Categories
Fly Patterns Gear Philosophy Streams Tips And Technique

My Take on Salmon Fishing in the Salmon River, NY

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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 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 can 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 big fish in the river will also bring out hoards of fisherman.

   Years ago,  when I first started 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 on October 5th and I was pretty excited at the chance of hooking a salmon.  I was up early and was at the parking lot before light.  There were not many cars in the lot so that seemed encouraging.  I walked to the river and had the head of the pool to myself, but it was still too early to fish so I checked over my gear to pass the time .  As I waited more and more fisherman arrived at the pool.  By the time fishing was legal the place was elbow to elbow.  I never made a cast and decided to leave.  I drove 20 minutes or so to Taberg and went north as I decided to fish The East Branch of Fish Creek.  The pool I picked was void of fisherman but there were rising fish.  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 room to cast and some active fish.

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 friends 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 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 a lot of time salmon fishing 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 a little but the amount of weight used by many fisherman is absurd.  Overuse of split-shot can lead to lost flies and monofilament that ends up in the river which with the amount of fisherman can really add up.   I enjoy fly casting and Spey casting too much to make the cast labor in the least by adding shot. So for salmon and steelhead I choose to use floating lines with sinking leader systems so nice loops are still possible.

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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 the weather was perfect.  I had decided to fish a bright fly that I had just tied the night before.  We found a nice section of water and there were no other anglers around.  We could see fish moving up through the fast water.  I was fishing a 12 and 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 tail of the pool and seemed to be about 2-3 feet deep.  The area I was targeting was about halfway across the river but the river bent to the left so by standing far enough above I could get a nice slow swing and even get the fly to dangle straight downstream into the seam the fish were moving through.

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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; trying to keep the presentation slow and let the fly dangle in the current after the swing was completed.  On one of the casts during the dangle the line went tight.  I was hooked into something that hit the fly pretty hard as it dangled in the current.  After an intense fight with some jumps and drag testing runs 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 in finding a nice spot to fish and thought towards presentation a King Salmon will hit a fly.

 

 

Categories
Fly Patterns Gear Hatches Streams Tips And Technique

Time for Tricos

Time for Tricos
by Matt Chapple

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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.  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 sites of the year is looking up into the morning sun and seeing the a cloud of Tricos. 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, expect to see a hatch every morning until the first really hard frost.

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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 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 from sunrise to 9am depending on the weather. A really hot morning will cause an earlier emergence and colder weather will push it back towards noon. 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 hey must land to molt.   Some of them may take flight  with the  dun 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.  There will be countless dead and dying Tricos drifting on the surface , in the film or just below the surface.  It looks like the fish are taking nothing! They can feed on the dead spinners for quite a while after all the spinners have dropped.

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My Dad took this picture of me fishing the Trico hatch on the Oriskany years ago. You are likely to have the stream to yourself.

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 between rising fish and 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.

 

trico2Trico Hare Spinner

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

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
              Body
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.
Categories
Tips And Technique

Getting Ready for Spring

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Healthy hold over brown caught on 3/22/2015

Most of my winter fishing is focused on fishing for steelhead in the Salmon River.  My gear of choice for 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 around Ithaca and early season brown trout fishing on inland streams.  There are a number of streams open to all year fishing around Ithaca.   The places I fish for rainbows and browns may require 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.

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A couple outfits loaded with new lines, inspected and ready to fish

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.

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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.

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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 6X up to heavy stuff at 2X, 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.

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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.  If I see some of my favorites are a little low in quantity I may go to the vice and tie a few.

Although there are many places to fish all year, some of my favorite spots to fish on opening day over the years have been Sauquoit Creek, Oriskany Creek, and down in Ithaca, The Cayuga Inlet.

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

 

Categories
Conservation Philosophy Tips And Technique

Enlightening Experiences in Fly Fishing: A Brown on Fall Creek

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      Ithaca is truly a beautiful place to live.  It is at the south end of Cayuga Lake,  one of the gorgeous Finger Lakes. The area is blessed with many majestic waterfalls, gorges and interesting rock formations .  One of the biggest tributaries is Fall Creek which has a scenic waterfall less than one mile from its mouth near Stewart Park.  Another unique feature of Fall Creek is that the falls is within the city limits so getting to a pub, restaurant or sandwich shop is not a big trip.

      One late fall day back on December 1st, 2000 I made the decision to go into the city of Ithaca and fish Fall Creek below Ithaca Falls. At the time I was experimenting with different streamer patterns to mimic the baitfish in the lake (smelt and alewives) and had designed a few that had produced a fish or two. I was fishing an 8 or 9 foot 5 weight rod at the time and a weight forward floating line.  Sometimes I would put a bb shot or two on the leader or use a sinking leader.  At the time, I was making sinking leaders from a full sinking line I had bought.  I would just cut it into different length pieces and put some braided loops on each end.  I had it in my head that I needed to get the fly down by using some weight to get the attention of a fish.

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Quinci Chapple fishing a fly at Ithaca Falls

     This particular day was a fairly cold day.  It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember what I was thinking on the drive over to the stream, but I imagine I was hoping there were some fish in the stream and that they were in a biting mood.  You know, what every angler hopes.  I  like to park in the small dirt lot just on the south side of the stream and take the short rocky trail which meanders just behind a large pipe that must have been part of the Ithaca water system at some point.  Be careful walking down this way, although it’s fun, a fall on some of those rocks would surely hurt a bit.

     As a local angler of this stream for quite a few years, I am acutely aware of changes to the stream bottom and changes to the pools.  Being a short run below the falls, Fall Creek has very few pools, but the one by the bridge on Lake Street is the easiest to fish and is a very IMG_0594short walk.  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 at the Lake Street bridge, affectionately called the “Plumbers Pool” by many local anglers.  During the fall/winter season of 2000, I remember the pool having a nice long deep tail-out on the north side along the cliff which extended far past the eddie 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.

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 called “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. So, I took the color scheme from the fly but instead used materials I had on hand, thus the streamer became a buck-tail version.

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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.  It definitely makes casting much more enjoyable and of course much easier.  On this day in December 2000, I was fishing an 8 foot 5 weight rod with a weight forward floating line and a simple tapered leader with 3 foot of tippet and then the buck-tail “Supervisor.”

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     I don’t remember exactly how long I was fishing that day before “it” happened, but hopefully , I will never forget “it”.  I pulled out my journal while writing this article and it says the water on that day was 35 degrees F.  There is nothing written about the water clarity, but I remember it being very clear. I was rolling out some casts over toward the cliff at an angle down towards the bridge and putting in some subtle mends upstream in order to counteract the main current push in the center of the pool; trying to slow the fly down in order to let the fly swim across the current from right to left.  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 steam. The current began to pull the fly line and subsequently the fly downstream and the fly began to turn so that the head of the fly was upstream.  As it was turning,  a fish rose up from the bottom to intercept the fly.  I saw the entire take happen before my eyes,  it was similar to dry fly fishing.  I was excited about seeing such a cool take of the fly.  This take has resinated with me ever since as a sort of enlightenment.  An angler does not have to be overly aggressive with the use of weight because with the right conditions, a certain attitude and an eager fish amazing things can happen.

 

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Finger Lakes brown taken on a bucktail Supervisor

     I was able to land this fish and take a quick photograph before release.  It was a beautiful girthy brown trout.  I have always been conscious of my impact on the entire ecosystem in which the gorgeous creatures I pursue live.  Both my Father and Grandfather taught me to respect the outdoors and strive to never leave anything behind except footprints.   This mantra 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 this sometimes happens, however; by being aware and by practicing certain techniques an angler can help minimize the 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.

Categories
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.

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One of my all time favorites to swing, Olive bead head wet.