Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Big River, Small Fish

I wouldn't say that travel is one of the favourite parts of my day job, but on occasion, it affords me the opportunity to fish some rivers that I normally do not. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to fish the Cattaraugus Creek in Western New York.

Don't let the name fool you, however. This flow is no where near the resemblance of a creek. With a width of 100 feet in parts and an average flow of over 1000 cubic feet per second this fall, this is a raging river! With about a week and a half without rain now, the flow finally dropped to fishing friendly levels (650 cf/s).
Whether it is safe to cross at this flow rate is debatable. It required a bit of lunacy to do it, but I did, and was pleasantly surprised to see a few familiar faces from my side of the border just as determined as I to find that perfect drift.

I was able to find a large number of very cooperative fish, but their numbers greatly outweighed their size. Average for the day was 2-3.5lbs. But as the quintessential fishing tale goes, I lost the big ones.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Brief Respite

As we near the end of another year, weekend fishing opportunities too appear to be coming to an end. This of course is unacceptable, which has forced me to become creative in fulfilling this often inexplicable addiction of mine. Lately, I have found myself sneaking out to the river at hours no rational man would think to start their day in the hopes of feeling determination, power, and grace at the end of my line. I escape in hopes of experiencing this and returning home just as my better half is awakening from her night's slumber. If all goes as planned, just as her day is starting, my day will have already been fulfilled. Today, was such as day.

A beautiful buck who unfortunately lost his right maxilla in a previous battle. Please remove hooks with care

Water temperature was a bone-chilling 38 C, yet fish seemed invigorated and charged. Acrobatics were the order of the morning.

Friday, November 24, 2006


I lost a big brute today that took me to parts of the river that were impassable. Have you ever tried to cross a roaring section of the river where you felt your feet lifting off the bottom, as you balanced perilously on the only portion of your boot's sole still in contact with the unstable sediment? That's when I made the judgement call that it just wasn't worth it, and decided to forget the lessoned learned for the time being. The big male continued its run downstream, and all I could do was hold on as it stripped line. He became so distant that I could no longer see where my line was leading. Then, I felt one last tug, and my line went limp. He had spat the hook.

But if I had to sum up this morning, I would describe it as serene. It sure is nice when it's just the river. . . .and me.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Redemption is Sweet

Although an occasional skunking is good for the health of every fisherman's psyche, staying in the company of skunks for consecutive outings can have the opposite effect. This morning before checking into the office, I was fortunate enough to redeem myself from yestertrip's event with a lovely 8lb male Steelhead on the Lower Credit River. He wasn't the acrobatic type, but his frantic headshakes and screaming runs had my adrenaline flowing. 100 metres downstream and 5 minutes later, I finally managed to tail him.

No need for that morning coffee.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Benefits of a Good Skunking

I could say that river conditions were less than ideal (which it was); I could say that our fishing time was very limited (which it was); I could say I was viciously attacked by a fawn that mistook me for its mother, as it took its disappointment out on me when it could not find an udder (okay, that may be stretching it a little), but the fact of the matter is that I reeked of skunk as I lumbered my way back to the car.

Unfortunately, tomato juice won't wash this one from the record, but when you have a good number of these under your belt over the years like me, you learn to be an optimist. At least I didn't go for a swim in the ice cold water. At least I didn't lose as much terminal tackle as I usually do. At least I was able to sneak away from the office without any consequence (if my boss should read this, I'm just kidding - really). At least my arms aren't tired.

Besides I wouldn't want to have one of those over-sized heads that some of those unfortunate folks that never get skunked possess. I'm proud to say that my head is proportionate to the rest of me.

And I had a chance to share a few drifts with Dave, and catch up on the latest and greatest in the realm of Steelheading.

On days when the smell of skunk is in the air, I'm given the opportunity to look up and away from the river's flow, soak in my surroundings, the beauty of the natural world, and be thankful that I still have a little piece of paradise only a short drive away. Now that's what I call fishing.

Everyone needs a good skunking. . . . once in a while.

Oh almost forgot. Photo borrowed from

Monday, November 20, 2006

Big Things Can Happen on the Bighead River

. . . And it did. Unfortunately, I was not there to witness it. This week's report comes from Dave (Wallacio), as he pulls off another stellar day on one of Southern Ontario's prime Steelhead rivers; the Bighead.

The Bighead's headwaters reside in the Niagara Escarpment near the town of Chatsworth, Ontario and empties into Nottawasaga Bay (an Inlet of Georgian Bay) in the town of Meaford. In Dave's words, the Bighead". . . is a classic Steelhead river (sections of it anyway). The area I visited is the most popular and it consists of a riffle, run, pool structure with considerable gradient and a large, round granite boulder substrate. It reminds me of a BC Steelhead river in miniature".

As always, he eloquently paints a vivid picture of the state of fishing that day.

"Despite the cold water and snow squalls,the fish have yet to settle into winter mode....all of my fish were hooked in fast water (runs, tailouts and pocket water)...the slower pools did not produce at all. The hits were aggressive (decisive float take-downs and I even had multiple "shots" at a few fish...I missed burying the hook on the first pass, only to drive it home on the next drift!) but there were no aerials".

All fish were over 25 inches and one exceeded the 30 inch mark as it lay on the cusp of double digit weight. With fish of such class, I say, who needs aerials?

A thick caudal wrist and broad caudal fin means only one thing - sheer power!

When unable to escape the confines of the life that doesn't involve fishing (like this weekend) I always enjoy going on virtual fishing trips through great fishing reports.

Once again, Dave did not disappoint.
Handsome in Pink

All photos courtesy of Wallacio

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Catch and Release: Religion, Madness, or Merely a Management Tool?

We, as both fishermen and conservationists sure have a paradoxical relationship with our finned friends, wouldn't you agree? To enjoy fishing, and to ascribe to conservation, one must surely be a "Catch and Release Fisherman", right? But isn't this idea, this concept, this "religion" an oxy moron? Or are we just morons? These are the things the Mad Fisherman contemplates in isolation, when he is far from the riverbank, holed up in an office building surrounded by concrete.

We spend an unthinkable amount of time, energy, and money on ways to make us more successful at finding and catching. We have many tools at our disposal as a means to bringing the odds closer in our favour. We arrive at the river and dress into our carefully selected apparel, and ready our weapon. We learn to be stealthy upon our approach to the riverbank, walking softly and crouching low, as we peer through the cover of tall grass in search of our finned friends. Our eyes burning with desire, determination and focus. We wait. . .

One of our friends makes a subtle appearance as she sips a baetis off the surface creating a dimple that irradiates in a series of gentle rings. Our heart begins to race and the adrenaline fills every capillary in our body, as we strip out line and move into better position, trying to contain the emotion. Through years of practice, repetition, reading, watching, learning, dreaming, we roll out a beautiful cast right into her feeding lane. She takes our offering with the same subtle sip as seen before. All of our pent up energy was reserved for this moment as we set the hook. Our friend races around her domain, and leaps into the air as she fights for her life; we admire her determination, as it is like ours. Time stands still as our entire existence at that moment is based upon not losing her and bringing her to hand. She fights with every ounce of energy, yet she succumbs, and lays at our feet.

Gently, we hold her, keeping her in the water so she can breath. Gently, we remove the hook, as not to damage her. And for a moment we cradle her in our hands and admire her. We never tire of her beauty. Sometimes we speak to her. Sometimes we greet her with a kiss. At her own will, we let her swim back home.

When I contemplate this scenario, and more so now that I have written it, I cannot help but think this to be a bit absurd. We, as "Catch and Release Fisherman" must have a split personality to undergo this process. We are a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of sorts. First we are predator; second we are caregiver.

Yet this is what I do. So why do I do it? Although much of the joy of fishing for me is watching the fish swim away, I don't do it for this or other philosophical reasons. I practice it because it helps to sustain a delicate fishery.

What was once a fisheries management tool has taken on a life of its own. Jim McLennan has written a thought provoking article in the November/January "The Canadian Fly Fisher", titled "Further Thoughts on Catch and Release - Do some of us take it a bit too seriously?".

My thoughts are in line with Jim's. Catch and Release as a tool to manage a fishery makes sense (In some cases it is the only method of managing some fisheries) but Catch and Release as a religion or for the sake of morality does not.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sunday, Muddy Sunday

It has been a wet fall indeed. To date, we have barely gone more than 5 days without precipitation. As mentioned in previous entries, this in combination with a cooler than average late summer, has resulted in runs of migratory salmon and trout much earlier than in recent years. This has also lead to some phenomenal fishing; but only if timed right. However, as we all know, with life's other obligations our time to fish doesn't always coincide with good fishing time.

Yesterday (November 12th) was one of those occasions. Rain had steadily succumbed to gravity's pull the entire day prior, and upon arrival at the river I knew to expect to see her bloated after her binge. She is the worst yo-yo dieter I know, as she had gained 20 cm in height and looked sickly as she traded in her georgeous emerald hue for a muddy makeover within 24 hours. The fishing was tough. The good news is, I had the entire river to myself aside from a pair of unusually happy kayakers. And I did manage to find a few fish. Although they were on the smaller side (2-4lbs) , I was pleased that the aroma of skunk stayed at bay.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Overcast skies, Emerald Green Water: The Makings of a Perfect Day?

This past weekend, I had fully intended on focusing on parts of my everyday life not involving the "F-word" (as my wife puts it), but like a bad addiction, it sucked me back in. I admit it, I am a fishing junkie; but I have a hunch I'm stating the obvious.

An invitation to head out to a Western tributary that is starting to heat up was tantalizing, but I begrudgingly declined this full day trip to keep world order in the household.

With the opportunity to escape for a few hours on Sunday, I headed out with my brother-in-law, Jeff, in exploration of some new water. The trek was a challenging one, as the terrain was unforgiving. We stopped for a break to admire the work of the neighbourhood beaver.

We were paid dividends upon arrival at our destination, as it was an oasis of deep pools, current breaks, seams and tail-outs - I thought I had stumbled upon heaven. It didn't take long for the first fish to find my offering. She did not take kindly to my presence and went on a series of heart-stopping runs before Jeff skillfully netted her; it turned out she was the largest for me from this river to date.

The fish that deserves honourable mention, however, is the one shown below. This girl was wild! From the moment of hook-set, she was flying through the air in rhythmic fashion. 7 acrobatic maneuvers were counted, the most consecutive leaps through the air I have witnessed from a Steelhead. I wonder who the lucky male is?

This day was a day of beautiful fall weather, a fantastic stretch of newly discovered river, exceptional fish, and great company. It was indeed a perfect day.

I would feel awful if I didn't give the next fish the airtime that she deserves because she illustrates so beautifully that it's not the size that matters.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Today's Lesson: Dedication

I managed to meet up with Dave yesterday afternoon, the good soul instrumental in facilitating that first Steelhead of the season. Upon arrival at our agreed upon meeting place, we found that the "honey hole" was "not accessible".

In our quest for the perfect drift elsewhere, we probably ended up in places where we shouldn't have and consequently risked life and limb; but as any true Steelheader will tell you, if the assumption of these risks will bring fish to the bank, it is well worth it. Today, Dave had displayed a level of dedication rarely seen in this noble sport, and it was most thoroughly enjoyed.

Dave was ahead of me as we worked our way downstream on some water new to both of us. The bank was strewn with fallen trees, brush, and was steep enough that if one lost his footing, he would be sliding on his rear end into the swift current en route to Georgian Bay. It wasn't long before I heard a thrashing downstream near the opposite bank and saw the bouncing of Dave's rod as a fish shook its head in disagreement. "Do you have one?", I queried. . . "Yup", he responded matter-of-factly, as the fish rocketed downstream.

The chase was on, but Dave had no where to go. Fledgling trees and organic debris stood in his path. Although this would have been an insurmountable obstacle for me, it was not for him, as he entered a rather deep section of mighty Nottawasaga river, eyes fixated on his prey. I, being 100 yards upstream had started to make my way towards him. Before entering a deep section of thick brush, I glanced down to find him up to his armpits in water with his rod held high, as he treaded his way downstream in water much taller than he. I quickened my pace and entered the deep brush. In a bit of a panic, I stumbled my way through, tripping over twigs and snagging my rod on overhanging branches. Finally, I reached the opening to see Dave excitedly making his way back up. From his neck down, he was saturated in ice cold water. "Did you land it", I queried. "Yeah" he answered matter-of-factly, as he wore a silly grin. . .

. . . "It was worth it".

photo taken by Wallacio

He, carrying a number of extra pounds of water-logged waders, and I, thoroughly entertained, continued to fish for 2 more hours before racing back to the city.