Friday, September 12, 2014

Minnows on Streamers

By Spider Rybaak

Average Fall Fish
Swinging streamers through the current is an easy and exciting way to fish for salmonids. In fact, it’s so productive, a significant number of anglers working the fly fishing, catch and release section on the Salmon River Spey cast for kings and cohos right now, and for steelhead from next month through spring.

Developed in the Spey River region of Scotland, the technique involves casting flies for long distances with just two moves of the wrist. Done properly, the line slices through the air so precisely, casual spectators walk away thinking the angler is highly skilled in a mysterious form of fly casting.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While some practitioners think they’re the greatest thing since dyed wool, more realistic types know better; even describing their specialty as nothing more than glorified roll casting.

Indeed, you don’t even have to whip your rod back and forth to get the line out. Just drop the fly into the fast water and strip line out in time with the current, stopping when you feel there’s enough out to reacg the other side. As the streamer hits the end of the run, pinch the line against the rod with your index finger and whip it into the air with a powerful backhand motion. As the streamer flies past you, try to predict when it’s just upstream of your knee (the anchor point), flick your wrist so it faces the opposite shore and whip the line toward the other bank. When it lands, let the fast water straighten it out and swing the fly through the current while you hold the line in your fingers and follow it across the run with your rod tip.

When the fly reaches the end of the run and starts straightening out, brace yourself: the hesitation and change of direction spur a the majority of strikes—as much as 90% of ‘em. Always violent, the hit has spawned Spey’s most popular cliché: “The drug is in the tug.”

With a little practice, you’ll be able to cast your streamer 30 feet and more, with a couple flicks of the wrist. And that’s good if you’d rather fish than cast, your joints are wearing out, or you got arthritis.

While a 14-foot Spey rod and special line will enable you to reach distances approaching 100 feet, in most cases you don’t need to cast that far. Hell, often times you couldn’t even if you wanted to: from spring through fall, every yard on the Salmon River is precious and finding a productive, unoccupied 100-foot stretch all to yourself is wishful thinking. So, a regular 8-weight fly rod with a butt section (using both hands helps to reach the greatest distances) and a high capacity reel loaded with an 8-weight line or better, will do until you decide you like it and want to invest in the real equipment.

Perfecting your Spey casting skills in Oswego County is about as easy and exciting as it gets. While the lower Salmon and Oswego Rivers are getting too crowded right now, the Salmon’s upper branches (including the mouth of the discharge at Bennetts Bridge), the Mad River, and skinny streams like Scriba, Black and West Branch Fish Creek offer a lot of wide open rapids.

Equally important, all but the Oswego are loaded with fallfish (the Oswego has smallmouths), the most cooperative critters in fast water.

Decked out in large scales that shine like proof silver, the fallfish is America’s largest native minnow east of the Rocky Mountains. Averaging about 6 inches, specimens reaching over 20 inches have been reported. As eager to take a nymph as a streamer, a worm as a minnow, they’ve disappointed countless anglers who thought they were fighting a nice trout.

However, sensitive fly fishermen don’t hold it against them too long, and usually walk away from the encounters respecting the little guys for their violent strikes and spirited fighting abilities.

Some call ‘em chubs, others say they’re shiners. Most don’t know what they are…and don’t care.
But one thing’s for sure, they’re an integral part of America’s Northeastern streams. Most everyone who swings streamers through the waters pouring out of the Tug Hill Plateau has caught ‘em, and many are delighted they’re around because they can save the day when the trout have lock jaw.

While they’re a little strong for the delicate human palate, they’re the preferred item on a big trout’s menu.  And that’s good for trout lovers.

Large fallfish like this 15 incher are common; 20-something inchers are possible.
Fallfish hit streamers almost half their size.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bug Time

By Spider Rybaak

Bass bugs and poppers
Summer’s end shifts life into overdrive. It’s now or never for seasonal plants and animals, including insects. And while big, creepy, crawling things are enough to keep average folks away from unsprayed waterfront, bass, and the guys who chase ‘em, head for the bank.

You see, September’s nights are longer and cooler than July’s and August’s, stirring comfortable temperatures into the shallows, luring the game fish that split for the deep to escape summer’s heat. Back in their old turf, it doesn’t take long for them to resume feeding on the menu of delights that falls into the drink from the grass, bushes, and branches lining shore.

The commotion that a crawling or flying terrestrial insect makes in its struggle to stay afloat is like a dinner bell. The louder and sloppier it is, the more it excites the emotions of the pillars of the aquatic community living below. Indeed, a splash that would have spooked a hawg bass a couple weeks ago now draws him in to investigate. And if the source of the racket is winged, or hairy with legs hanging all over the place, the game fish will suck it in like an hors d’oeuvre.

While some of the terrestrial animals which large game fish find tasty are pretty big (snakes, young waterfowl, baby muskrats come to mind), the vast majority are much smaller, ranging in size from a yellow jacket to a mouse. Over the years, a class of lures has been developed to imitate hapless terrestrials trapped in the drink: poppers.

They come in two styles: deer-hair- and cork-bodied.

The former is generally made of bucktail shaped to resemble anything from crayfish and sunfish to mice. Cork-bodied varieties are about the size and shape of the bottom of a Hi-liter in the front, with the body tapering towards the back, ending in a tail of feathers. Both have flat faces so they gurgle and spit when retrieved; cork models have rubber legs protruding enticingly from the sides.

Poppers range from over an ounce to 1/32 oz.--even smaller.  Those running from 1/16 oz and less are too light to be cast with conventional fishing equipment. They’re designed to be worked with fly-fishing tackle.
Poppers are worked by retrieving the line in short (six inches to a foot), sharp jerks, stopping for a second or two every now and then to set their little legs in motion, giving reluctant followers a chance to change their minds.

Fishing with poppers is a very visual experience. Imagine jerking a spitting object over the surface. Suddenly, a swell appears behind the bug, followed by a mouth the size of a toy steam shovel sucking in the offering. Some fish are so enthusiastic, they jump clear out of the water when they hit, practically pulling the rod out of your hands.

Fly-fishing with large bass bugs requires a heavy line (at least 9 wt.) to carry the wind-resistant lure through the air. A classy Hardy fly- rod in excess of 8-feet long, with a matching Hardy fly-reel loaded with a Profile floating fly  line makes long distance casting possible.

Good spots to wade and fly-fish with bugs include Oneida Lake’s Phillips Point (Three Mile Bay/Big Bay Wildlife Management Area), Fulton’s Lake Neahtahwanta, and the pool at the mouth of Deer Creek (Deer Creek Wildlife Management Area). If you have a boat, Sandy Pond, the Salmon River estuary and any shallow, weedy area on Oneida Lake will lead to your fishing satisfaction.

Bass bugs and poppers are available at all bait shops, mail order houses like Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, and major dot.coms like Amazon.

Fat rock bass taken at Hoad Harbor; note the popper's legs protruding from its gill plate
Hawg bucketmouth taken at Phillips Point, Oneida Lake
Pickerel taken at Cleveland Docks, Cleveland