Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kicking the Cat(t)

Jack has heard me speak of many tales of fishing the Cattaraugus Creek in Western New York. It had been since this past summer when we last hooked up for a day of fishing. I asked Jack if he would have a day off and sure enough, it was the same day I had. It must be close to two seasons since I last fished the "Catt". The challenge has been trying to time trips around its sensitivity to precipitation. Looking at the flow and visibility charts the other night along with a report from a good friend and fellow angler helped confirm the decision over a few other options. Jack would get to drift some new water and I was to get to fish one of my favorite rivers again. The events of the day would make this trip,  one for the books.
The plan was to get Jack his NYDEC fishing licence and hook up with another friend around 8:30am.
-     Wal-mart’s licencing system has been down for two months. (I find that hard to believe that a major US retailer would be comfortable not being able to issue hunting and fishing licences to compliment their fairly large sporting goods department.)
-     A second Wal-mart had me paying at a different department because its sporting goods counter had run out of register tape and its supply of additional rolls. ( I thought Wal-mart had excellent service. It was a supercenter for goodness sake)
-     Without warning, speed limits are reduced from 55 to 35 in a matter of meters, or feet in this case. The State Trooper was most understanding and only warned me to pay closer attention to the road signs. ( I was trying to navigate the GPS and look for the next turn off while listening to Jack’s hunting story)
-     Taking wrong turns to get to the access point and then the incorrect trail, we finally touch water. It was 10am.
Meeting time was blown so we re-routed to a long shot. The Zoar Valley is incredible. The scenery and solitude alone, is worth the several hundred feet decent (approximately 400 though it feels like double on the way up).
Jack took a few keepsake pictures.
There was only one other truck and we never crossed paths with anyone else.
With each turn and run, we were hoping for decent action in such zenquil surroundings. It was so quiet even the sound of running water seemed lost in the open gorge. Jack would be only a few yards from me but any conversations seemed long distanced.
There was not much going on and we had covered quite a bit of ground. Had the aformentioned events not happened, we may have considered exploring a little more. Time had started to become a factor and we still wanted to meet up as planned earlier.
We climbed out, made our way to another section of the river and found our friend whom was winding down his efforts with decent results. Although we only briefly shared drifts, it was great to see him again.
It was not to be a day of internet fish numbers for us though we did not go home white-striped.
Jack got his first US trib fish. It was not the size of the fish but the joy and feeling of success written on his smile that summed it all up.
Today began as a quest for new water and refreshing the soul. It ended up strengthening a friendship. Jack is now part of those many tales I will go on to tell.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


St Patrick’s Day used to be a big day for us. The festivities would start right after lunch and carry on until the next morning. Wake up still intoxicated and the smell of alcohol coming out through our pores. We would scramble to the nearest greasy spoon for the hangover fix since we had missed the nightcap of street meat. Not so much anymore. These days the after effects of binge boozing outweigh the day’s entertainment and the several hundreds of dollars invested in this celebration. This St. Paddy’s I would go fishing after my son’s hockey game and come home to dinner and a movie.
It was the very first thoughts as soon as I was awaken by the alarm clock. It had to be a sign, right? I figured it would be the usual day consisting of a game followed by a putter around the house for the remainder of the day only to confirm after dinner that very little was accomplished. The week had an unforeseen hectic pace and it was time to drop it down a gear. Yesterday, the goal was to slow down, chill and enjoy the river for a few hours.
On the way up, I passed an old one room schoolhouse that has remained standing against all odds. I pondered how simple life would have been. The building is an incredible site in today’s society where buildings are blown up, torn down and new ones built over top, burying history.
And then there was this home, struggling to stay upright. Protected from overgrowth and trees younger than itself, its existence may not survive too many more wind storms and harsh winters. Unless you slow down and take your eyes off the road, chances are you will miss it. Set back from the county road, it will surely be forgotten as the farmer ploughs and grows his crops around it.
Arriving at the access point mid-afternoon, the air was quite warm. The sky was clear and bright blue. The sun was high, making its way westward. Getting out of the car, I immediately started to glow. I was overdressed.  Walking to the river, it felt like April, just before trout opener. The surroundings seem to be weeks ahead of Mother Nature’s normal spring schedule. As I reached the banks, I sat for a bit before setting up. There were two others already there. I watched them cast repeatedly in the same drift until the one nodded to the other and moments later; they had their rods broken down and their chins tucked under. The river itself had a nice colour to it. Not gin clear but also not that preferred steelhead green. None the less, a call for chartreuse was in order.
For the first two hours, I was simply washing hooks and exercising the lungs. I moved from drift to drift, seam to seam, making short presentations in order to maintain line control in the fast flow. The wind was picking up but the decision was made to go to the lake section of the river to chance on what may be making an early run in. I loaded up the float to its maximum. The slightest interest would pull it under and many times, the surface current did just that. The float would pop back up and I would soon learn this was to be the norm and not necessarily that I was catching bottom. On one particular drift, I feathered the float in between two seams, into a flat spot. The float disappeared and did not return to the surface.
I spent the rest of the afternoon working the glossy slicks in what turned out to be one of the most relaxing days on the river I have had in a while.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Get the net!
Okay never mind. Fishing solo yesterday meant netting my own fish. Pretty easy to do on those resident trout (with those little pan nets) however it became downright humorous trying to net a fresh steelhead while crouched down off-balance. There were a few times I almost went head first into the drink. I am not fond of nets in general. They are cumbersome and a pain in the ass to bushwhack with one. It was all that I could muster to bring it to begin with. I entertained the idea only based on the area I was fishing and how awkward some of the man-made sections are to land fish.  Big chunks of natural rocks, none of which are flat or smooth like a poured pier, but all jagged and in a somewhat straight line.
With a few attempts she slipped, exhausted, in a net that should have been bigger. Not to say that it was a huge fish but sized enough that a boat net would have made the landing much easier. I was not about to tote a boat net around! If these few experiences were not enough to get me going, in a blink of an eye, the entire area was blanketed with a snowsquall. I could barely see my float at times that I even switched up to an 8g Drennan Zeppler which was complete overkill for the size of water. There were many a drift where I had no idea where the float was.  The fish actually hooked and set itself before I (instinctively) lifted the rod and clamped down on the reel feeling the tension. I did give it an extra two pumps when I realized it was not bottom.
The morning squalls would come and go. The sun broke through a few times which warmed up the hands but as the wind picked up, it was the sign to go dry off and settle the hunger pains. The snow all melted which was a relief for the drive home. As for the net, I gave it to two guys coming down the trail as I was leaving. Hopefully neither of them fell in using it.