Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fly fishing

My family grew up about 20 minutes from the Jersey Shore so fishing with my dad, and occasionally other siblings, off the jetties of Sandy Hook for blackfish in the early morning sunlight with the incoming tide crashing over the rocks was a fairly regular occurrence and are treasured childhood memories. My brother Drew still lives in this area and focuses his fishing time and energies on the pursuit of the striped bass. Striped bass fishing is exciting because it entails wading out into the surf to about belly button or chest deep water and throwing your line with clam attached out and then just standing there waiting for the striped bass to hit. It's 11:00 at night so it's pretty dark standing in the ocean while occasionally things swim into one of your legs. And you need to make sure to pay attention as to where the water is hitting you because an ideal time to fish for striped bass is when the tide is coming in which means the water is going to climb up your body necessitating a slow retreat back towards the shore. Because the tide is coming in, the distance back to shore can be longer than the distance originally traversed to get out. It's a really lovely and enjoyable experience. The gentle slap of the waves against your chest, quiet conversation and, when fortunate, the excitement of the fish on the line.
I took a couple of years off/away from fishing after a largely empty week-long fishing trip at Lake Champlain. After finishing college though I've started to get back into fishing slowly but surely. While there's two different areas of fishing (fresh-water and salt water) there's also two main types of fishing gear.* The majority, and easiest, is what is known as a spinning reel which is your standard rod and reel setup. You throw out your lure, worm, what-have-you and reel it back at the appropriate speed to whatever it is you're trying to catch. Spinning setups have some variation but are pretty uniform and fairly easy to operate.  The other gear option is fly-fishing. Fly-fishing is an approach to fishing that carries with it a decent amount of romance, think Hemingway's Nick Adam stories, and is pretty difficult to do well. Successful fly fishing requires the ability to whip a tiny fly tied to 9-10 feet of quite tiny line which is in turned to a much thicker line, back and forth through the air gathering distance and velocity so that the fisherman can gently lay the fly exactly where he wants it. This requires a decent amount of space especially if one wants to avoid the dreaded side sport known as "tree fishing". 
Largely because of the romantic aspect of fly-fishing, I've always wanted to try it. A little over a year ago, Drew was given a fly pole and reel by a friend which Drew passed on to me. Part of this was pure brotherly altruism the other part was the fact that it's a left-handed reel that can't be switched to be used as a right-hand reel. 
I've been practicing, off and on, trying to get the technique down which is a decent chunk of work because not only are you thinking about where the line is going in front of you, there is also the backcast, when the line goes back behind you, to be concerned about. There's also the angle of the rod to maintain, how far forward and back you're working the rod tip because too far forward and the fly crashes prematurely into the water and not far enough forward and the fly smacks into the back of your head. There's a lot to think about and it's a decent amount of work. However, it can also be rewarding where "rewarding" equals actually catching a fish.
My father-in-law and I headed out to Russica Falls last weekend to try out the fly fishing. The falls are about 50 minutes south of the Clarks Summit area. My father-in-law had fished there a lot in the 80's but hadn't been back in a while. The falls, and the ensuing stream/tiny river is a part of the Bushkill which has some pretty decent falls farther downstream.
For perspectives sake, here's a picture of Russica Falls.
Another picture w/ less brush in the way:

The falls are the first thing you see. You park and then hike down to pick up the creek/river way farther down and then work back up towards the falls. I'm wearing neoprene chest waders and my father-in-law is wearing hip waders because we work our back up the falls in the water. Usually this is pretty straightforward but the water was about six inches higher than normal, due to the amount of extra rain recently received and the stream was pretty hard to navigate due to the current. Also the following pictures appear somewhat blurry or smeared because my phone was in a plastic bag to make sure if I fell all the way in the phone would stay dry. I did actually catch a decent brown trout but since the pole was in one hand and the fish was in the other no picture was taken. My father-in-law can vouch for me, if needed.

How the stream appeared most of the way. You can kind of see the white water splotches.

My father-in-law fishing.

This shot was taken at a pool where the water was calm enough to try traditional dry-fly fishing.Up to and past the pool we were nymph fishing which consists of a nymph, 2 split shots and a strike indicator which is a bright yellow foam float attached your line that sinks when a fish, presumably, has bitten. You flip the nymph into a likely spot watch the strike indicator float past you and then flip the entire assembly upstream again to repeat the process. While this is dramatically simpler than traditional fly-fishing, it still takes a decent amount of finesse and practice.

View from my pole headed upstream.

Father-in-law working the opposite bank. 
What should follow here is a picture of the 300 lb. bear we saw crossing the road on our way back home but neither of us were coordinated enough to get our phones pointed in the right spot to take the picture or to remember there was an actual camera in the center console of the car so no picture of the bear follows. 
Overall, it was a good outing. We both caught fish, neither of us fell all the way in and saw a bear. Really for a fisherman the only part the really matters is the first part-we caught fish.

*There's also spearfishing, used w/ scuba and bow fishing which is trying to shoot fish w/ an arrow that has a line attached to it but these are peripheral.

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