Sunday, November 10, 2013

5D5R5GL: Steelhead Alley is Stupid

It was the 2013 Rustbelt Drake Bake (invitation only). Being that it was held at Elk Creek Campground we opted to fish right there on Saturday. 

Alex live blogging from the shack

I awoke to a less than perfect world Saturday, but after a couple cups of strong coffee and a peanut butter, jelly and smoked provolone sandwich I wadered up and took a peek over the bank. Two guys were hooked up on fish. I wandered down to the access and a herd of anglers stood at The Wall elbow to elbow like soldiers in their jack-booted waders fishing in lock-step. The guy on the end was fighting a good steelhead. The running joke is that the proper way to release a fish is to kick it out onto the bank, stand on it to remove your hook, then kick it in the head back into the river. 

The Spey gang at work

This is industrial fishing at its finest. The Lake Erie states crank out millions of steelhead smolts which are not so much fish as say hot dogs or Twinkies, mass produced, quality controlled, pre-packaged and then sold at a profit. "Come to Steelhead Alley and catch a steelhead" say the brochures. The average working stiff here is going to be pissed off if he drives an hour and a half from Pittsburgh or wherever the hell be came from if he doesn't catch a fish. He paid for it after all. 

My girl

It was tough to find a spot in the herd to wedge myself into so I decided to do what I do at home when the going gets tough and pick the river apart, finding the micro spots that just might hold a fish.   I found a small run with a deeper seam and no one fishing it. I set up at the top intending to work through it but some old dude came and parked right at the prime spot below me in the center of the run where the water starts to slow. Then some other guy flanked me on the right. I did the only thing I could think of and low-holed Old Dude. I was probably the jerk here. It was probably Old Dude's name carved into the tree on the bank. 

One of Nick's fish

I wandered back up past The Wall (two people hooked up), past the next prime lie (likewise two people hooked up) and fished the crud above that. Our crew included a large contingent of gang-banger Spey casters who managed to wedge themselves into the prime run below the tubes. It was a combat fishing maneuver, artfully done, beautiful in execution, until they had carved out enough real estate to accommodate a half dozen Spey casters and they just kept rotating through. 

Mike the cook with a good fish

It was mesmerizing to watch these guys punch out cast after effortless cast. Guys like Rick Harrington or Nick Pionessa make it look easy but I'm not fooled. I had wanted to put on my Skagit head and cast a little, but I'd rather thrash around in private. This is foolish vanity on my part as I probably could have gotten a free lesson out of Rick. 

Gang-banger hooked up

About halfway through the afternoon I was fishing the No Man's Water in between the Spey gang and Bait Platoon Bravo when my indicator dipped under and I was into a four pound hen. I landed her quietly, removed the hook without taking her out of the water, snapped two photos and let her swim away. I hooked up three more times including a much larger fish that rooster tailed my line before coming unpinned. 

Another good buck

The Spey guys seemed to hook up a couple of times an hour and every fish was greeted by a gang of guys with cameras snapping. They were a good bunch, and I've never fished with so many truly good anglers at the same time. It was like attending a beat poetry jam in which everyone got a turn at the mic, each had his own style, each giving a fascinating performance. 

I was in my bunk sleeping before 9 and slept like a stone. I awoke at first light to a howling gale and went to the cook shack in search of coffee. Alex rolled out shortly after and we went to look at the river. If anything there was already more guys jostling in the river than yesterday. I'm not complaining, it's not any different than what you'd see at Tippy on any given weekend. But there's a reason I don't fish Tippy. Alex and I looked at each other and got into the car. We're driving home now and we're not disappointed. We have achieved our goal.

5 days, 5 rivers, 5 Great Lakes.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

5D5R5GL: Shock and Awe

The Niagara River does not flow so much as boil. It is an immense river , a seething cauldron of angry green water. It flows through a limestone canyon and the water next to shore is 180 feet deep. Fishing it is a powerful experience. 

 Word at the fly shop was that the steelhead were there but that it was slammed with lakers.  Alex continued to swing and I chose to indie fish.  The fish were feeding on emerald shiners killed when they went through the dam. Every couple of minutes a giant fish explodes on the surface taking dead and crippled bait as they float by. 

We both caught our first lakers on the fly. It was pretty cool. I never saw the first fish I hooked up on. It turned and ran downstream taking my fly line and half the backing. I chased it quite a distance until my line went limp. The broken line was badly frayed.

There was a steep learning curve to this water. One moment the water in front of you can be calm as a farm pond, the next it will become a raging eddy flowing upstream. I had my float change directions 4 times in a single cast. It kept me mending constantly. 

We had a good time. We caught several more fish. I lost a bunch when they would dive down the steep walls of the canyon, raking my line across the sharp rocks. My switch rod was magic for mending and reaching out past the drop off. 

Our Lake Ontario trib is now in the bag. It felt oddly familar to be there. Then I realized I was fishing all of my home waters at the same time. 

By the Numbers

Miles driven- 1268

$ spent at fly shops- $179.38

Weight in pounds of the big laker that broke me off- 47

Cost of a one day NY license- $15

Lakers fought- 14

Lakers landed- 5

Fly shops visited- 3

Great Lakes tribs left to fish to complete our quest- 1

5D5R5GL: No Sleep Till Buffalo

I still haven't resolved the formatting issues as a result if using the Blogger app. If this post looks funny on your computer try reading it on your smart phone or other mobile device. 

Another day another 5 hours of sleep. I'm going to have to go home just to get some rest. I met artist Richard C. Harrington last night and we talked at length. He talks like a soul-surfer except everything he says makes complete sense. I think I found a guru. He's invited me to his compound as long as I give him my fly rods, you know, for the Foundation. He reminds me of Obi-wan Kenobe only more enigmatic. 

We stayed at some campground in PA that had been overrun by guys who are on The Drake forum and everyone introduced themselves by their forum handle which means I felt pretty out of place since I'm not on the forum. I met Chrome1, HamrHed, Mouthbrthr, and MlyLuvr whatever that means. In person they were guys from New York and North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. I don't think there was a bad guy in the bunch. 

I also met Dave Hosler of the Pile Cast blog and Matt Dunn of Fishbeer so the blogger community was well represented. 

We're off to fish the Niagara River since all the other rivers are blown to hell and gone. Hopefully today will bring some fish. 

Tonight I'm going to get some sleep if it's the last thing I do. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

5 Days 5 Rivers 5 Great Lakes: Getting Up To Speed

I'm still trying to figure out the blogger app and I'm finding it formats posts for mobile devices but in the web version the pics are too big. If you are able use  a phone or other mobile device to read this. The FR IT department has been fired. 

The concept was all Alex Cerveniak's. We were supposed to head down to Steelhead Alley and meet up with some friends there and fish for lake run browns and steelhead. We decided to take it a step further. We are going to fish at least one tributary connecting to each of the five Great Lakes, starting in Michigan's UP and working our way south. We're driving to PA as I write this, the music is thumping and I've just discovered the tech miracle called the Blogger app. Fontinalis Rising will never be the same. 

We started yesterday, hitting the Carp River (Lake Huron) and then The Two-Hearted (Lake Superior). It has been raining almost continuously for three weeks so all the water is high and stained.   All of the tribs have fish now so it's a matter of picking your poison. 

We gave the Carp river a token effort before heading north. We followed Alex' map app and I'm surprised we didn't drive into a lake somewhere. We ended up driving over 50 miles down roads the consistency of oatmeal. When we got down to the mouth the wind was blowing a steady forty miles an hour with monstrous waves crashing on the beach. 
Standing on the Two Hearted River, drinking a Two Hearted ale while reading Hemingway's The Big Two-Hearted River. Angels sang. 

We retreated from there to the more sheltered area of Reed&Green bridge. It was fishable but high and the color of strong coffee. Alex is on a mission to catch a fish on the swing. My mission is just to catch a fish. Alex is pumped because he actually got a coho to eat. It was good enough to release itself before Alex got salmon stank on his hands.  Cohos were rolling everywhere, but with such dark water it was tough sledding. 

Thanks to some foresight and a crock pot we came home to a hot meal. Then we bugged out to hang out and tie flies with Zach Ginop and Tom Menas near Boyne City. 

Which brings me to today. After more than an inch of rain every river in the state is blown so we decided to go hit the tailwater section of the Boardman (Lake Michigan). Tom of course caught three browns indie fishing before we even got rigged up. I just bought a switch kit for my TFO rod, which is blowing my mind just a little. It is a beast master now. I bought it to help my indie game, but Alex sold me a Skagit head cheap out of the back of his van and Tom gave me an impromptu casting lesson. Now there's a new siren song calling me to a different set of rocks. 

So we are en route to PA , the music is thumping and we're armed and dangerous. We're going to go see if Erie PA is big enough for the both of us.

By The Numbers

Miles driven- 676

Pounds of gear in the car 237

$ spent at fly shops- $78

Puddles Alex made me wade through in the rain to make sure the car could make it- 11

Fly shops visited- 2

Elton John songs belted out on the Boardman- 1

Monday, November 4, 2013

I Look Like Hell, and it's Alex Cerveniak's Fault

"We need to grow beards for this trip" said the text.

"I already have a beard" I replied.

"Then you can't shave until our trip is over, or it's bad luck."

Damn you Alex Cerveniak. I was already looking scruffy and standing at my sink getting ready to shave when this series of texts came nearly two weeks ago. I've been wearing a goatee for the last two winters, but my cheeks don't fill in, and now I just look kind of shabby.

I've never believed in luck, good or bad. I once saw Al Lindner on his show say that every week he has two really good days, two really bad days, and the rest are in the middle. For me "luck" has always been mitigated by persistence. If I just keep going things are bound to fall into place sooner or later, and sometimes they do, in spades.

I haven't been particularly lucky this year, but I haven't been particularly persistent either. I've worked too much, fished a lot of bad weather (the kind that puts down the particular fishing I'm doing) and otherwise tossed away some good opportunities. I've also gone fishing something like 85 days so far this year and so I've managed to catch some very nice fish.

I don't believe in bad luck, but Alex sure does. "Don't bring a net" he says, "it's bad luck."

"You can't shave before this trip, it's bad luck."

I won't share with you his last nugget of bad luck advice I got, but it involves my love life. Nuff said.

All this luck stuff is starting to get quite a bit personal and intrusive. I think there's other ways to guarantee bad luck, or maybe just poor success.

Things like being hung over. Or being a bad caster. Being unprepared ("You brought 15 flies for a 5 day trip???) But the impact of the state of my personal hair growth, or the affections of my significant other on my fishing really eludes me.

I think there's a more telling text thread between me and Alex which will define the status of luck between us.

Alex- "Are you bringing your chuck n duck rod?"

Me- "Maybe"

Alex- "Bring it. I'm swinging this entire trip, but we need some pictures of fish."

I'm leaving with Alex Wednesday November 6 on a 5 day odyssey to catch steelhead out of tributaries feeding each of the 5 Great Lakes. I'll do my best to share a post or two, or you can follow along.

Alex will be posting to his blog Chuck n Duck on The Drake website.

Be sure and check out his first post.