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 fact...it 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!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Flies, Rouge River and Gobies

   Earlier this week I broke out my fly tying kit to replenish my stock of salmon flies. They're really quite simple in construction... consisting of a #6 or #8 nymph hook, a cone or bead for weight, and some cactus or polar chenille wrapped along the hook shank. The entire process takes only a minute at the most and a good selection can be made in no time at all.

   So... with a new pair of waders and a starter set of flies, all I needed was a change in river conditions to kick start the fall migration. On my last visit to the river several weeks ago I found crystal clear, shallow waters that were in desperate need of rain and the occasional sprinklings we've had since then would have had little effect upon the flow...until Thursday. In a 24hr period the skies opened up in Biblical fashion, dropping close to 2" of rain.

   I awoke early Saturday morning in anticipation of chasing hook jawed river monsters up and down the small stream that literally runs through my backyard. After a short bike ride I found myself looking out over a muddy torrent that put a damper on my expectations for the day.

    Weeks before I'd scouted this location and found a natural rock wall crossing the river with a large gravel deposit on the far bank and it was my thought now that if there were any travelers in the river they would be visible while crossing this obstruction. I sat patiently for half an hour, scanning the water for any signs of movement, and finally admitted defeat once again.
   The valley had undergone drastic changes since my last visit. The river had once again asserted itself as the dominant force, not to be ignored like the quiet, babbling backdrop from weeks ago. The lush green surroundings had faded with the change of season, not yet boasting the vibrant colors of autumn but offering just a hint of what's to come. The cooler weather had driven to ground the busy insects. I no longer heard the constant chirping of crickets and buzz of cicadas ...only the distant squawk of a jay and chipmunks.

   I returned home just before 11am just in time to receive a call from Tackle Shop. He was coming over to drop off something and was itching to get out fishing...so within the hour I found myself northbound on the highway to Barrie. This weekend is the Barrie Perch festival with several tagged fish worth thousands in prizes, so ...needles to say the waterfront was a circus that I had little inclination to join. After sitting in the van for over a half hour people watching, I found I couldn't contain myself any longer and joined in on the fun. The only problem was that for every one small perch, I caught three round gobies!

   So...once again I find myself waiting for the fall run to happen. With the water levels as they are I imagine there'll be fish in my neck of the woods as I write this. Maybe a mid week excursion after work is in order. I dunno...I'll have to play it by ear and keep watching the skies.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Joke/Quote #10

   Well...It's hard to believe that it's been almost 2 weeks since my last fishing trip and post. As Bob Dylan once sang; "The times...they are a changing," and so it is true as I sit here writing this. Outside the temperature has dropped to the low 40's with a brisk wind blowing down from the north. In anticipation of the approaching fall migration I purchased a new set of waders last week and hope to give them a good christening this weekend.  I'll keep you posted in the coming weeks what's going on in the local rivers.

   That's all I've got for now, but in an effort to stay current and near the top of your blog rolls, I believe it's time for another installment of Joke/Quote of the Week. Enjoy and have a safe and fishy weekend!
A woman who has never seen her husband fishing doesn't know what a patient man she married.
1. There is no such thing as too much equipment.
2. When in doubt, exaggerate.
3. Even the best lines get weak after they have been used a few times.
4. Sometimes you really have to squirm to get off the hook.
5. The fishing is always better on the other side of the lake.
6. Good things come to those who wade.

 If you want happiness for an hour; take a nap. 
 If you want happiness for a day; go fishing. 
 If you want happiness for a month; get married. 
 If you want happiness for a year; inherit a fortune.   
 If you want happiness for a lifetime; help someone else.  
 Chinese Proverb

A taxidermist was driving through the deep south when he decided to stop in a small town and have a beer at the local bar. The locals didn't like outsiders in their bar and when he entered he was greeted with dirty stares and low mumbles.

He went to the bartender and asked for a beer. The bartender looked the man over thoroughly and then went to get the beer. When the bartender returned with the beer he asked the man "What do you do?"

The man replied "I'm a taxidermist"

The bartender asked "Taxidermist? What is that?"

The man replied "Well, I mount animals, birds, and fish."

With that the bartender turned to the other men in the bar and said "It's OK boys, he's one of us!"  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Labor Day

  Last Sunday night I'd gotten a call and a request from the Russian. He wanted to go out fishing...anywhere but the Scugog River! Like myself, he tends to get easily bored when constantly returning week after week to the same area. So the challenge for this holiday Monday was to find something different and close to home...I still had a shift to work at midnight.

   Last year at this time the Russian and Tackle Shop had traveled 50 miles east to the town of Port Hope where the Ganaraska River flows into Lake Ontario. The "Ganny" is one of those tributaries where it's not uncommon for a mid August cloudburst to bring a heavy run of chrome salmon into the river and this is what I was counting on when I suggested a return trip.

   The Labor Day long weekend started out as a fitting end to summer vacation with temperatures hovering around the 90 degree mark and bright sunshine interspersed with the occasional thunderstorm. Monday morning was it's polar opposite, a harbinger of the coming autumn season and most fitting for river salmon fishing, overcast, windy and a high of only 60 degrees.

   Everything was going exactly according to plan as we approached the dam on the river at first light and saw several hundred fish milling about the pool. Nothing chases away an early morning chill better than a school of large fish in knee deep water. This was our starting point, just to make sure there were fish in the river. We had to travel several hundred yards down stream to be able to fish legally. My one concern was that in the low light conditions the fish looked rather dark, as if they'd been in the river for some time and my suspicions were reinforced when we saw a fresh chinook carcass attracting flies on a gravel bed.

  We continued down stream, checking out all the runs and pools for any signs of movement without any luck. A half mile south of the dam the river changed from a sand and gravel bottom to slice through layers of limestone bedrock, forming whole series of deep pools in quick succession. I'd never fished a river like this before and could only imagine hooking into a salmon and having to follow it right out to the mouth of the river, a mile and a half away!

   Our salmon hunt was proving to be fruitless as we continued down stream. Several of the runs were now occupied by fly fishers who weren't terribly forthcoming as to their quarry, but it was obvious that there were no large fish inhabiting the "legal" stretches of the river. I'm guessing that trout had followed the salmon upstream to gorge on the free floating roe from the early spawn, but we'd come for a big jerk on one end of the line, felt by a big jerk on the other end. We were left with three options: the first and most obvious was to stay put and try for whatever the river offered. 2, go to the mouth and join the circus of bait fisherman lounging in lawn furniture, or 3,pack up and try some nearby lake fishing.

   At this point I'm sure all of you reading this are scratching your heads and saying "what the hell!" In retrospect, the only sane thing to do would have been staying put, but often we make rash decisions and this was one we'd both regret later in the day. We climbed into the car, drove 10 miles north to Rice Lake and drove another 7 miles of beach road before deciding to stop at the town dock in Harwood. The dock and a series of tiny, narrow, connected islands is all that remains of the original rail line that crossed the shallow lake a century ago on it's way north to Peterborough.

   The first thing that struck us was the crowd of people already there. You know the types: one was using his spinning reel upside down rather than switch the handle over, another was drop shotting a 4" silver spoon tied onto the line sideways, and the rest were concentrating on their red and white plastic bobbers. Fair weather fishermen for sure only it wasn't fair weather. The second thing that struck us was the 30mph wind blowing across the lake, directly into our face, and made us both wish we hadn't dressed for summer.

   In an attempt to escape the crowd we walked and waded farther out onto the string of islands, casting both sides to cover the water. We were fighting a losing battle against the wind, unable to get our lures out any distance, and after half an hour returned to the dock in time to witness someone land a 17lb carp. The lone, successful angler was an ex Brit named Mark who now called these waters home. Earlier in the morning he'd caught a slightly smaller mirror carp.

   While Mark and I traded "war" stories the Russian continued to work the water, loath to return home empty handed again. After another 10 minutes a triumphant cry rang out loud and clear for all to hear.
   And wouldn't you know it was caught on a GPW by the guy who gave that productive little piece of plastic it's derogatory name! The fish immediately went on a stringer with the hopes of repeating the process and culling some more members of the school, but alas, the high winds made it near impossible controlling an un weighted worm and it turned out to be the only fish of the day, hence he went back to school as is fitting on the last day of summer vacation.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

My Backyard & Beyond

   Friday morning Tackle Shop and I  returned to the Scugog River area with little to show for the effort but a couple bass, some interesting video, and a broken rod.
    It was a long, unproductive day where nothing seemed to work...even the GPW.

  I returned home around sundown and within the hour was in bed. After a well deserved rest I was up and about before the sun, wondering what to do for the rest of the day, when it hit me that I should further explore my own backyard rather than fishing out of town. I killed a pot of coffee while studying Google Earth's images of the general area and eventually came up with a game plan.

   Unlike the previous visit to the West Rouge River where I literally had to rappel in and out of the valley, this time with a little more research, I'd be able to "comfortably" ride right up to the water's edge. Within 10 minutes of riding, the "sterile" new subdivisions suddenly ended and I found myself riding a country road surrounded by  hazy multicoloured fields of goldenrod, clover, and asters, the constant hum of traffic suddenly replaced with the insistent chirping of crickets in their prime, cicadas, and the angry squawks of jays defending their territories from intruders.

   The road took a sudden left turn and started to descend into the valley in a series of switch backs where, near the bottom, to my surprise, I was confronted with a red stop light.

   As it turned out the stop light was meant to control traffic across a one lane steel bridge over the river. On the other side, towards the left the road wound it's way out of the valley and on the right there was a parking lot with a sign welcoming visitors to Rouge River Park. At the back end of the lot were several partially groomed nature trails leading off in different directions into the forest. I dismounted my bike and chose the trail closest to the river, taking my time so as not to miss any of the wonders of this new playground.

   I broke through the thick underbrush at the edge of the forest and faced a series of gentle riffles and runs of crystal clear water, this being a bit of a shock considering the frequency of severe thunderstorms and torrential rains over the past week. I'd hoped that the increased flow had sparked an early  migratory run of salmon, but  obviously miscalculated the impact those rains had upon the river. No problem, this was an exploratory outing and as far as I was concerned I'd already hit one out of the park!

   The river was running low and clear, hiding nothing in it's knee deep depths, and seemed devoid of life in quiet preparation of the frantic activity to come in the following months.On the other hand the river bank was alive with activity on this steamy September morning.
Viceroy Butterfly
Raccoon, dog, killdeer, blue heron

   Over the next few hours I found signs of life everywhere I searched  with two notable exceptions; fish and people. The groomed trail wound it's way through the valley occasionally allowing glimpses of the river, but any of the off shooting trails leading directly to the water were obviously seldom used and overgrown. The only sign of humanity at all was the occasional chatter of a vehicle crossing the distant steel bridge and the subsequent gunning of the engine to climb out of the valley. It never ceases to amaze me how these serene areas, so close to a sprawling metropolis, are so underutilized for their restorative properties. So much the better for those of us in the know, but I'm not so naive as to not believe that activity in the river will be directly proportional to activity on the river bank!

   I decided to leave this oasis of serenity just after noon. The temperature had climbed to 90 degrees with near total humidity and the long uphill pedal out of the valley left me winded and longing for central air and a cold brew. Before that was to happen I had one more stop on the agenda, check out a few more of the man made ponds along the Morningside Creek watershed. As opposed to the river, these ponds showed a presence of anglers with their discarded styrofoam worm containers littering the water's edge.


   All in all a successful outing. Not once did I feel the need to assemble any of the rods I'd brought with me even when confronted with a large school of "muddling" carp at the ponds. In the coming weeks I expect these quiet areas along the river to become a circus of greed with the uneducated vying for a trophy at any cost. I can't help that...but I've now successfully scouted out my own private slice of heaven, pretty much guaranteed to insulate me from the hordes and the subsequent slaughter.