Currently, the background is a pic from the Elk in December.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Currently, the background is a pic from the Elk in December.
Friday, December 02, 2011
I don’t know.
Maybe it’s because of the amazingly disparate possibilities that it can provide. You may be knee deep in chromers for five minutes or half an hour, but then find yourself empty handed for a whole day. And there is such an excitement in seeing the float go down, such exultation when it happens – and in the initial pull of the fish – that it sweetens the experience to have it take place over and over and over again. Conversely, it is dreadful to gaze feebly on the painfully wasted potential of a peaceful, buoyant float, a numbing pain that doubles and triples by the hour.
And it’s always after a few hours have passed, that thoughts of quitting start to surface. At first they’re not really all that serious. But with the addition of another few hours, maybe a bird’s nest and a blown rig or two, a stubbed toe and cold hands; then they start to get serious. Why am I doing this? What's the point? What the...?
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Saturday, November 05, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
The worst thing about it is that, if I make the wrong choice, I don't have time to change course or leave one river and go to the next. I have to stick it out, eek what fish I can, or catch nothing. The best thing about it is that I am learning, more precisely than ever, how to pick the right place to go.
But even so, it may not always go so smoothly. I may be my worst enemy and wake up late; which I did this last Sunday, getting to the river after first light and finding two gentlemen already combing my favourite spot, under my favourite conditions, and basically in the place I love to catch them the most - right out in the lake - and they were catching ungodly numbers of steelhead while doing so. Fish where they were fishing, and you can do the same. Fish ten feet further out, and maybe you won't have any success. Still, experience says that if you don't throw your line in, you won't catch anything at all. I managed to score a small strip of palatable water on the fringe of where these two guys were working their piscatorial magic and, by dint of trial and patience, managed one lovely fish. The buck glistened like jewelry on the wet pebbles of the bank. Barely an hour later, when the time to leave had come, I turned my back on the river with only a wistful look over my shoulder at the two fishermen who were still fishing, but where things had slowed down somewhat...
Fast forward three days, to Wednesday (where this story began), and I am on a different river, with different conditions. I had expected dirty water, but find that the recent 20mm of rain only managed to stir up the slightest green tinge, and at least 2 feet of visibility present themselves to the eye. These are not great conditions, but they are good nonetheless. The wind is out of the North East, the sky is gray and dull, the waves on the lake are plentiful but not too big.
I start fishing.
In the first hour, I have some good success. I land a small hen, a slightly larger male and miss three fish. The male takes me much longer to land than his size would seem to belie. After a few leaps and a couple of zig-zagging runs, he points his nose to the bottom, finds the deepest water available and attempts to remain there as long as possible. Eventually, though, the pressure from the rod and line are too much and he comes meekly to shore. I snap a few quick shots and release him.
The next two hours are slower. I see a couple of fish caught by other fishermen, and things slow down overall. I move a little up river, a straggler behind the line of the other men, all sifting for the same reluctant silver. Things perk up a little. I miss another male fish, probably in the 6lb range: he pulls the hook just before I can get him to shore to take his picture. Shortly after - or before, I don't remember now - a small female of about 4lbs slaps my float down, comes up rolling and shaking her head, and escapes the hook. And things slow down again.
I look at my watch. Not a lot of time left. I have to go soon.
I look up river and down. There's a fair bit of pressure from other anglers. There are seven or eight of them, spaced neatly up river from where I am. The water is clearer than any of us probably expected, and as such the fish have likely responded to the pressure either by forging on upstream or holding a little further down. My positioning on the river gives me an advantage if the latter is true and, if it is, I have to switch things up a little and offer something slightly different. Maybe if I offer a larger roe bag than the others? Also, I've been using chartreuse and hot pink... maybe white? I decide to try it.
My strategy pays dividends almost immediately. Before my first drift gets past 10 feet, the float begins to bob a little. It looks like a sunfish has found the bag and is nibbling it. Sunfish nibbles mean one of two things: it is either a smaller fish, such as a goby or a smolt, attempting to engulf a gargantuan meal, or it is a larger adult steelhead (or salmon) cautiously mouthing the proffered bait. I wait a second or two. The float stops and I set the hook; whiffffffffffffffff! Air! Nothing.
I compose myself, making a slight adjustment to the placement of the roe, and try again. This time, the float has not travelled five feet before the nibbles recommence; then stop. My heart starts to beat enough to shorten my breath. A couple more feet and they start again. Pop, pop, pop. The float dances downriver for maybe a foot or two, then stops and surreptitiously, almost as with the most furtive touch of a mouse's tail, it goes down.
I set the hook. Nothing moves. It's a log? No, the log begins to stir, and shake its head. I put lots of pressure. The fish comes up a little, and the float crests above the water. But this fish has other ideas. He powers suddenly forward and the float zooms down under water. I am suddenly helpless, riding on the back of a bull. I can do nothing with this fish. For a moment, I fear that I've actually snagged it. It takes a run up river and I yell "coming up!" at which four or five of my compadres remove their lines from the water and watch my line careen upstream like the smoke trail of a race car. He goes up quite far before finally running out of steam.
Or so I thought; because his downriver course is suddenly far too swift. I find myself in a clumsy madness of reeling, trying desperately to keep some kind of tension on the line. Finally, he runs out of river almost at my feet and turns again. I put the "boots" to him as hard as I think my tippet will take, and I see his sides flash as he massively shakes his whole body, lighting up the deep green, in an attempt to throw me. I pull hard upriver and he responds by heading down. We're so close to the lake here, that I am risking him running for it. But I want to land him on cleaner gravel, not in the mud, and roughly 40 feet downriver is the only place that that can happen.
But he's getting tired now. He does make a run for it, but I stop him just as he reaches the deeper water off the gravel bank. My arms and my right shoulder, by now, are burning. I can only imagine how tired the fish is, putting all his might into his attempt to escape! I see his tail come up, and my heart wants to burst through my throat. The last time I caught a fish that big, my boys were one month old - now, they are almost 6 years old. Finally, I managed to heave the behemoth steelhead buck ashore, and I am tired but elated. The fight has lasted a little over ten minutes.
I give myself no more than 30 seconds, or so, to take as many pictures as possible; although in truth it's hard to tell when so much adrenalin is coursing through one's brain. He kicks before the photo op can start and gets some water and grit in the lens. I do the best I can with what I have, take five or six shots of both sides of the fish. On his left, he has a huge lamprey gash, and the vestiges of past attacks. I take one last snapshot, for posterity, straight along the length of the rod, so I can get an approximate measurement afterward.
From the silver line at the butt of my rod, to the furthest blue strip on the wrap above the hook holder is 26 inches. The butt itself measures 21. So, using this picture as an imperfect measure, the steelhead had a length of about 34 inches. The reel has a 5 inch diameter, so the thick-bodied fish also had a very good girth. His weight was probably close to 15lbs.
But while he's still lying on the river's edge, all I really care about is releasing him. I bend down, position his head in the current - marveling again at his size - and let the water freeze my hands for a few minutes. I give him ample time to revive. Such an adversary deserves no less. A fish like this is worth a full day of fishing, and then some. He has filled me with an elation that I seldom feel, but it has washed away so much weariness that his release is like the ending to a kind of ritual of renewal, the momentary return of the fresh newness of childhood.
When his muscles start to strain my grip on his tail, I waggle him a little side to side, then let go; just as he gives a mighty swoosh of his tail. He darts away, like a shadow and a memory.
Monday, August 22, 2011
I managed to go fishing only three times, all summer. Here is a short synopsis of how all three events took place. I hope you enjoy the slide shows that I put together :).
Trip 1: All in the families
Trip 2: Bass-tastic portage
What to do with five kids between the ages of 2 and 6? Why, portage through the trackless bush of course! Armies of deerflies and legions of mosquitoes, beware! And ye Largemouth and Smallmouth bass, run for ye lives! If you can believe it, this was one of the most fun trips I've had in years. It was also Sam's first chance to catch a really big fish, as opposed to sunfish and rockbass.
Three dads and 5 kid, and 30+ bass, 200+ deerflies and 500+mosquitoes. Recipe for disaster? or recipe for unforgettable fun? You decide!
Trip 3: Charterboat Fantasy
Finally, as the fall season approaches and before the full-boot onslaught of salmonids can take place on our local rivers, four of us decided to take them on out on Lake Ontario. For the first time, I booked a charter on our famous lake; and I/we were surprised to observe that this was indeed my very first time to actually go fishing out on the lake. All my previous experience has been from shore. Go figure.
I was surprised at the number of fish marked on the sonar. Some areas of the lake looked like veritable constellations of fish, when viewed on the tiny screen. Not surprisingly, we boated 16 fish and hooked into 21, over a span of about 5 1/2 hours. Coho, steelhead and chinook comprised our catch.
Also, if you take into account the speed at which these fish transition from 75+ feet of depth to the surface, the mortality rate is quite high. Distended air bladders were obvious on most of the fish, and there are very few successful releases, so far as I can tell. Easy creek-side catch-and-release seems almost impossible under these conditions, and the experience gave me a brand new perspective on the debates that often rage on fishing forums about proper methods of catch and release. I can tell you this: any fish hooked and released in a river has a much, much better chance of survival than the poor devils who get wrenched out of the depths of our lakes!
Still, the experience was rife with spectacular fish, sights and company. Fishing from a 24ft boat was certainly preferable to sitting on an aluminum seat all day long. And speaking to Guy Parenteau, our guide, brought me fresh insight on these fish as well as on our fishery.
As I write this, summer is ebbing, and chinook salmon as well as the odd brown trout are starting their ascent of our eastern Lake Ontario tributaries. With luck, I'll tangle with one of them tomorrow morning... stay tuned!
Saturday, May 21, 2011
With summer's imminent approach and spring's undeniable presence, nature has made up in a couple of weeks what it would normally have taken more than a month to do. Plenty of rain followed by plenty of sunshine, followed again by plenty of rain, and full grown ferns grow where even fiddleheads couldn't be found just a few weeks ago. The grass in the back yard is like a savanna, and most trees have unfurled their verdure. If May 1st felt like mid April, May 21st feels like... well... May 21st. She has caught up with herself, and the fish alone are ample sign that this is true.
When I saw the river gauge, after the most recent rainy period, I knew instinctively that I needed to get my buttocks down to my favourite river pronto. Consciously, I thought that this was because I should expect a bonanza, the first big wave of the late spring steelhead exodus; but I think my bones knew otherwise. This was going to be my last chance for the spring, period.
There is a little bit of irony also in the fact that yesterday was the only full day of fishing that I got, throughout the entire opening season. Any other trip was over before 1:30pm, and some were over even before that. If I could have had a full day of fishing on May 1st... But then again, if I count the eggs in my basket, there is no reason to feel disappointment - unless it's the usual disappointment; that is, the current steelheading season is over and we have to wait for the next one. October is now so remote as to appear eternally distant.
Time to turn the Mind over to other things, the yard, the house, work, etc... I don't mention the ones that are always on that list: Laura, Isaac, Samuel. Ubiquitous as always.
All the fish I hooked or caught or saw, on this last day, were for the most part very well recovered, bright, silver and energetic. Acrobatics ruled the day and were welcome distractions from the otherwise monotonous routine of eeking out drifts in every nook and cranny. Free spinning casts, feeling the load on the rod at every cast, gauge the landing of the float, watch it and guide it as it follows the flow down; repeat. Repeat and repeat.
So, yes, when at the end of the day the float went down to a dubious rock, a loose hookset on which I felt a sinewy back-and-forth, and reeled in a bit; and set it right - to watch the bright male, the last fish I catch this season, crash up out of the clear flow; with the rod up high and backing away to get more leverage and more tension in the line - it must have been a sight even just watching little old me doing this microcosmic "River Runs through it" routine. Yes, it was the perfect ending.
It occurred to me as I made the leisurely drive home, over the local back-roads; I couldn't have scripted it any better if I'd tried.
Monday, May 02, 2011
When the clock struck 5am, I was really tempted not to get up. I hit snooze a couple of times. The bed was warm, and I was tired enough: we have 5 year-old twins, still very young and very energetic. And on the previous evening, I'd found out that all my prospective partners for the day were either incapacitated, disqualified or otherwise occupied. Dan, Bill, Dave, JP, Khalid, Richard, Mike; no one was coming with me. How much easier then, to just turn off the alarm clock and go back to sleep...
But I owed it to myself to get out of bed, and I guess I owed it to Laura too. She almost stayed in Peterborough for the whole weekend, instead of coming home on Saturday night as previously agreed. One of her cousins had not been able to make it to the Friday night Royal Wedding Mulligan ladies' jamboree, and her arrival on Saturday evening almost spelled doom for any trip on Sunday. We had to be at my sister's on Sunday afternoon (so I only had a half day anyway) and I certainly wasn't going to deny Laura an extra day's rest: if she decided to stay longer, I was going to take my lumps like a man and go fishing some other time. But she had missed her little boys and, though she didn't say it, didn't really want to disappoint me. So she came back.
So she came back on Saturday night, and I got up on Sunday morning at 5:30am. I packed my things into the trunk, slipped off the driveway, swung out to Tim Horton's and sped down the highway. As I neared my destination, I caught a glimpse of the sun rising over a hill in a farmer's field. I stopped and took a few pictures. Except for birdsong, the world was quiet. What is the saying? "Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning." But it was going to be an entirely different kind of storm that I was going to get into.
It started with the first drift, in the same stretch of river that Dan, Bill and I had had to ourselves on Friday. The float went down, and in minutes I had my first fish of the day on the bank. It would be the only male of the day, and the only one to take roe. After that, things got a bit blurry. There was a good deal of see-sawing, as I went from pool to deep green pool, of fish on and fish off, fish landed and fish lost.
There were two very notable losses. First, a large hen that seemed like it had only recently arrived in the river. She leapt a few times right in front of me, then zipped down river, between two thick, tangled stumps. My line got messed up with one of the stumps and she pulled further down river. We fought like this for a while, and I saw her big tail come up - with not a mark on it - but eventually the tippet could no longer take the pressure, and she was gone. Magically, my rig came free from the stump and I was able to resume fishing without too much re-tying. Only a few moments later, my float went down for what I first thought might be a log but turned out to be one of the biggest steelhead I've ever seen! She seemed somewhat grizzled as she took to the air, and my heart stopped; and skipped a beat when she hit the water. Anyone walking by would've attributed the sound to a boulder or a heavy log falling into the water. It's hard to tell how big she really was, since emotions tend to magnify everything, but I'll never know now: the hook pulled, and I was left shaking a little in dismay and amazement. The fish, in the picture above, I landed a little later and, though it was around 7 or 8 pounds, it seemed tiny in comparison to the behemoth that got away.
Eventually, though, the lightening coloration of the river started to dawn on me, and by mid morning I thought I should try a different spot, lower on the river. It's one of my favourite stretches and I thought to myself that it could be holding more drop-back fish than the upper stretches and so, possibly, offer even more action. Either way, I'd had a brilliant morning so far and I was not concerned about not catching anything else, if that were to happen. Which it didn't.
Let's fast forward to about an hour later, and there is a madman sitting in the river. He looks up wistfully at the trees, and down again at the river, surveying the eddies in the current, the deep green of the water. His waders protect him from the cold flow, so he is impervious to the current that flows all around him. He pulls out a schtoggie and lights it, and he sits there a while longer. Sighing and going on about something big, to no one in particular. Of course, that was me and I was enjoying the moment.
Fifteen minutes before that, I had gotten myself into an unprecedented string of hits, of stolen worms and solid takes. I think that the two or three drifts that preceded that fateful take had all produced a fish and/or a fight. In any case, when the float went down for this latest one, the extreme power of the fish was immediately evident. In a split second, my line and rod went from being limp and loose, to nearly breaking. The pulsing in the line and rod was electric. The fish broke the surface and somersaulted two or three times, came at me, decided that that was a bad idea and shot downriver like a train. I could not keep up. The reel spun so fast that it knocked my knuckles and I could barely keep it pinced. She flew down past the end of the run, through a pool, over a shoal, down into another pool, under the branches of a fallen tree and finally pulled and tugged and battled with me in the deep, fast water behind this tree.
I thought for a long moment that she might be snagged, as I had so very little control over her. After I caught up to her, though, I could see by her zigs and zags that I well and truly had her in the mouth. But she was quite large, and I don't think that our small size 12 hooks hurt bigger fish as much as they do smaller ones. I hauled and pumped and pulled this way and that, and I was finally able to reach down and grab her. Victory! She was a gorgeous, thick-bodied, almost fully recovered post-spawn steelhead, and a classic example of a wild eastern Lake Ontario fish. Large head, big and slightly hooked tail, well rounded and thick; somewhere in the area of 14 to 16 lbs; many of these don't make it out of the clutch of their captors. But I took my time reviving her. My shoulder was still screaming at me from the strain of the fight; I can only imagine that it was ten times worse for the fish, and so care was needed in the release. I think I did a good job of it, because she eventually left me with a powerful stroke of her tail - swoosh - leaving no doubt as to fullness of her strength.
I did catch a few more after that - you can see some of them just above (whereas the big hen appears below)-, but I was only out for a half day. So I eventually folded up my rod and headed back to the car. By quarter to two, I was home, and now there's a fresh bouquet of tulips on the mantelpiece. It was the least I could do. Mornings like the one I had don't come often. Getting to enjoy them is a gift, and that sort of thing always deserves a thank you.