Big Eddy in the Heat: Salmon, Moose and Home

The Mrs. Fishing P throws a mean loop on her backcast. So we got the Crib Cabin at the famous Cribworks Rapid on the West Branch of the Penobscot, available through Big Eddy Campground, run by the wonderful Chewonki Foundation. The view from the Cribworks is pretty spectacular:

Not A Better Spot in Maine

The two guys at the bottom of the picture didn’t do too much good as the water was way too warm. Salmon were to be had but only in slack just by the fastest water and then, only before sunset. The Mrs. Fishing P got some fish around here:

Last Light is Best

And we managed to pull out this landlocked on a black ghost fished in a sinking tip, getting him back in the water quickly so he could swim upstream another day:

Lemme Outa Here

The next night Doc and the Missus came by for a spectacular dinner barbecued outside the crib, so to speak, that I, needless to say, had nothing to do with. After some toasts to the river gods we fished in vain for a good whole. Doc then caught a perch that hit near the surface. He switched rods—moving from the sinking line to the four-weight with floating line he had strung up—and then swung a “supervisor,” as he called it, though it looked to me like a stimulator with an orange body. He got a hit on the first cast–just before dark—and then got WHAMMED by a very fat eighteen inch salmon he managed to land just as we couldn’t see much at all. I’d like to say this is an artsy fartsy shot but in truth, it was damn dark. You can see what a nice fish that was:

Photographic Art—Nice Fish

We took the Golden Road through the mountains to come out by Greenville and found this tough customer along the way. She invited us back in September and we will oblige:

Find Your Own Bog Buddy!

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Ghost Coast, Weatherby’s of Grand Lake, and Doc Reports

We begin with this report from Doc at his summer home south of the ‘Nocket in the “you must be shitting me” but you are not, since Doc is utterly reliable:

“Windy conditions with no bugs suggested streamers and wet line.
After half an hour of changes of fly—grey ghost, dead smelt, Micky Finn, Hornberg—I dug out my last black ghost. Third cast, stripping, WHAM! Nice 16 inch (estimate) fatty leaping and running. Great fight, me happy. After a five minute or so battle he heads up river 10 ft. away and makes one last leap to freedom.

To my total amazement an adult otter comes out of the river chest high and grabs the salmon, brings him under, surfaces 30 feet down river with fat boy sticking out of each side of his mouth, and snaps off my line. I see him come up again 40 yds. away still with his breakfast.

Nature’s revenge, but he may not enjoy digesting that black ghost.”

I received this amazing report after returning from Cobscook Bay Maine, near Eastport, where the Professor and much of his family spent camping over the 4th of July and after. The coast was ghostly but beautiful:

The Spirit of Fourth of July Past

The next day we headed over to Grand Lake Stream—about an hour and some odd minutes inland. Jeff, the superb innkeeper at Weatherby’s—the great old Maine lodge that is the first-class and homey place to stay in Grand Lake Stream—was kind enough to let us know that salmon were still about, and on dry flies. After showing my beautiful wife the splendid cabins to lure her into a future visit (the meals here are terrific as well), we headed down to a well-known pool. The water was gorgeous:

Grand Lake Stream: World Class Waters

There I picked up a nice rising eighteen inch salmon by getting a fly known as “the haystack” to drift properly. The picture wasn’t worth too much but I will leave dedicated followers of the Fishing Professor with this picture of the statue in Eastport, Maine—your captions are invited and winner will be announced on this blog:

Your Caption Here!

 

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West Branch of the Penobscot: Home Waters

Where is home? I asked myself that a few times after getting back back from California, then packing again and heading up to the Kennebec for the Unforgettable Salmon Adventure. Because I’m crazy, I drove that fish back to my freezer—two and a half hours—showered, had some mac and cheese that was meant for camping at the Big Eddy. Then I drove four and a half hours to meet Doc from the ‘Nocket and learn the secrets of the West Branch of the Penobscott. Those are his native waters, as he hails from Millinocket:

“Don’t Nock the ‘Nockett,” Doc Teaches Us

I would like to say I was Thoreau, the interloper from Massachusetts, to Doc’s Northern Guide: the kind of guy who took Henry David around when he fished exactly these waters in The Maine Woods. But I’m no transcendentalist, since in addition to Pop Tarts, here’s my other select dish for camping:

Health Food for Fly Fishing

Home is where the Mac and Cheese is, or where the fish are biting if you get up early enough. For me that was 4:30 am at first light, so that eventually, the coffee aroma could get the fishing blood flowing:

Drip Filter Number Six and French Roast

Doc initiated me into the many mysteries of fly fishing the West Branch: among them was was that when they up them flows over 3,000 CFS at McKay Station to feed the hunger for electricity in Boston, the bite will be off. Doc and I fished the Great Caddis Blizzard of Summer 2012. We were blinded by so many caddis flies in that hatch that if breathed with your mouth open you’d get a little protein with your noodles, as they say in the health food restaurant.  Well, the fish didn’t take ours when the offerings were fresher and we threw the book at them. Luckily, for desert Mac had thought to bring Whoopie Pies for desert, which really go down well with beer. The next morning, I was fishing at the Eddy by five a.m.—wading of course—but these guys were already at it:

Cat Stevens Was Playing in the Background

The Fishing Professor threw some nice loops a little later to a whole bunch of rising fish. I later heard about a few flies they might have taken. But you know, fly fisherman are notorious for second-guessing in the coulda-shoulda fashion:

They Weren’t Fruit Loops

Doc and I caught some fish anyway a bit later at this spot, but what I mean by second-guessing became clear only after we got back to our respective homes, after doing some good at this beautiful locale:

Doc Ministers to Needy Salmon

After getting some nice fish, the Doc from the ‘Nockett discovered something interesting after looking at his rod the next time out. The reason he’d missed so many is that the point of his hook had broken off after the last decent salmon he caught down this run. That’s why he had so many hits and that strangely—just couldn’t set the hook!

This was of course extremely clever on the Doc’s part. Cut off the point of your hooks and you never have to release any fish! The wisdom of the north, however, was just beginning to be shared with me when I had to leave, though I did stop at Doc’s summer palace long enough to enjoy its impressive view of a little peak the Mainers call Jo Mary (though some flatlander professors I know get the name wrong :

The View from Doc’s Summer Palace

This might be why the salmon always return home.

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An Unforgettable Salmon: I Keep A Fish

After getting back from California, I had a few days—to fish, naturally. The plan was to head up to a spot on the Mighty River where my friend the Shed Man has a camp: in Maine parlance, a small cabin with electricity, no water, an outhouse an access to unbelievable water. Problem is: you MUST get out of the water by 11:30 am or the flow from the dam will sweep you away. This means paying attention in the water, since sometimes they release the water early, and getting up at the crack of dawn. So after a dinner of hot dogs and and macaroni salad—fisherman’s vitamins—I ended up fishing in the rain on water that looked like this:

Fishing in the Rain is Great!

I managed one colorful brook trout and a chub that looked like an over-armored Sherman tank. The rain was great to fish in but I hadn’t solved the fish-appetite problem. A few rising fish could be spotted when things slowed down a bit, and there were a few spinners (kinds of mayflies) and other insects in the air at those points. Then it rained heavy. After exploring upriver, I got back to a more reliable hole and switched things up: I tied in a sinking tip leader and a streamer fly known as a Mickey Finn–bright red and yellow, it looks like a cheerleader’s pom-pom that got electrocuted and needs a haircut. On the first cast, boom: a large salmon hit it “haahd,” as the Shedster says. He immediately threw the hook. Now I was paying attention and the hardest hit I have felt put this fish at the end of my line:

Didn’t Fit in the Net

Here the ethical dilemma comes in. I am not a fanatical catch and release guy. I release fish mainly so I can fish more. Taking care of a fish so you can bring it home interrupts fishing, and if the limit is one fish, the regs say you are done fishing for the day once you take your limit. Here an additional problem kicked in: I was a 30-45 minute hike back to the truck, a walked involving some boulder-scampering and stream-crossing. Ethics were involved because the fish was hurting. I had hooked him quite deep and there was a fair amount of blood as I tried to de-hook him with the hemostat. She looked bad–four jumps on the right had really exhausted her, and though it wasn’t really warm, all the signs for fish mortality were there. I was also headed to the West Branch that day—how was I going to keep a fish this big? Keep buying ice? Killing a fish and wasting it would be a sin, but so would letting it go to waste and die. The fish was truly beautiful:

An Unforgettable Salmon

I understood why some cultures say a prayer when killing animals for good. The act is not to be taken lightly. After cleaning this fish on the river with my Swiss army knife and carried it out using the sinking-tip leader and a stick.  After the hike and a drive, I ended up at this well-known cosmopolitan center, and got myself a styrofoam ice chest, though I could have bought enough gear in there to build a small aircraft carrier:

The Home Depot of West Forks, Maine

To make sure this fish was not wasted, I packed her in ice and drove all the way home and placed her in the freezer for a Sunday barbecue. That cost me many hours in my journey to the West Branch of the Penobscot but I was glad I did. The fish measured out at 21 inches: I am sure the biggest landlocked salmon I have ever caught and the one, for better and worse, that I was fated to keep:

Blessed Be the Fish

 

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Trout Gulch: The Wine

The Fishing P. heads back to Maine tonight. But in a quick trip to Santa Cruz with the old buddies, I tried out this blog-appropriate wine. It was really great! Now the official wine of The Fishing Professor!

You Fish Better After One Glass!

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Grand Lake Stream: Fly Fishing Gods Are Tricky

Thanks to Wild Bill,  Mac and Obi who sent their pictures, the highs and lows of the last two days of our fly fishing extravaganza to the mecca, temple, shrine and annual land locked salmon pilgrimage site have arrived. Obi sought out his secret sites with his mysterious flies, imparting his knowledge sparingly to those acolytes and princely wannabees who could keep up with him. He summoned snouts from the deep like this one:

I Was Sacredly Summoned

Wild Bill did great, discovering his own spot north of where the Professor and Mack sought a fish we named Ace Hardware, because we left so many flies in his mouth. Yours truly hooked and fought Ace for a good while, had him close to the net, until he took a run through my legs and broke off. Mack was there and you can ask him. Upriver, Bill was hooking and landing the likes of this:

We Don’t Say No To Wild Bill

And he nymphed creatures like this one from the deep:

The Silver Streak

Meanwhile, mysterious Obi exerted his charms over the land locked Salmon population in ways known only unto him:

They Fly To His Net

But fly fishing at Grand Lake Stream, Maine, is unpredictable. With flows at a perfect 399 CFS the whole time—almost a third of what we fished last year, and with expectations high—Mac had a tough second day. After slaying them on day one (metaphorically speaking, of course, as all fish were released healthy)—Mac struggled and didn’t land a fish until the pm and that was largely it for the day. Entering the cabin with a spring loaded screen door after fishing was done, Mac slipped and chopped off the tip of his Sims rod in the door! That’s why they invented phrases like insult to injury. You can’t stay on the good side of the river guides for good—that’s for sure. Mac made it up with the Ocean deities on his return to Freeport, however, and landed this nice striper on a fly rod just off the coast:

Mac Goes on the Attack

Wild Bill is also known as “Biology Bill” to some of his friends on the river like Alpha, the old man with the mean nymphing technique and Beta, his protege. Bill was discovered photographing what appeared to be rare Grand Lake Stream flora on a river isle. This strange vegetation was the object of his study:

Can You Identify This Growth?

The product in question is the famous Pop Tart, strawberry flavor. The Fishing Professor has been known to survive nine straight hours on the river with two Pop Tarts and a bottle of water in his vest. Wild Bill felt the Smithsonian might be interested in these early 21st century fishing methods some day, and the Professor expects to be contacted imminently to record his oral history. Until then, we will all have to remain satisfied with memories like this one of our green friends from a great trip. That is, until the Great West Branch of the Penobscot River Fly Fishing Adventure cuts loose:

He’s Just Visiting

Until then, we’ll be fishing the sacred waters of Grand Lake Stream in our dreams:

Last Cast

 

 

 

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Fishing the Upper Sacramento and McCloud: Home Again, Naturally

We interrupt our account of the Grand Lake Stream adventure—Day Two was Exciting!—to give you this account of fly fishing the Upper Sacramento, on the way to the McCloud River east of Mt. Shasta. The mother of mountains looked like this on the way in:

Why I Miss California!

First I flew into San Francisco though, arrived at 1:00 am and was in Walnut Creek by 2–on the road at 7:30. Stopped in a dive off highway 5 in the mountains, got coffee, and in my waders, went into the one bathroom. I jumped back when I faced this beautiful lady stretched out seductively in the Olde Californ-i-a  bathtub:

Lady Luck

This sultry mermaid of the higher waters wasn’t all. There was an infra-red trip somewhere that set off this recording: “Oh–help!–bothering a girl in the bathtub! You pervert!” When I left, a woman was waiting to use the facilities. I told her “there’s a woman in the bathtub in there, but don’t worry–it will be okay.” She hadn’t met the the Fishing Professor before.

Only managed one fish on my way up—camped near Sims. The next morning meant getting up at 4:30 am. I lived in hot dogs fried on my propane stove and a bucket of Walmart Mustard potato salad, a bag of apples and pop tarts for the vest. Ate like a king! After more freeway, then seven miles of twisting, dirt road curving back into the McCloud canyon, I got to Ah-Di-Nah campground. Missed so many fish that morning! The famous McCloud rainbows are lightning quick. They were propagated all over the world as early as the late 19th century; New Zealand is full of them and they’re in Europe too:

They Weren’t Kidding About the Wildlife

After missing around ten fish that morning, I met a really nice guy who’s fished there for 25 years. The Nature Conservancy owns three miles of river past where I fished, but they only ten or so rods per day. Five are reserved as early as January, and another five are for guys who show up at 5:00 am. at 10:00 am they distribute the no shows. But Chris told me that you can go later and if someone’s out early, you can get their tag. He was a great guy! So that’s what I did. Following his advice, I hiked in and caught a fish before the reserve proper in water like this:

Close to Perfect if You Ask Me

On the way in I met his friend Ron, his guide, who was coming out. I said: “you Ron?” He said: “Yeah–how far you going in?” Turns out that Ron had an encounter with a mamma bear with her cub and she “gnarled her teeth” at him. He said he crossed the river a couple of times to make sure she wasn’t nearby. His good advice: don’t go into the reserve too far. Though I am not generally afraid of California bears (they’re not grizzlies), I followed his advice. I managed to get five McCloud rainbows–the largest 12 inches, and they looked like this:

He Has Bigger Friends

This should be a video of a super hatch on the McCloud with a fish rising:

Rising Wild

That night in the tent I cramped up so bad I couldn’t move. Happy pain though. The next day I fished my way home down the Upper Sacramento, and I managed to nymph this guy out of the lower exits. They say the bigger ones come up out of Shasta Lake:

He Jumped Twice and Was A Bitch To Land

Don’t worry about the red gill. He was revived carefully in the water and swam happily away. He was caught nymphing using the follow rig—a stone fly with a caddis pupa dropper, all on 4x tippet, no strike indicator:

This Nymph Dropper Combo Was The Ticket

The Upper Sac is magnificent water with the strongest fighting, native rainbows at the I-5 exits closest to Shasta Lake. Unbelievable runs like this:

Many Big Rainbows Hiding Behind Rocks in the Chop

The Fishing Professor has a lot more schooling to do in these stretches and back on the McCloud, mother of trouts of legend. As I fall asleep now, I hear the sound of rises slapping the surface and see the sight of dark flashes of huge trout, shooting up from the depths of the surprisingly deep pools, then turning away at the last moment. I did not want to follow the road out:

The Road Taken Must Be Taken Again

 

 

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Grand Lake Stream: Day One, Bottom of the Ninth

Wild Bill, Mac and I met at the LL Bean parking lot in Freeport at 6:30 am to combine cars. The packing was scientific, with an ice-chest design safety-engineered to provide vision out the back of a Prius:

Safety Feature Indicated by Wild Bill

Obi Wan was already at Weatherby’s, the classic Maine lodge in Grand Lake where we stay. He greeted us warmly with his usual sage advice about water conditions, locations and specific flies. He’d been slaying them–that’s for sure, and no one was surprised. It wasn’t long, however,  before our “B” team of hackers, poets and professors got going. Wild B. caught our first fish on a gummy stone that was light brown–a color that would turn out to be crucial in the next two days. The beautiful landlocked salmon looked like this:

Wild Bill Gets Hot

We fished from around noon till dinner with Mac and Bill getting nice fish. Soon, Mac hooked up big and landed one using this perfect technique. Even Obi was impressed:

Mac Shows How Its Done

 

Meanwhile, while Obi Wan was fishing in his secret spots with his secret light-saber method, The Fishing Professor–he had total nada, zilch and nixo. The dropper method with the number twelve stone fly that worked so well for me last year produced ball after ball of knotted tippet around the indicator. I spent most of my time untangling, then retying.  We moved down to other pools, I switched flies, changed leaders and nothing helped. The dreaded word “snakebit” was heard. Eventually Obi and Mac went back and Bill and I stayed out at different pools. It was getting dark and it looked like my first skunked day at Grand Lake Stream was at hand. To change things up, I began fishing dry flies as I thought I saw some rises. A nice guy on the other side of the Hatchery Pool yelled out what I thought was “Parachute Adams 16″—exactly the fly I had on my fly patch. There was only light to tie on one more possibility and that was going to be it. It was time, as they say, to tie one on:

Last Hope and Prayer

Finally, the guy on the other side of the pool left and why not: it was so dark a bat out of hell couldn’t have found a casino in Vegas. I could barely see but I thought I heard him say “fish rising at the tail out.” That’s the end of the smooth water that shallows out, just before a bend where a rapid of white water curves down around the corner toward the Evening Pool. I walked across and took the goodhearted fisherman’s spot. Some late reflected light from sunset over the horizon seemed to indicate a small fish rising at the very edge of the glassy surface. Four casts later I hit the spot with the parachute Adams and BOOM: the take was hard. For the first time in my life fishing, however, I was too quick, and I felt the fly take hold, then slip-slip-give—that disgusting feeling— as I pulled the hook clean out of his mouth. SHIT! I’d been too eager on the set and practically guaranteed myself a skunking. But I wasn’t done yet. Only two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. On my second cast—and now it was totally dark, and at least I could foul off fastballs I couldn’t see—my fly finally performed a dead drift over the same spot as the last take.  This was  DOUBLE BOOM: the same big, effing fish gulped the Adams slowly, and matching the set to his take, I didn’t miss this time. With a slower hook set he was well-hooked and the fight was on. Ten careful minutes later I’d hit a clean double in the gap–a very decent landlocked salmon was in hand, with a huge tail:

Thank You Mr. Salmon!

It was 8:45 pm. I walked down to the Glide where the car was, thinking it 50/50 that Wild Bill was still out. A bunch of guys came up the path, and when they told me one big tall guy was still fishing I knew Wild Bill had not let me down. He’d also done well. We fished another ten casts together, came out of the water and when we were breaking down our rods at the Prius another car pulls up—Obi and Mac worried that we weren’t back. We were fine–more than fine. It was 9:30 pm and we had to get back, so we could get up at 4:30 am and do it some more the next day.

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Grand Lake Stream Tune-Ups

Leaving for Grand Lake Stream tomorrow for two and half days intensive landlocked salmon fishing—with Wild Bill, Mac, and Obi Wan.  In preparation, hit local waters. At the Workplace last week, I scootched away to the Kennebec and this Bass of the Master rose in a riffle to a white hornberg:

He jumped twice before coming to the net and that was worth the hour:

Lemme Outa Here!

A few days later I needed to test the new waders Mac got me cheap–can’t have leaks at Grand Lake! Managed to bring four fish to net–no pictures were very exciting but this guy told me he had been to Grand Lake Stream the day before with his fly rod and had scored 20 fish on green caddis emergers:

Does This Fisherman Look Honest to You?

We’ll found out if he was telling the truth: Obi insisted on the phone last night that “sparkly green” was not working as a nymph color. We’ll know the answer in a few days….

Meanwhile, the flow on the Upper Sacramento in Northern California is near 1,000cfs, and 800 would be terrific. I should be there Wednesday next week if all goes right.  Hopefully there will be some epic, or at least passable, reports from here soon!

 

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Stalking More Brookies

There was lots more grading to do—so more breaks were necessary. The weather got better and I returned to an area near the scene of the last brookie success. My goal was to discover some new holes by hiking up river, and boy did I find some beautiful spots:

Shangri La of Brook Trout Habitat

I fished a hole right above here and hooked up big on a streamer fished low and slow—missed. Went back to the well and did it again a bit later. Not wanting to lose the fish again, I did the rod-over-the-head thing. It was a good fish and I played it for five minutes and more. There was so much line at my feet that I’d stripped that I decided to “play it safe” and spool some in to avoid tripping. This is always a bad idea and I don’t know why I try it. Sure enough—boom. Fish off. I hiked above and no other fish that day other than a small guy but I did locate some great terrain.

A couple of days later I returned to a nearby hole. The rain splashed on the windshield all the way up and I was glad. As soon as I arrived it stopped–not optimal for the nymphing I was planning on. Seven fish and three monster brook trout landed. On the first, I drifted a quite hairy caddis emerger over a likely rock into some deep current. I used tungsten putty weight for the first time. And as soon as the line extended downward and had barely begun to drift:

A Nice Long Maine Brook Trout—18 Plus Inches

Changing Flies to a streamer with lots of weight after things slowed down produced this kyper:

A Healthy Guy

My favorite picture of the day was this release–a brilliant but completely accidental piece of camera work. As so often happens when fishing by yourself, the fish slips out of your hand as you’re trying to get the shot. This time, the result was Escape from Alcatraz:

Houdini Brookie Escapes the Bank Safe

That was a great day. In the run-up to our yearly Grand Lake Stream landlocked salmon hunting adventure, I will be out this week honing skills and practicing hypo-thermic exposure. Looking forward to fishing with Wild Bill, and should hear soon about Mac’s own quest on local waters—his own tune up for the Great Journey Northward.

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