Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dead Fisher's First Anniversary

363 days
76 posts
70 blogs followed
13,000 page views from all over the globe

   I had no real expectations one year ago other than being able to easily share a few videos and pictures with friends. It started with a suggestion from friend and fellow blogger David Hunter to use blogging as a vehicle for exposure. Tackle Shop and the rest of the "Dead Fisher Crew" have been a constant source of inspiration with their exploits, photos and story ideas. The reality is they are not part of MY crew...I am part of their's and am simply just the official chronicler.

  In the beginning it was difficult, trying to compose entertaining and informative posts to an invisible audience, never quite sure if they were being read and if so whom? Audience feedback in the form of comments took months to materialize but eventually appeared regularly after being added to a few follower's blogrolls and gaining further exposure from timely shout outs by avid supporters of "up and comers" like Blake at illinoiswisconsinfishing

  From my perspective, the bottom line is that without an audience this is just a self indulgent practice in mental masturbation. The upside is that I no longer keep a fishing log book and my addiction to fishing magazines is all but cured. Many of the blogs I regularly visit are written far more eloquently than any fishing rag with the photographic quality of National Geographic, and unsurpassed fly tying skills and imagination. Imagine... these talented people actually taking the time to read and comment on my humble offerings...sometimes I'm baffled, but most times I'm inspired by them to achieve.


  Now...a sadder topic has come to light with a comment left on my last post. I've always made a point of advising new anglers to always check the local fishing regulations for any given body of water as they vary considerably. I now find myself guilty of ignoring my own advice, and worse...guilty of poaching!

  All the major rivers in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) drainage area have extended seasons for trout and salmon so it never occurred to me to check out the regulations for Highland Creek. As it turns out I've been fishing illegally several miles north of the accepted boundary. Luckily I've suffered no repercussions yet except a bruised ego and slightly tarnished reputation but my biggest concern is the misleading information I've posted here and the possible legal implications I may have caused others. I humbly apologize for my major mistake and vow to check the veracity of any information in future postings.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Highland Creek Pocketwater

   Friday morning dawned hesitantly, a gradual lightening of the darkness until it reached it's peak at dark grey. The low, heavy cloud cover raced in from the south, reminiscent of time lapse film, threatening to unleash it's tropical load at any minute and add to the already sodden landscape. In every direction pools of standing water made the simple act of walking a straight line with dry feet a long forgotten memory from dryer days gone by.

   This was my introduction to the day as I loaded up the bike for another go at the salmon in the local tributaries. We'd had near steady drizzle for the previous two days and it's possible affect on the rivers had me second guessing my decision to go out. On the bright side the temperature was in the mid 60's, there was no wind and the rain seemed to be holding off for a while.

   I was sure the Rouge and lower Highland would be unfishable, muddy messes, so my destination for the morning would be the unexplored upper stretches of Highland Creek, just down stream from where I live. Access to the creek was from a trail in the Centennial College soccer field that wound it's way down into the valley. When faced with a fork in the trail, I resisted the normal urge to go down stream, being curious to see the creek's emergence from under Highway 401. As I approached the upper end of the trail the bird song was replaced with the roar of traffic and rushing water.

    I knew immediately the path had led me in the right direction when I broke through the underbrush screen and found a concrete lined pool swarming with swimmers. Once again it took longer to get geared up than it did to get the first fish on. Given enough depth, a salmon will put on an aerial display comparable to that of a  smallmouth bass or steelhead, and this pool had plenty of depth. As the salmon repeatedly broke the surface, I could see the other occupants frantically scrambling for cover that wasn't there. In a last ditch effort to escape, the fish leapt out of the pool and into the long dark tunnel under 20 lanes of high speed traffic, never to be seen again. In an attempt to put the breaks on and prevent an escape into the darkness, I'd pulled the hook out. This pool was now too agitated to achieve anything useful, so I turned my back on the concrete and traffic and set my sights on the "natural" wonder a few yards down flow.
    My favorite venue for stalking fall salmon is fast water, pitting the fish's swimming strength against my ability to stay upright and in control, but I'd never had the pleasure of fishing a stretch like this. Over 100 yards of white water, over and around jumbled boulders and broken concrete, a demonic watery escalator where one tiny misstep could send you to aquatic hell. Until that misstep...I was on a stairway to heaven! (If Jimmie Page was a fisherman he'd understand the reference).

    I inadvertently spooked twice as many fish as I'd seen, just as surprised as them as the water erupted at my precariously placed footing. Along the way were the scattered remains of those that completed their mission or failed the ascent and suffered the consequences.

    Picking away at the pockets, I had the opportunity to cast to a half dozen fish and managed two hook ups. In both cases the fish took me up several levels and eventually down. Of course all I could do was stand there like an idiot, watching my line play out with little chance to follow. This short stretch of white water took close to an hour work over, and as I stood at the bottom a curious thought about perspective came to mind. Unless suffering from vertigo, a stretch of water such as this seems far more imposing from below. The incline appears steeper, the boulders larger, the water rushing faster, and the path of least resistance not as evident.

   I encountered several other areas of white water as I continued down stream, although smaller and less imposing, they held a multitude of fish all the same. One fish I'd hooked into took me down a short, steep section of white water to play out the fight in a dark, placid pool and at one point I feared it would launch itself into the overhanging maple tree!
No zombie here, aggressive as hell and snapping at everything!
    Around noon Tackle Shop called to say he was going to be in the area and would drop by when he concluded his business. I had reached the end of this section of the creek by that time and the skies had finally opened up so for me the day was over, but I'd revisit the creek again later in the day with TS and another long lost friend, Raven...who squawks a lot, is easily distracted by shiny things and isn't opposed to putting on a show for comic relief.

   I guided TS to an area  easily accessed by car and suitable for pitching heavy metal. While he worked the pool I tried to work the pocket water down stream without waders. As I rock-hopped my way to the center of a set of rapids one of my stepping stones shifted, leaving me with no dry escape route. Wet wading is rarely a preferred option this time of year.

  There seemed to be few active fish in this area so we packed up and moved farther down stream to another easy access area where we met up with Raven. Again...we were having trouble finding fish, it seems they'd all made their way farther up, but it didn't bother any of us as this was the first time this year we'd had a chance to get out together.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend

   It's a long weekend here in Canada, Thanksgiving, and Indian Summer is in full swing. The weather over the last three days has been more like early September than October and with nothing pressing on the agenda, I thought I'd take full advantage and spend as much time with my fly rod as possible.

  Friday was spent on the Rouge River, as told in the previous post. Having thoroughly covered several miles of river bed and found limited opportunities there, I decided Saturday would be spent closer to home and explore the upper stretches of Highland Creek, literally in my backyard. Two blocks from my house is a greenbelt with a tiny flow through a man made channel, but less than a mile down stream it joins up with another branch in a steep walled ravine.

  I was totally amazed to find a small school of spawning salmon, so close to home, in the pool at the confluence of these two tiny creeks in the heart of the city.
  It took longer to assemble my rod and get into my waders than it did to get the first fish of the day on line! The salmon immediately took me into my backing and proceded to do a half dozen jumps at the top of the pool and at one point it beached itself on the sandbar in it's frenzied attempt to escape. After several minutes of excitement it worked itself into some wood and managed to free itself from my fly. The next ten minutes were spent trying to illicit another bite, but the pool was spooked and so it was time to move on.


        Every few hundred yards downstream I found small pools holding large fish and occasionally one would make a mad dash through a riffle or shallow run to get up to the next holding area unnoticed. I'd hooked into a few more fish, ignoring the "sprinters" and working the pools, but didn't manage to bring any to hand.


   I knew I was approaching "civilization" when I saw a man trying to catch dinner by hand in the shallows. I'd only traveled a mile of the creek, but in that distance I had to cross from one side to the other four times with all my equipment and mountain bike or bushwhack an area with no trails. A couple hundred yards further down I came to a bridge and what would be my departure point from this little slice of inner city fishing nirvana. As I packed up my gear for the day, I marveled at the persistence and endurance of my quarry. Below the bridge was a concrete pad 200 feet long with water only two or three inches deep!  It's amazing that all the fish I'd seen had to run this tiny trickle of water while the day before, on a pristine uninhibited river, I'd seen next to no fish at all.
   Yesterday Tackle Shop dropped by the house and took me back to my old stomping grounds on the far side of the city and the Humber River. When we arrived at our favorite spot we found the Russian already flogging the water and (so he says with no pictorial proof) with 3 fish under his belt. A quick recon of the area showed numerous cadavers but there were few living fish in the river except for the one deep run that TS and the Russian were working.

   Down stream from the other two, in the rapids, I found a solitary fish holding in the pocket water. On the first cast it took the fly deep, made a short run up and then took me for a stumbling walk down to the next pool. It was a short live battle and after the obligatory snapshot I was about to release the spawned out male when a fellow angler asked if he could have it. Why not? It had served it's purpose and would be dead in less than a week...why not feed a family.

I've often had to be told the fish goes in the mouth and the rod goes in the hand.

   Not long after that Tackle Shop, pitching a dollar store knockoff of a Little Cleo, had a fish on. It put on a great aerial display before being subdued in the shallows.
   We only spent a few hours on the river. It had been in the low 80's all day and we were all hot and tired. It occurred to me that I'd hit three different rivers in three days, all within the city limits, and if I'd thought of it a few days earlier I could have fished the Don and the Credit as well!
   What a great Thanksgiving long weekend this has been!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Tug' O' War

   I rode down into the Rouge valley this morning hoping to play tug 'o' war with a few salmon but I had some difficulty finding any willing participants.

   Around one bend in the river, down a long run and around another bend, seeing the occasional redd here and there but no occupants.
    It's like a riparian version of the Marie Celeste...the lights are on, dinner's cooling on table and there's  no one to be found. The farther I travel down stream the more I see signs of freshly spawned gravel beds but once again...where have the occupants gone? I came to compete!
    Finally at the top end of a stretch of fast water...a willing competitor! One cast, two cast, third cast's a charm and the tug 'o' war begins. Team Aquatic pulls hard at the onset, using the current to it's advantage and taking line out at will, but Team Terrestrial has played this game before. Unfazed by the competition's early surge, Team terrestrial digs in and slowly takes back line until Aquatics rolls over on it's side in defeat.
   In appreciation of his willingness to play, I spent 5 minutes reviving him and returned him to his chosen spot on the river.
   Farther down stream a dead tree ate my fly as if it were one of Charlie Browns kites. Rats!

   I re-tied and continued on downstream, still trying to figure out this river and it's unusual migration. After several miles of wading I'd come to the conclusion that I'd gotten everything this river was willing to give for the day. On the return trip the fly eating tree offered up a peace present in the form of a woodpecker too busy securing dinner to notice me sneaking up on him.
   I felt further blessed as I came upon my vanquished foe from a few hours before. He'd fully recovered from his ordeal and had found a girlfriend in the meantime.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Russian's in Timmins

   I got an e-mail yesterday morning from the Russian, no text...just 3 pictures. Then again, these pics really don't need any explanation...but I'll fill you in on what's going on. Every year for the last 3 years, the Russian heads north on a week long fishing/hunting trip with his brother inlaw and friends to Timmins  in northern Ontario by the Quebec border.

  Last year's conditions weren't right for him to use his new 8wt set up. This past year for Christmas I dumped a box of large pike flies on him with this trip specifically in mind. I sure hope he's had some success with them, but considering the "fly in" quality of the fishing in the area there seems to be little doubt they'd be effective!
  The Russian in all his glory...walleye snacks and a bottle of Stolichnaya!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Inner City Salmon

  I had planned to make a return trip to the river Thursday morning after my final shift of the week but circumstances had made different plans for me. The last night at the factory was chaotic and my stupid sense of responsibility required me to stay back an extra hour and make things right for the day shift. Of course I didn't have any time constraints that morning and a slightly later start would be no problem but the ominous black horizon and stiff headwind were all the motivation I needed to make a swift retreat to my home, grab a quick bite and catch up on some much needed rest... there's always tomorrow...right?

   Friday morning started out cool and sunny with light winds, a perfect Autumn day for a casual bike ride and wading the river. Once again circumstances had their way with my plans, the Rouge River was blown out again resembling a ferocious flow of chocolate milk.
   It was now time to quickly formulate a plan "B". I would leave the Rouge, ride several miles to the southwest and check out Highland Creek. The previous year I'd found that when all the major rivers in the greater Toronto area were blown out, Highland Creek ran steady and ultra clear, mainly because it's watershed lies entirely within the city limits and the surrounding neighborhoods have been established for decades with little or no streamside construction going on to muddy the waters... or so I thought.

   I accessed the river from Morningside Park, my first time in the park and this far up stream. The creek was high and muddy which suggested that something had changed in the system since my last visit, but the salmon were immediately visible at a small dam. Using the photo of the park map as a reference, I navigated my way through uncharted waters (for me) and headed up stream stopping every so often to check out a pool, run or rapids. Eventually the bike path I was on veered away from the creek and when I saw it again it was noticeably smaller and definitely clearer. A quick glance downstream showed a confluence a hundred yards down and the majority of the mud was coming from the other branch. Right at my feet were several good sized fish milling about, waiting to run a small waterfall. This is where I'd start my fishing day, 3 hours after leaving the house.
Holding a ton of fish but too fast
First fishing location
   It took no time at all to hook into the first fish and as it came to the surface I realized it was tail hooked. I tried to pull the hook free but there was no way it was coming out until the fish was landed. A quick flip of the hemostats and the fish at my feet was away, back into the current to continue it's final mission. A few more minutes at this pool and I decided the fish here were not takers and it was time to move on.

  Several hundred yards upstream I found another school of fish holding in the tail out of a long quiet stretch of water. Here again I had several foul hook ups but managed to pull the fly free without having to play the fish out. Obviously these fish were not actively taking but the thing that kept me there were the challenging conditions, getting the heavy fly under the overhanging hemlocks towards the far bank, avoiding the deadfall and achieving a good drift through the fast water. Just playing in the water like a big kid, really.
   I'd miscalculated the timing on this creek, the majority of the fish there had been in the creek for at least a week, had or were spawning, and would be dead in less than another week. It would still be possible to get a bite through sheer aggression, but my time would be better spent closer to the lake looking for fresher fish, or on the Rouge where the run is just beginning.

   I was ready to pack it in for the day and decided to take a different route home through the other branch's valley and maybe discover the source of all the mud in the creek. It turns out that the city's parks department had modified the creek bed and added thousands of truckloads of limestone boulders. I'd never seen the original creek but other than the lack of greenery close to the water, they'd created a beautiful fishing area with long stretches of white water with large sediment trapping pools that already contained a few carp and a couple salmon! I look forward to fishing this section of Highland Creek next year when it's had a chance to grow in a bit  and the ground cover prevents the runoff mud.
   So... no trophy shots for this post as I'm  unhappy with the method of catching the fish...but guaranteed there'll be plenty in the coming weeks. I love exploring new areas ...especially when they're so close to home.

Once backyard is awesome!   

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Season of the Salmon

   Well...The Rouge River was totally blown out on Saturday and the weather forecast calls for rain every day this week. If I was going to get in any quality time on the river any time soon I'd have to take advantage of this small window of opportunity by fishing mid-week, after work. I packed my fishing gear on my bike, worked my shift and at 8:30am I was on the road to the river
   I knew I'd made the right decision at my first glimpse of the river. The muddy torrent from three days earlier had temporarily subsided and had hopefully infused the river with some new life. So it was a bit of a surprise that the river wasn't awash with fish. In took half an hour before the first salmon showed itself in the pool just below the rock wall I'd scoped out on the weekend.

   This was all I needed to complete my commitment to making this work today. I stashed my  bike in a grove of willow saplings along the river bank, assembled my rod, wiggled into my new waders, and went to work on the pool.

   You should know that the majority of my salmon fishing is all about sight casting. These large fish are only able to hide in the deepest, darkest pools and generally I've had little success fishing these areas. Last year on the Humber River I'd found a 5 foot deep run,  100 feet long and 8 feet wide that held hundreds of large fish. The fish were hyper-aware of their surroundings and regardless of how I approached the run, my line would spook the school, splitting it like Moses doing his thing at the Red Sea.

   Anyways... the lone fish in the pool was eventually spooked after repeated casts and turned tail downstream. I decided to follow. Around one bend, another set of rapids, around another bend, pool, riffle,pool ,bend... and still no fish sighted! I waded nearly a mile downstream without seeing another salmon. One more bend in the river and then I was going to call it quits for the day...and then paydirt!
    OK...not what you were expecting

    It was getting late in the morning and I decided to pack it in for the day. As I returned to my wheels it occurred to me that I didn't check out the short section of the river upstream to the bridge. Around a sharp, deep bend and there in the tail out of a long run sat a large solitary fish! I thought I blew it on my first cast, lining the fish out of pure nervousness, but as the fly drifted closer, the fish drifted a foot to the left and sucked in my poorly presented offering.

  In less than 10 seconds I was into my backing! Tightening down the drag, I waded upstream gaining line on the fish and just when I thought I'd gotten things under control, it turned downstream dragging me along for the ride to the deep pool at the bend. Here the fish decided to take to the air in a series of tail walks and end over end jumps followed by some deep "bulldogging". Using the current to it's advantage, it hugged the bottom so tenaciously I thought for a minute I'd gotten hung up on some wood, but after applying some alternating side pressure the fish finally relented and came to hand.

    My prize for the day...a beautiful chinook hen in the high teens. A few quick picks and back into the river to spawn. This is the main reason I got an 8wt rod. Getting the fish to bite isn't much of a problem...landing them is never a certainty. Such explosive power, unmatched by any other other freshwater fish. The short window of opportunity keeps it fresh, exciting, and highly anticipated  11 months out of the year!