Tag Archives: Canandaigua Lake

THANKFULLY MY ALTER-EGO FISHES TOO

I met Mike this past winter at a fly-tying event he organizes, called Guys, Flies & Pies. We discovered a mutual affinity for bass, and made loose plans for getting out when the weather warmed. Those loose plans finally took shape earlier this week as we headed to the West River with a pair of kayaks tied down and jutting, snaggletooth from the bed of my truck.

Now, it should be said that Mike is a very accomplished and avid fly fisherman. Bass, salmon, pike, browns, rainbows, steelies. Accomplished. But Mike had never fished out of a kayak. Hell, he’d never been in a kayak other than possibly testing entry and exit from the relative safety of his yard. And he’d made more than a few jokes in the days leading up to the trip and on the drive there about flipping, swimming, taking a dive and so on. So on this evening of planned bass-chasing, I hoped that we wouldn’t need to spend half of our daylight finding his balance and practicing paddling strokes, or worse, fishing him out of the drink.

Whatever. Mike got in, squared himself and his gear away and headed for open water like a champ. That was that.

We paddled about 150 yards up river before nosing the kayaks into the weed beds that occupy all but the 30 yard wide channel in the middle of the 80 yard wide river. Casting a big-ass popper out along the front edge of the weed bed, it didn’t take long before the surface exploded and I landed my first fat bass. The second, about three casts later, was an even better fish, but I had a hard time being excited. I needed Mike to get on the board.

#2

Then suddenly there was a good splash, a whoop and Mike was on the favorable end of a tight line. I took some video while he tangled with his first kayak bass. While I was checking the footage on my camera after he released the fish, he hooked up with number two. It was at that point, Mike decided to remind me of the score.

Nice. All even at two a piece now, he grinned.

I went from the hopeful, conciliatory home-water host to alpha-dog looking to mark his territory. Not quite Jekyll and Hyde, but my hyper fish-hard-or-die alter ego was reaching for the rod.

Before we were finally chased off the water by mosquitos, darkness and a big, angry beaver, I managed to catch the kicker-fish to break the tie. But to be completely honest, I’m still happier about Mike earning a couple more notches on his “accomplished” belt on my home water, and look forward to notching a few of my own on his.

Check out the video. Full-screen.

Music props to A Tribe Called Quest. 

14 Comments

Filed under On the water

THERE’S ALWAYS TIME FOR ONE MORE

The plan was to paddle our kayaks into the West River for bass. Jason and I made the same trip last year and have fished a handful of times in the past, including our practically-epic smelt trip. The last time Dave and I had fished together though, we were 10 or 12 years old. We had ridden our 10-speeds to Holiday Harbor and traipsed the muddy trail through some woods to fish for bass from a shale beach-point on the north end of Canandaigua Lake.

Dave and I were cousins by friendship. Our moms were simultaneously-pregnant kindred-spirits. Dave’s older brother Phil and I were actually the ones born in consecutive summer months, but we all grew up together. Some 26 years after our last time on the water, here we’re both married with kids and homes and jobs and other grown-up obligations, fishing the opposite end of the same lake from kayaks instead of shore, and still chasing the same quarry. It’s crazy how much life goes on in almost three decades, but how little things actually change.

By mid-summer this end of the lake is thick with lilly-pads and milfoil making it difficult to fish, even more so out of a kayak with a fly rod. This year however, a record rain-filled spring had awarded us with a couple extra feet of water which held the weeds to much smaller surface-clogging amounts.

Manageable weeds. Blue sky. Early-evening 70-degree temps. A few cold beers stashed behind the kayak seat for later. We shoved off to meet our piscine destiny.

Under the watchful eye of an American Bald Eagle, one of a few nesting pairs in the area, we paddled from the lake into the river–Jason and Dave with spinning rigs and me with my trusty 5 wt. It took us about half an hour to figure out what was getting the fish to look up. We traded bright top-water patterns for dark and the water instantly turned electric…well, for Dave and I anyhow. Every cast, every pop-strip and retrieve had the hair on the back of my neck standing like a jumpy kid watching the first Friday the 13th, waiting for Jason Voorhees to jump out of the water with a machete.

The Jason who was out with us, however, was a little slow out of the gate. So, he headed for another good-looking stretch of water back around a bend and promptly started sending texts with pictures of his catches.

“Should we head over that way?” Dave asked.
“Let’s get one more cast in here, they’re all over us.” I replied.

So Dave cast again and immediately hooked up. I elected to save my cast and get his battle on video. After a successful release and about a dozen more casts each, we paddled off to locate Jason.

Later, over a few dozen wings from Wally’s and the requisite beers to wash them down, Dave and I got talking about his dad, or Uncle Phil as I always knew him. He had passed away a bunch of years back now, and we reminisced about the funny stuff that stuck with us about him. I didn’t say it then, but I miss Uncle Phil. And I know his boys do too. Our laughs wound down to a short silence, then Dave said, “You know, one thing he always use to say is I‘ve always got time for one more.
“Always,” I said. “That’s how you got that last nice fish. One more cast.”
“Yea, that was a good call, bro.”

The bartender stopped in front of us, nodding at our chicken-wing-boneyard and empty beer mugs, “You want another one?”

Without missing a beat, Dave smiled, “Always got time for one more.”

Music credit: Etta Baker with Taj Mahal (Poem & Cripple Creek)

10 Comments

Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water

IN PRAISE OF SMELT

Smelt are the great equalizer. It doesn’t rightly matter if you’re rich or redneck or a combination of the two, when they’re running, folks from all walks of life gather streamside in the dark of night in hip boots or chest waders or knee-high wellingtons, holding Coleman lanterns, dip-nets and dreams of a mess of fish filling their buckets and, eventually, their frying pans and/or ziplock bait bags.

As people show up, they ask each other questions like “they up yet?” and “getting into ’em at all?” and “been anyplace else?” Between walks upstream, they talk about the days when they, or their fathers, were young men and how they used to fill a five-gallon bucket in one pass. They invoke the names of Canandaigua Lake tributaries like they’re talking about mutual old friends. Names like Menteth Point, Seneca Point, Naples Creek, Vine Valley, Tichenor Point, Deep Run. Water that is 15 feet across at its widest. Storied water. They lament the South wind and the waves that pound the shore at the mouth of the stream and keep the fish from hustling up into its clear cold current. But the old-timers commit to one more pass before they retreat to warm their bones in the truck and then head home. The father and son in their normally-we-chase-trout waders and foul weather gear are far from packing it in. The college guys with their girlfriends say they’re gonna stick it out too. Their girlfriends’ looks say otherwise. Teachers, CEOs, farmers, politicians, contractors, firemen, attorneys, photographers, tradesmen, techies. They’re all called the same when the smelt are running. So it goes.

And so it goes

Jason and I stand on the shale beach of Seneca Point, lanterns illuminating each a small universe, wind and lake to our backs. It’s 11:45 p.m. and we’re contemplating the nine fish we managed on our first run. As we snip the heads from our catch and turn their insides loose on the water, we reassure each other, and justify the relative insanity of our spending four more hours in a 20-something degree gale, by offering hopeful excuses.
“Those damn things are tough to see when they’re onesie-twosie,” I offer.
“Hell yea they are. I bet by 12:30 they’ll be in thick though…maybe 1:00.”
“Yea, it is early still…”
(short pause while I put up my hood)
“Pass me another beer will ya?”
Sometimes distraction works better than hope.

There’s something to be said for a fish that can keep a man at bay on the shore of an upstate NY lake in mid-April at midnight. Especially when that fish is a whopping 7 1/2″ on average and is destined for a bait hook or frying pan. These are not the quarry of which books are written and movies are made. These are not the leviathans that haunt our big-river or deep-lake dreams. These are not even the fish of our classic childhood standing-on-the-dock-with-our-zebco-and-first-bluegill photos. But these fish do represent tradition. These fish are stories that usually wind up with someone spitting out a mouthful of beer in laughter. These fish are camaraderie and the common ground of an unpredictable Spring. These fish are an easy beer-batter fry away from happy snacking kids and they make a nasty lake trout bait when salted and fished on a slip sinker in 30 feet of water.

And for the record…they started running really well at 1:30.

http://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?href=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fishingpoet.com%2F2011%2F04%2Fin-praise-of-smelt&layout=standard&show_faces=true&width=450&action=like&font&colorscheme=light&height=80

8 Comments

Filed under On the water

LATE GOOSE, DAY 1

After two months of watching thousands, nay, tens-of-thousands fly care-free over the Upstate countryside–the season for freezing in snow-covered fields amongst a decent set of decoys for Canada geese has opened again.

Getting ready for action

Half the set and a layout blind

The northwest wind had some serious teeth and flurries. And when the birds got up off Canandaigua Lake late morning, they all got up. Flock after flock fought their way into the wind, looking for any decent field to land. Some fifty in number, some in two’s and five’s. Unfortunately, the next field north proved to be where they all wanted set their wings and park. Fortunately, we managed to gabble and honk sexy enough to get some looking our way. We ended the morning with four…one looked about the size of a Buick dropping in. It was a beautiful thing.

The tailgate shot

Grip and toothless grin

Cam and Papa

Cam lasted for almost 2 1/2 hours in close to single-digit temps and then feasted on PB&J, saltines and a banana in dad’s truck for a spell. He’s a tougher nut than I was at his age by-golly.

Day 2, tomorrow.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods

BIG FLY. SMALL FLY.

How in the hell am I supposed to see this thing on the water? I asked.
You’re not, was the reply. If you see a rise within 3 feet of where you think the fly is…lift the rod.
3 feet, I laughed. Good one. Seriously, how’s this work?
Dude…just start casting.

I grew up bass on Canandaigua Lake. And growing up bass meant pitching lures with some backbone. Minus-4 crankbaits and 6″ senkos, rattle-traps and double-bladed spinnerbaits. You don’t get after fish in brush covered cut-banks, stump fields and blow-downs with fru-fru artificials. I guess that’s why, when I first took to chasing fish with a fly rod, more often than not, big flies were along for the ride.

2/0 Deceivers and crease flies, lead-bellied crayfish patterns and deer-hair poppers the size of field-mice. I like the aggression big flies attract from fish. Crashing the surface, torpedoes from submerged logs or weedbeds, brawling like someone hit on their girlfriend. Even the runts get tough, throw haymakers and go brag to their buds about how they’re not gonna take crap from the pickerel anymore.

But truth be told, any fish on the thin end of a fly line has got his jaw set for the next bend, valley or other end of the lake anyhow…regardless of fly size. A fight’s a fight.

And so it was I went to the Cohocton River for the first time to fish for browns and rainbows with flies much smaller than I was used to casting. Blind casts to mid-current pockets. Invisible drifts through steady rises. Guestimates and shots in the dark. I wanted to learn, and a friend of mine was willing to broker the introduction.

He supplied the flies. Black gnats…22’s and 24’s. I supplied the doubt that they could hold enough meat to actually bring a trout to hand. I had heard of big fish, over 20″, caught on flies size-20 or smaller. Catches like that ran counter to my run-and-gun belief in big flies/big fish. Seriously, what use does a bruiser have for a fly that’s size is the equivalent of broccoli in my teeth? Of course, the Cohocton wasn’t going to be giving up any 20+ inch fish. 15″ maybe. But a 15″ trout is a nice fish.

We hiked our way to a likely stretch of water and got to work.

Unlike their hefty brethren, casting small flies takes stealth. An effortless delivery that drops the fly on the surface like a whisper. After several hundred casts, I had snapped at least a dozen flies off the line like a bull-whip crack. Whoo-tish! Big-fly muscles slow to ease up.

After several hundred more casts the flies stopped taking their freedom-flights into the woods and brush that lined the banks and started finding my aiming points…landing on the surface more like mumbles than whispers, but my stealth was in full effect. I took to stalking runs and riffles and pools as purposefully as a Shaolin monk takes to infiltrating an enemy camp.

I laid a cast up and across the current to slick stretch along the far bank, choked with brush. The drift was right. The rise was unremarkable. But when the line went taut as I lifted the rod, hot-damn-and-hallelujah, that fish ran like he stole something. The gnat stayed put and after a time, the fish settled into my hand. Cold, sleek dynamite.

Kneeling in the shallow water near the shore, the brown in my hand was the truth of delta blues on a summer breeze, one giant new fly fishing door flung wide open. I felt like I needed an Amen.

Holy crap, I said, smiling. On that tiny fly. Man that is too cool.
Big fly. Small fly. Doesn’t matter much, my friend replied. As long as they’re biting.

6 Comments

Filed under On the water