The Finger Lakes are a truly beautiful place to live and to fly-fish. The area is blessed with many majestic waterfalls, gorges and interesting rock formations. One of the biggest tributaries in the Finger Lakes 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 (smelt and alewives) and had designed a few that had produced a fish or two. On this trip I decided to fish a 9 foot 5 weight rod and a weight forward floating line. Sometimes I would put a bb shot or two on the leader or use a sinking leader to help the fly sink. I was also experimenting sinking leaders from a full sinking line I had bought. I would cut the sinking line 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.
This particular day was a fairly cold day with air temperatures around freezing. 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, what every fly angler hopes, that there were some fish in the stream that were in a biting mood. 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. I’ve always been careful walking down this way, although it’s fun, a fall on some of those rocks could surely do some damage.
As a local angler of this stream for quite a few years, I was 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 due to the very short walk and the ability to stand on the stream side gravel to cast. 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. This deep tail-out 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.
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.
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 was fishing an 9 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.”
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 in my journal 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 in the center of the pool. Using mends can help slow the fly down in order to let the fly swim across the current. 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. 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 event happen before my eyes similar to dry fly fishing. I was excited about seeing such a cool take of the fly. This take has resonated 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.
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 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 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.