth  of the cast is not as critical if fish are taking spinners in more choppy water of a riffle or head of a pool.   Use 7X or 8X tippet, and a leader of at least 10-foot to aid in the stealth of your presentation.

One my favorite flies to fish the trico hatch has been the Trico Hare spinner or dun. It is easy to tie and is very suggestive to trout.

Trico Hare Spinner Tying Specifications

Trico Hare Spinner
Hook #20-#22 dry fly(I like straight eye hooks so I have room to thread the tippet)
Thread White 8/0
Tail Snowshoe Hare Foot under-hair
Abdomen White thread
Thorax Black Beaver Dubbing
Wing Snowshoe Hare Foot under-hair tied flat (spent wings) or upright like a comparadun also works.
 Don’t let the hot summer days put an end to your trout fishing. Get out in the morning and challenge the trout and yourself  with a Trico imitation. Both the Oriskany Creek and Sauquoit Creek in central New York produce good hatches of Tricos.
Tips And Technique

Getting Ready for Spring

Healthy hold over brown caught on 3/22/2015

Most of my winter fishing is focused on fishing for steelhead in the Salmon River and other Lake Erie and Lake Ontario tributaries.  My gear of choice for Salmon River steelhead consists of spey rods,  floating lines, sinking leaders, heavy tippet and bigger,  sometimes colorful flies.  As spring approaches, in addition to steelhead,  I start to think about lake-run rainbows throughout the Finger Lakes and early season brown trout fishing on inland trout streams.     The places I fish for rainbows and browns requires a different approach, as I move to swinging and dead-drifting smaller patterns much of the time, but may still swing a streamer. This  means I will  look over my gear and flies before the spring  season starts to take off and make sure I am ready.

 A Couple Outfits Loaded for Fishing

I will look over rods for damage, such as a loose guide or reel-seat.   I usually put together a few outfits and put them in a case for easy access.  Although I always bring extras in the car, a long hike to a stream to discover a broken rod would be a bummer.

I always look at lines for cracks.  Casting with cracks in the line will not only effect performance but it can also damage the guides.  The roughness of the cracks in the line can wear grooves in the metal of the guides.  Cleaning and treating  the lines is also a good idea, as it makes casting so much easier.


I like to take out the reels I am going to use and see if they are in good working order.  I may even clean and oil them if I don’t remember doing any  recent maintenance on them.


I fish various sizes of streams in the spring and the water clarity will vary depending on snowmelt and rainfall.  I like to have a good supply of tippet material in various diameters.  I check to make sure I have everything from 4 pound test up to heavy stuff at 12 pound test.  You never know when you might encounter fish feeding on the surface in clear water, which requires a light tippet,  or a heavy rain may swell and discolor the water and heavy tippet is the order of the day.  Also something to think about is the age of the tippet.  Old tippet can become weak.  I always store extra tippet in a cool dry place and protect it from prolonged exposure to light.

Bead Head Wet Flies are among my favorites to fish in the spring

I have favorite early season flies I use for certain waters,  so I will look through my fly boxes and do a visual inventory.  If I see one that is worn or scabby looking I may get rid of it or refurbish the hook and tie a new fly on it.  If I see some of my favorites are a little low in quantity I may go to the vice and tie a few.

This Pheasant Tail Bead Head Wet with long partridge fibers took my first inland brown trout of 2015 on 3/22.
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.

Tips And Technique

Winter Trout Fishing, Don’t Ignore the Swing

Bright December Rainbow
Bright December Rainbow Taken on a swinging wet fly

December is one of my favorite times to fish the tributaries of Cayuga Lake and all year trout streams in the Ithaca area .  There are not as many anglers as when it is warm or as the spring, when it may be a bit overwhelming. When I fish December,  I usually start out swinging streamers or wet flies, before I move to dead drifting flies.  I’ve had some really great experiences in the winter catching big browns and rainbows on a swinging fly in the tributaries, which is easily the most satisfying way to catch any fish.  

There are many ways present a swinging a fly.  One simple set-up I use consists of a  10 or 11 foot  7 weight rod, an 8/9 weight floating weight forward line,  a 9 foot tapered monofilament leader,  a 3 foot tippet and a weighted or bead head fly.  I always try to use a tippet of 8 pound maxima or greater which helps absorb the shock of an aggressive take and helps fight a big fish quickly.  One presentation that has been effective, is to cast across or just slightly upstream keeping in mind the down stream spot you want the fly to swim the fly through.   As the line drifts down stream put some  subtle mends in the line allowing the fly to sink and keeping the fly line relatively straight(remove bows in the line).  As the line moves downstream follow the line with the tip of the rod.  When the line gets to about a 45 degree angle downstream of you, gently tighten and cease mending the line and let the fly swim across the stream.  fish will often take the fly as it first starts to move across the current.   Try to envision the fly under water while also watching the fly line so you can swim the fly through areas where you predict fish to be holding.  When they take using this technique there will be no doubt its a fish.