Last weekend was the 10th annual Orvis Game Fair at Sandannona in Millbrook, NY. Orvis Sandonona Shooting Grounds is the oldest permitted shooting preserve in the United States. These grounds have a lot of history on them and it is a special treat to visit every year. The last two years have witnessed warm beginnings to the autumn, as you would expect this delay of cool weather and rain adversely impacts the fall Trout fishing season.
This year a group of us grabbed a few campsites at the Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park off of the Taconic State Parkway. The park is over fourteen thousand acres and features two bodies of water, Canopus Lake and Pelton Pond. The location was perfectly situated between the West Branch of the Croton and Dutchess County rivers. Our logic was that we needed to focus on the tail waters of the Croton watershed due to the low level drought.
The West Branch of the Croton below Boyd’s Corner was fishable, however mostly warm water species were hitting and flows were low. Mark had a swing and a miss out of the reservoir by a Brown Trout. The freestone streams of Dutchess County were all the lowest I have seen them over the past five years. They are still fishable for Smallmouth Bass when they are very low. I even managed to find a few Trout in one deep and cool pool.
We all look forward to the official start of the summer season and the beginning of fishing summer 2016. This year we were treated to the impending threat of Tropical Storm Bonnie, which despite of the risk of rain, brought some welcome hot weather to bookend our cool spring. The increasing temperatures livened up the action on the Paulinskill and other Trout streams throughout the preceding week.
I took off Friday from work and used both Friday and Saturday to work on my house project. Sunday was planned to be the day for fishing, an important choice because it is also the day of parades, limiting the foot traffic on the rivers. On warm to hot days like what the weathermen were predicting, the key to catching fish is to go early in the morning or late in the day. We started around 6AM in order to get in the holes just as the sun was rising.
This time of year is always a good time to break out the color green on the Paulinskill and other local waterways. You can use leverage either Woolly Buggers or Trout magnets. Knot Just Flies in Blairstown has even had a few custom flies spun up specifically for this time of year. A four or five weight Fly Rod or ultra-light weight spin tackle is all you will need.
The Trout and Smallmouth have moved from there early and mid season holding locations. The heat is forcing them to seek springs, deeper pools and more oxygenated water. Unfortunately, we even noticed some dead Rainbow carcasses; these fish likely expired from the heat.
Plying the deep pools slowly and areas known to have cooler waters due to overhanging trees and brush yielded results quickly. The stocked Rainbow Trout have grown since they were first put in here; some of them are pushing over fourteen inches. The growth in these Trout is always nice to witness, as the strong ones tend to become holdovers lasting the entire year.
Some of the Smallmouth are still watching nests in the river; others are firmly in post spawn hunger mode now. The Smallmouth Bass in the river were sitting in more oxygenated and cooler pools. Looking for the bubbles in the current was a good indicator of potential holding locations. Mark also found that locating a nest was they key to landing a large one.
Let’s all pray for cooler and wet weather to keep the water comfortable and the fish eating.
Today is the last day of September, we are now two weeks into the autumn of 2015. Temperatures have been steadily cooling though holding higher than I can anecdotally recall in the last two autumn fishing seasons. The fall fishing extravaganza leaped off to a strong start as the water temperatures steadily cooled and our H2O residing quarry again became more active.
This weekend the majority of the MKFF crew is headed up to Pulaski, New York to check out the early Salmon run then Mark and Zach will be heading down to Sanibel Island for an extended fishing adventure. I will not be fishing due to my college roommate’s wedding; therefore this is an appropriate point to provide you with an update on New Jersey fishing for the first few weeks of fall.
Black River WMA
Pheasant Hunting Season and the Cast and Blasts which mark November are now less than two months away. I dusted off the old JC Higgins 16 gauge side by side along with the Remington 12 gauge and headed down to the Black River WMA range. Both firearms performed well, presenting my shoulder with the swift kick of an old gun while consistently delivering a load to the target. Next on the agenda is to attempt and gunsmith my Savage Model 220B with some parts that are now available online.
The Jersey Shore
The salt water community is abuzz with the looming biannual arrival of the Striped Bass to the New Jersey shore. It is still a bit early for the main event however we headed down to Avon by the Sea to evaluate what could be pulled out from the beach. Initially I was going to try to fish with some spin gear but the guys over at Orvis NYC convinced me to try a few softy minnows in the surf. The plan worked with me landing a few one pound Blue Fish and Jack Crevalle in the morning. Mark pulled in a nice Sea Robin and Star Gazer, however I could not convince him to measure the Star Gazer in an attempt at the MKFF Salt contest. We wrapped up over at Sandy Hook where a few keep able size Fluke were caught from the beach.
Orvis Game Fair
Continuing the fall adventures, Mark and I met in Morristown on Sunday after fishing the shore all day Saturday to head up to Millbrook, NY for the annual Orvis Game Fair. The Game Fair, which we have reported on in 2012 and 2014, is a sporting lifestyle fair geared for the family. This year they had few more distilleries, which are popping up, in the Hudson Valley thanks to New York State’s updated liquor laws. The event has expanded every year that we have attended and is a great way to spend the first weekend of fall.
My other favorite part of the Orvis Game Fair is fishing Wappingers Creek, a local stream in Dutchess County New York. Wappingers Creek stretches 41.7 miles from Thomson Pond to New Hamburg, NY, emptying into the Hudson River. The northern stretches of the creek hold Trout while the southern stretches are more of a Smallmouth fishery.
After leaving the Orvis Game Fair, we stopped at The Roadhouse in Pleasant Valley, NY. This is an excellent upstate New York bar. This establishment is a jewel, a true treasure including a main floor with a list, pool table, dartboard, cold beer and delicious beer. This is not a yuppie bar, the bartenders are friendly, the food delicious and reasonably priced!
New Jersey’s fall Trout stocking is scheduled to commence between October 13th and 21st , this year they will be placing 20,000 Trout, between 14” and 22”, in 16 streams throughout the state. Our club is also planning on stocking our private pond with Tiger Trout for the winter. After the Trout season dies down, Saturday November 7th will be opening day of Pheasant season in New Jersey. This is in addition to the fall archery season that begins in October and then the December firearms season for deer.
The summer of 2015 commenced as a cooler than average summer trailing a long, cold and snowy winter. In fact, due to the weather we experienced, Rainbow Trout have been taken from the Paulinskill throughout the summer. Since mid August, a significant heat wave combined with a lack of rain has reduced river-fishing opportunities. These conditions will improve once the fall rains commence. In the meantime, fishing for warm water species early in the morning or late in the evening remains quite productive.
To celebrate the conclusion of this summer and the beginning of, “Cast and Blast Autumn 2015,” we of course, went fishing. This time of year, I cannot stress enough the importance of waking up before dawn and wetting your line by sun up. With Mark still driving from Morristown, I headed over to Dale’s Market in Blairstown for one of their famous breakfast sandwiches. After consuming this delicious creation and 16 ounces of fresh coffee, I hopped in the FJ and headed north to the river.
This morning was to be an epic day of catching warm water species in the Paulinskill. I have often said, the Paulinskill holds a seemingly unbelievable biomass. This morning was a strong confirmation of my previous statements. Mark and I caught the following species in multiple: Crappie, Smallmouth, Sunfish, and Largemouth Bass. They were caught consistently until around mid day. In this river, the fish may not grow the largest but there are a plethora of them.
The Epic Battle
Throughout the summer, these electronic pages have catalogued the pursuit of Smallmouth Bass in the rivers of Warren and Sussex County, New Jersey. Of the countless hours I have put in pursuing the scrappy fighters, the four hours on Saturday were highly rewarding.
Perched in the spillway of the dam, which didn’t have much water coming over due to drought conditions, I spied some actively feeding Bass in the sand and weeds. These Smallies must have been chomping on little minnows and crustaceans that were washed over the dam.
Spotting the feeding fish, I false cast my Sage 8’6” VXP 4WT two times and then fired about 50 feet of line out of the tip. A near perfect cast, my custom mohair Woolly Bugger landed right in the opening where the Smallmouth was hiding. As the ripples from the splash settled, I quickly gave the fly some action as it fell to the river bottom. Then I felt the tug, the tug that could only originate from a sizeable Smallmouth!
I maneuvered the fish and put the fight on the reel, just as this was complete, the Smallie went aerial. I bowed the rod to the fish simultaneously losing my balance and almost going for a swim. My studded wading shoes prevailed and I caught myself before swimming with the fish. In the end, I landed this fish, tagging in at about two pounds.
As anticipated the fishing turned off by eleven and it got quite warm outside. The whole team then headed over to the Lazy “K” Ranch, our club headquarters, currently under construction in Frelinghuysen, NJ. There we tried out the new Ruger .357 revolver that Zach acquired in the last week. We also started to work on our wing shooting performance that will be required in less than two months.
The temperature outside was in the high eighties, the air thick enough to wade through. Lacking a pool and with the lakes all kind of warmish the best option to keep cool on Sunday was wet wading in the river! I loaded my XT 600 with some light duty gear for the Smallmouth and rode over to the Lazy “K” Ranch to meet Mark. Over at the old homestead in progress we ran into our other rod and gun club mates. Woodhead was out feeding the resident deer. Dave and Zach came over to enjoy a beer however, I rallied at least Mark and Zach to head down to the river.
In an exciting bit of news, using accumulated L.L. Bean dollars I was able to replace my old set of waders with an upgraded pair. The old ones were getting worn out and some of the lace holders had popped out. The pair I purchased are called West Branch Studded Wading Shoes by L.L. Bean. After using the new boots for several hours on Sunday I am highly satisfied with the purchase. The shoes lace up well and provide ample support. The rubberized materials seem to keep off “aquatic hitchhikers” while drying quickly. The studs provide ample grip on slippery rocks, even allowing me to catch my balance and save my phone after falling over a big hidden rock!
Midsummer on the Paulinskill can be an exciting time to dip a hook in the water. There is literally no telling what you could pull out of the water when something bites. The variety of temperatures, habitat and stream conditions allows for many species, stocked and wild to live together. In just a few hours of fishing we had landed Rainbow Trout, Smallmouth Bass, Rock Bass, Largemouth Bass, White Suckers, Sunfish and a Golden Shiner. This year, the copious rainfall that has kept the river cool and flowing high, yielding above average fishing days.
As far as tactics go, this time of year the fish seemed to be enjoying a Green Woolly Bugger or similar fly, cast across stream, allowed to dead drift downstream and then retrieved in two inch strips or a steady lift. I suspect a wet fly attractor would have presented in a similar manner and yielded and equally good day of fish. The only trick was locating faster water, springs or deep pools. That seemed to be where the fish were congregating.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Robert Frost ~ excerpt from, “The Road Less Traveled”
The inaugural summer trip I took up to Vermont was in August of 2008 with my good friend Brandon. I always used to go up to this scenic paradise for snowboarding and skiing but not for summer time fun. By 2008, I had largely wrapped up the most difficult part of graduate school and again had time to start Fly Fishing and begin Dual Sport Riding again. In my college years, we completed many dirt miles on the rural roads of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Vermont exists on a whole different level of riding because of their unique Class IV seasonal roads.
So much has changed since our first trip up to Vermont. New houses, new jobs, new bikes, new people, marriages and now babies! However, Post Mills, Lake Fairlee, the surrounding forests and hills, they are timeless. The airport, the lake, trails, the hills and mountains it is all there each time you make it back.
During this trip we rented out a cottage on the lake for ourselves instead of staying at the airport. This new development made access to fishing on the lake much improved. Fly Fishing for warm water and cool water species is quite excellent in Lake Fairlee. The lake features some prominent drop offs and extensive shallow weed beds, which lend themselves quite well for fly-fishing.
Fly Fishing For Bass
Brandon paddles up the Middle Brook.
A lake is a vast expanse of water to read, comprehend and adequately explore for fish with a fly rod. However by working with the limitations of basic fly gear and Bass habitat you can reduce the size of the problem to a manageable puzzle. Fly gear will be most effective around structure in less than ten feet of water, near to the shore or weed beds.
Fly Fishing for bass is better in the early morning, late evenings or cloudy days. All of these factors contribute to bring Bass nearer to the surface and within reach of your fly tackle. If you fish near shore in the early mornings, late evenings or cloudy days, you should be able to rip a few ‘ole bucket mouths from the lake.
Fly Tackle For Lake Bass
I have fished with everything from 4WT to 8WT for Bass and other warm or cool water species. My favorite rod to use is my 7WT St. Croix Bank Robber, a rod designed to throw the heavier flies and streams that Bass like to eat. This rod equipped with weight forward Rio 7WT line and a Sage reel is a Bass lip ripper for sure. Alternatively, I have fished an 8WT Cabela’s salt-water rod and a 6WT Scott Radian, all function great, however, my preference if for the 7WT streamer rod.
The ride up to Vermont on Friday afternoon and evening was a long and soggy one. After departing work at around 4PM, I loaded the GMC 2500 and started driving. The rain I hit around Troy, NY certainly slowed me down as I drove through the Green Mountains in the pitch black. I did not arrive at the lake house until around 11:30PM. I suspected that as these rainstorms cleared, it would yield postfrontal conditions and negatively impact Bass fishing in the morning, I was proven incorrect.
After staying up late imbibing as the rest of the team arrived, we all hit the sack in the wee morning hours. Fortunately, the beautiful sunrise over the lake awoke me from my slumber and once I paddled out across the placid waters my head cleared and I was focused on the watery depths. I allowed to canoe to blow into a cove and quickly tied on my Thin Mint fly and some tapered Bass Leader.
This was to be my best day for fishing, the sun rising, burning off the fog; fish after fish chasing my fly. Mornings like these are why men and women have traveled to Vermont to escape for hundreds of years. For the hour and a half I stole away to fish, I landed ten fish and missed countless more. Of these fish, one was my first pickerel on the fly! A little fourteen-inch predator that came tearing out of a weed bed and took some line off of my reel.
The fish in Lake Fairlee were in post spawn hunger mode with a few stragglers remaining on nests. These conditions paired with the low light of sunrise and sunset bode well for catching a variety of fish, especially Smallmouth Bass. We were able to get out on the canoe or the rowboat equipped with a 6HP outboard every day until Tuesday. Unfortunately, the Eurasian Milfoil removal team interrupted our Tuesday morning fishing. Eurasian Milfoil is a highly invasive plant to North America that finds its way into lakes through non-cleaned boating gear. It is common in publicly accessible lakes and must be removed mechanically or with special herbicide. Always make sure your boat is dry and free of weeds or other debris when moving from lake to lake.
The Yellow Brick Road
One morning in 1940 New England, the entire population of a town, 572 souls walked up a winding logging trail into the wilderness and was never seen again. Or so says the fictional account of the American gothic style horror movie, “The Yellow Brick Road.” Exploring class IV roads of Vermont, it is not difficult to see the inspiration for this movie and others of the genre. Scattered along the trails and abandoned roads you will find in Vermont’s highlands stone foundations and cemeteries nestled deep in reforested pastures. Many of these farms were abandoned during the civil war, the owners or children who never returned from their crusade to preserve the Union.
Over the years, dual sport riding in the Green Mountain State we have experienced varieties of gnarly conditions. Be it massive mud puddles, logging roads that terminate at seemingly insurmountable rock faces, beaver dams in the middle of trails or off the grid hermit cabins inhabited by residents that don’t take kindly to visitors. Being out here on the trail is surreal and disappearing into the dense forest seems remotely possible. In fact, I recall one time while riding east of Dartmouth, New Hampshire, Brandon and I took a turn onto what we thought would be a semi-improved road. Several hours later around dusk, we finally made it off of this over ten-mile logging trail. “Trail” is a generous term for the animal path we were riding on.
Bike Troubles Resolved
Up to this year’s trip, the last time I had my bike running proper was right after Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. That trip was fun, however in regards to dual sport riding it was somewhat of a failure. The XT 600 was all re built in October of 2012 and that trip was the maiden voyage. That year, the cards were not in favor of the XT’s operation, the stator shit the bed within minutes of cranking the ole girl up. Running on battery alone we made it about 15 miles before the bike needed a pickup truck ride home.
Fast-forward to today, three years later, one stator, one voltage regulator and a starter solenoid for good measure and the XT 600 is purring like it is 1992. Twenty-three years have passed since my father purchased this bike brand new from Action Cycle in Metuchen, NJ. This trip was an endurance test of all of the repairs we have completed to get this bike up and running like new again.
All told, we completed 91 miles of trail and class IV road riding over the four days. We did an additional 21 miles of improved road riding. Now this may not seem like many miles, however, when a 30-mile trail ride takes you four or five hours, it is an incredible amount of riding. I believe this was an adequate test of the XT’s abilities for now. When I get home, I fully intend to take her out again to explore some local terrain.
Each and every time we get out on our favorite familiar trails we try and locate new challenges and roads not taken. Without fail you tend to locate a new area to explore or a trail to try or even a hidden lake or historical oddity. This time we found the ATV/ Snowmobile trail up to Bald Top Mountain.
The trail started with a deep-water crossing caused by a beaver’s engineering handiwork. The trail continued to slowly meander around the base of Bald Top, gaining altitude as it went. There was a large rock, standing out against the landscape, which we had to crest, intimidating at first, not so much when you arrived at the top. The real trouble lay ahead, as we started to ascend Bald Top, the trail developed into a rocky and muddy path.
Brandon made it about 25% of the way up the final ascent, I was not ready to begin the real ascent and held down at the base. After a little bit of walking around and evaluating the various options, we decided this was a puzzle better solved on our next trip.
This Vermont adventure was unique in that it was the first trip we have taken with Brandon and Nicole’s new addition Wyatt! Also with us riding dual sport bikes was Dave and his wife Carly. Out there fishing and paddling with me was Bob who was also accompanied by his wife Steph and son Logan. This was one of the larger crowds since we attended the Vermonster back in 2011.
All in all it was an excellent trip and I cannot wait to go back again!
The day was predicted to be a washout, however, if we made it out to the Delaware River early enough there was a chance to engage in a couple hours worth of pre-frontal fishing conditions. Mark and I were up to the challenge; accustomed to waking up for work early, a 5:30AM wake up is not a problem. Especially since in all of summer’s glory, it is already light out by this time!
Arriving on a remote dirt road in the Delaware Water Gap NRA everything about today looked like it would have been a washout. The cloud ceiling was low, the humidity high and a marked chill in the air. The only part of this adventure not cooperating was the barometric pressure, which was rising and not falling, sub optimal for pre-frontal fishing conditions we sought. Looking out at the low hills surrounding the Delaware River there were spirals of mist lifting off of the treetops and little droplets of rain falling. I donned my L.L. Bean Emerger II wading jacket on top, filled it with fly boxes, tied on some 0X tippet and marched (quietly) out to the river.
Equipment and Tactics
At this point we have written a sizeable amount of material on seeking Bass and other warm water fish. This time I used my 7WT St. Croix Bankrobber, my Sage 4280 reel and some weight forward floating Rio Grand line. Following the advice of Barry Reynolds and John Berryman in, “Beyond Trout a Fly Fishing Guide,” I brought pearl white Zonkers, Woolly Buggers and some crawfish patterns that I purchased at Orvis NYC. The crawfish or mudbug patterns work but probably not as well in the Delaware as Zonkers or Woolly Buggers. The location to seek Smallmouth, very similar to trout is the transition area between fast and slow water where the Bronzebacks are holding to feed. The Smallmouth Bass is a river fish and can tolerate a moderate current though not to the level of a Trout. Pound for pound these are the hardest fighting freshwater fish out there.
Smallmouth Bass like streamers, they do not eat them delicately, they rip through and devour the streamer. I use the Kelly Galloup method for hucking streamers to Trout and apply it back to Bronzebacks. For more information you can check out his book. In New Jersey we do not have the massive Browns he has in Montana, we have Smallmouth in big rivers like the Delware. Anyway, I throw my streamer out on the slow water, fast water transition line near a deep pool. I do this once, I do this twice, the third time as I go to retrieve, the line goes taught as if I just drove my Zonker hook into a floating log.
Just as I hook into the juicy upper lip of this “log,” the fly line rips through my fingers that are maintaining tension. Holy crap, that was not a log that is a fish! The fight was intense; I used most of my effort to prevent the Bronzeback from moving into the fast water, once I got the fish on the reel it was easier to control. As I shortened his leash and moved him in towards my net, he enveiled the last of his evade, escape and survive arsenal. He went air born! By far the best part of aggressive Smallmouth Bass is that they not only fight you below the surface but they engage in aerial combat when you least expect it. I bowed my pole to him and kept the tension, however this Zonker was securely fastened to his upper lip do to the aggressive take. As I netted the fish, it turned out to be a one pounder, I am curious to learn what a four to five pound Smallmouth Bass fights like.
Spin Rod Verse Fly Rod
As many of you can tell from the extensive tales of outdoor adventure on this site, I often go fishing with my buddy Mark. Mark is a die-hard spin fisherman, who I can proudly say, now owns a fly rod (that he has not used). He was able to land two Smallies, however this was the day of the fly rod. I landed three Smallies, a Rock Bass and a White Zucker all on various flies. This was a bit of redemption from last summer’s adventures where Mark out fished the fly.
The rain finally came as a torrential down pour around 12:30, beginning to soak even through my rain jacket. We decided to call it quits, as the rain was about to wash out the entire weekend. However, no trip to these splendidly isolated parts of Sussex County New Jersey is complete without a trip to one of the many glorious roadhouse and watering holes at the park boundaries. On this day we went to The Flatbrook Tap House, a rustic fishing themed establishment on the edge of Stokes State Forest, the banks of the Big Flatbrook and located on 206 North. We had delicious deep friend Calzones and Chicken Parmigian sandwiches. I highly recommend this place to a hungry angler or biker in the area.