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2019 Year in Review and Recent Fishing

Posted on January 17, 2020 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Love the colors this time of year

Hard to believe it's already 2020! I know this is a few weeks late, but as we roll into the new year, I like to take a look at what the old one had to offer. All in all, 2019 was a great year! Spring fishing was consistent on the Ohio rivers, starting very early on with good runs coming in during warmer periods of January and February, and fishing very well all the way through early may. It seemed like the overall size of the fish was slightly down, most the fish we found were between four and six pounds, but there were some bruisers in the mix like always.

One really nice thing about 2019 were the late spring and early summer wild browns in central PA. It had been quite some time since I had given any of the wild browns any love. But starting in early May and continuing all through June, we were having great streamer fishing for trout up to around 24", and saw some much bigger ones! I'm already thinking about trout season haha.

Like most years, from July-September, we quieted down as we started planning and preparing for the upcoming fall season. It was a time spent tying, scouting, and juggling multiple other engagements. But soon enough October rolled around. Early on, the Catt was low though not troublingly so. She still had enough water for fish to move through, but the lower flows definitely resulted in a bit of a delay. Until about the third week of the month, fish were spread out and working the water well was key. By the end of the month, however, we were finding good numbers and that continued on throughout the rest of the season. The nice thing was that on the whole, we had a lot of days to fish the Catt this fall, which is such a relief compared to the essential blank that was the year before.

The Ontario creeks fished moderately well in the fall as well. We did not have as strong a brown run as the year before. Most days were somewhere between two and four fish swinging, which is still very good. Just last year spoiled us for sure. One really nice thing about the Ontario creeks this year was the number of Atlantic salmon around. There's usually a few that we see in the mix of fish, but last year was the best numbers I think I've ever seen. I really hope that program keeps evolving and progressing. It would be nice to see Ontario develop a good Atlantic fishery like the ones in the upper lakes.

Looking ahead to 2020, we are already having great fishing. Fresh steelhead are running the Ohio rivers as we speak, and their numbers will build as winter turns to spring. Based on what I'm seeing, I'm pretty excited for peak season. Matt and Jeff will be back out here working with me from late March through late April. Right now Matt is out in Park City, Utah fishing the Provo, and Jeff is back on the east coast chasing stipers. Check out the pics they sent me.

In addition, in a couple months Flyfishers Guide to Steelhead Alley, a book I was asked to write, comes out. Pretty excited to see the finished product. It's part technique guide and part stream guide, so I think it has something for everyone. And I've decided to donate any of my author royalties to Trout Unlimited for the Snake River Dam Removal efforts. So pick up a book and check it out! Should be available end of February/early March-ish.

Tight Lines,

 - D

Matt's recent Provo River brown

A striper Jeff caught fishing jetties in the surf

Steelhead, Browns, and a Surprise Salmon

Posted on November 8, 2019 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Me and Art with a surprise Lake Erie coho from over the weekend!

Well, the weather looks like it has changed for the season! Last week we had days in the mid-fifties to mid-sixties. As I'm writing this, snow is falling outside, and it's supposed to get much colder early next week for a little while. But that hasn't stopped the fishing from being productive! We still haven't seen a huge push of fish anywhere, but there are decent numbers everywhere. To be honest, I really like these conditions. The usual spots see pressure and any given day the number of people fishing fluctuates, but for the most part since nowhere is overwhelmingly producing and everywhere is fishing about equally, anglers spread out. It means that we're not seeing crazy numbers of hookups, but we're finding fish consistently. After last year's crazy water, I'll take a fall season of consistency.

Before the Catt spiked up at the end of last week, she was fishing well. Again not crazy numbers, but we were finding fish just about every place we looked. The current water and dropping temps should really get more fish pushing in, and more fish pushing in low means more fish that were holding down low pushing upwards. Without a ton of rain or possibly even snowmelt, I'm hoping to see good fishing again there soon.

Matt's been up on the Ontario Creeks these last few days. From the pics, it looks like it was a good time! Just like elsewhere, nothing crazy but good and consistent and picking up a handful of really nice fish each day and losing a few others. Back on the Erie Creeks, the high water that has ping-ponged the creek flows since last weekend has pushed in new fish. Most days over there, we're hooking a handful swinging, and a handful under the indicators. Even picked up a Lake Erie Coho, something I haven't seen in a long while. Just goes to show that you never truly know what you're going to find during a day on the river.

Tight Lines,

 - D

Jess and Art with a beast!

Swinging them up from the big creek before the water!

Another solid brown!

Hard to beat fall on the creeks

Fall fishing update

Posted on October 28, 2019 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Jeff with a sweet Atlantic salmon!

The fishing this past week has ranged from very productive to working for a few fish as water levels have fluctuated from lower and clearer to high and stained. The Catt has fished on an off over the past week, with a weather system that came through Tuesday dropping about a half an inch of rain and muddying up the water for a few days. When it dropped, fish the fish in the river from before pushed up and fresh fish pushed into the lower stretch.

The smaller creeks all saw at least a little push on the high water, and fish can be found throughout each of them, though numbers still seem a bit lower than normal for this time of year. I attribute this to the low water and warm temperatures that persisted until about the second week of the month. Based on what I'm seeing, it seems like we're running a week or two behind schedule, which makes sense considering the foregoing.

The Ontario creeks all have fish in them, some more than others. The larger systems like the Oak and 18 Mile have the most due to the more consistent waterflows this fall. We have been pleasantly surprised by the numbers of Atlantics around this fall. Usually we see a couple darting around in the rivers each fall, but this year seems like there are a lot more around. That's really nice to see, and I hope that New York really develops this program. The kings seem to be struggling a bit, and I'm concerned that my predictions from September 2017 about an imbalanced predator-prey population are going to really manifest themselves in the next two or three years. Alewife populations are still really low and there have been a lot of mouths to feed over the past two years. The silver lining in that is with less king salmon, it seems the Atlantics are starting to flourish. But only time will tell.

Anyways, to sum it all up, the fishing is decent but not great. It should be getting better with each passing weather system that moves through, but the Catt will likely become more hit or miss as is usual this time of year. And I'm optimistic to see what the future holds.

Tight Lines.

Monster brown!  

Working a run

Hooked up!

The beauty of fall

Kicking off the season

Posted on October 22, 2019 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Jeff with a beauty

The last week was the start of the guiding season for us in New York. Early in the week, the water everywehre was very low with low numbers of fish in the smaller creeks and better numbers in the Catt. Due to how low the flow was, we resorted to swinging smaller flies on scandi heads with floating and light sinking polyleaders and tapered tippets down to 3x. It's a beautiful way to fish steelhead, but the light tippets mean lost fish. Before the mid-week rain hit most days yielded between two and four good grabs with about half resulting in hookups, though the fish we hooked broke us off due to the light line. Regardless, it was really nice to be able to fish the floating line for a while, and we even had a really great take on a riffle hitched muddler and landed a good sized resident smallmouth!

Mid last week, we got some very much needed rain in the area. The creeks spiked up and stayed high for enough time to spur on fish movement and really kick off the fall run. As the smaller creeks were dropping and clearing towards the end of last week, we were seeing decent numbers of fresh fish moving through. Not the big push of fall run fish by any means, but a nice little run with enough numbers that each decent pool held at least a couple fish and sometimes more. Covering all the water well resulted in multiple hookups from both indicator and swing techniques.

Then the Catt dropped back into shape and we were able to get one really nice day out in the mid river. With the water still being good temperature wise, swinging a scandi and a light or medium sinking polyleader was the key. Due to where fish were holding, primarily in the drop-off behind riffles, having the ability to mend well over multiple current seams was key. This is difficult to do well with a skagit due to how heavy the head is. The fish we landed were chrome fish that looked like they hadn't been in the river long. I expect that many of the fish that were holding from Gowanda down due to the low water have now pushed up into the middle river and will continue working up as the conditions allow.

Looking ahead, we have rain in the forecast today. They're calling for half an inch or more. This will likely dirty the Catt up for a few days, and might stain up the smaller creeks for a day as well. But it will mean that fresh fish should push in again, and that fish that entered last week will have the chance to push up higher into the creeks. All in all, pretty excited for how things are shaping up.

Tight Lines



Fall Steelhead

Posted on October 7, 2019 at 9:25 AM Comments comments (0)

A large pod of fresh steelhead holding in a shallow tailout of a small creek

Well the guiding season starts next week. In preparation I've been spending a lot of time scouting around. As of writing this, all the creeks in the region are still very low with the exception of the Catt. But that hasn't stopped the run from pushing in, and with the cooler temps and rain in the forecast periodically for the next two weeks, I'm anticipating things to heat up quickly!

More and more I find greater joy in photographing these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat without the harassment of anglers throwing all kinds of offerings at them. This time of year when the water is low the fish congregate in whatever suitable holding places they can find, often stacking up tightly like the picture above shows. So on the smaller creeks, its fun to walk the banks and observe- maybe take a picture or two and move on. When the water comes and the creeks raise it will be time to wet a line. 

I did stop by some of the larger creeks as well. There are fish in all of them. Spent about an hour skating a bomber and a riffle hitched hairwing but no takers. Hopefully that will change soon.

Tight Lines. 

Starting to think about fall steelhead!

Posted on August 29, 2019 at 9:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Won't be long until we start seeing some of these around!

It's quickly approaching my favorite time of year! You can just feel it in the cool air in the mornings, and the reasonably temperate days we've been seeing recently. Fall is definitely on the way. And with fall comes fall steelheading! With how things have been going over the past week (cooler with periodic spurts of rain) I wouldn't be surprised if a fish or two is hanging around the river mouths, perhaps even nosing their way in. But we are still likely some three or four weeks away from the first real push of the fall, again weather conditions dependent.

For those just getting into the sport of steelhead fishing, the early runners of fall are a totally different animal than spring run fish or even fish returning to the rivers later in the fall in colder water temperatures. To successfully target them over the course of first weeks of the run and not simply luck into a fish or two here and there, you must be willing to adjust your techniques, focus on different water conditions and river structures, and be willing to adapt and overcome the obstacles of fishing to a run that has just started presents. Having the ability to do so by recognizing trends and habits will make you a better steelheader in general, and will increase your early fall success rate. This post is really focused on the larger watersheds, as usually in early fall they have better numbers of fish running, and in the smaller watersheds you can likely spot and stalk steelhead which is a completely different game and success is usually determined by the stealth of the approach and not reading water, recognizing habits, and overall knowledge of the quarry.

First and foremost, as I've said numerous times in the past, if there is enough water (like there is most years on the Catt) early run fall fish can migrate up a river quickly. A key to finding success early in the fall may not be to necessarily fish low in the river. Most people assume that the lower river holds the most fish early on, and this can be true in times of lower and clearer water, where fish may be more hesitant to push upward. However even in lower conditions on rivers like the Catt or Conneaut, fish can and do push upward. The first arrivals of fall are generally smaller fish of one or two summers in the lake and run between 15 and 25 inches or so. These sized fish can easily run through shallow riffles, and frequently hold in water as shallow as a foot, at least temporarily, if certain conditions are met- mostly if there is a broken surface to distort their appearance to predators above and a current seam to make holding easier. If you come to the river early in the season with the expectation that the lower river holds the most fish, it may be true on any given day, but know that because everyone else thinks so you will be fishing to pressured fish. Targeting the portion that has passed this pressure and is now scattered throughout the middle of the river can be more rewarding, and offer an angler better success as unpressured steelhead are a joy to fish to and can be taken on any given method of fly fishing.

So now that you've taken my first piece of advice and find yourself wandering around the middle section of a river, you may think what next? My best answer is to find the shade. In September and the first part of October, days are generally still mild and sunny, and the water this time of year is usually lower and clearer. Finding the shade can mean finding the fish. In the lake, steelhead can and will occupy every zone of water from the surface to the substrate, however steelhead can prefer deeper water in bright sun. As these fish are pushing into the river, they are adjusting to a completely new environment where even the deepest pools have significant light penetration, and warmer river temperatures force a need for greater dissolved oxygen content. The oxygen is frequently found in a riffle. My go to location for finding early fall steelhead is a shallow riffle and run with a broken bottom and canopy that keeps shade on the water most of the day. This may not mean that there are any greater numbers of fish present in this type of run than any other section of good, riffly habitat, but in high sun shaded fish will feel more comfortable and therefore more likely to bite than those exposed diretly to the light. This can even hold true if decent deeper holding pools are located nearby. 

The final tip I'd offer is go small and stealthy when swinging. Over the past few years I've written a fair amount about fishing floating lines and dry flies, and fishing from the surface down. Those are very exciting ways to target fall steelhead, and in my opinion taking a decent early fall fish on a floating line and riffle hitched wet fly or true dry fly is about as good as it gets. But that requires quite a bit of confidence that can only come with a significant amount of trial and error. The more productive method is fishing lightly weighted small streamers on a long leader, things like beadhead woolly buggers, small zonkers with light dumbell or bead chain eyes, or traditional steelhead patterns with wire ribbing. All of those will get somewhere around a foot below the surface even in faster water, and if you're fishing the right water a foot below the surface is right in the strike zone. And the neat thing is that fishing this way is the transition from swinging streamers on a sink tip to skating or waking dry flies on the surface. You use the long leader and weighed small streamer approach to form confidence in fishing to certain types of water that eventually will show you how and where to fish those dries. Then when you make the transition to dries, if that is something you want to do, you can do so with a bit of earned confidence built up along the way.

So hopefully you all are getting as fired up as I am, and that this little bit helps in finding success with those early run fall fish. As always be mindful of water temperature so as not to increase the risk of harm. But good luck, and perhaps you will see me wandering around the middle of the river sometime this fall enjoying a day of fall steelheading.

Tight Lines,

 - D 

Fly Fishing in Scotland

Posted on August 20, 2019 at 6:55 AM Comments comments (0)

My dad with a beautiful wild atlantic salmon!

Went to visit my sister over in Scotland last week with my family. Not really a fishing trip but you better believe I was going to bring a few rods. Fished the Tay one day and a smaller Western Highlands river another morning. Boy what a place! Where we fished the Tay it was big wide salmon river, with long pools and tailouts that fished a floating line and small spey flies well. We watched anglers fishing from the boats with ghillies catch a few but from the shore we didn't have any luck with the salmon. After a good bit of no action, I put on a tip and a whiskey hangover and did manage to swing up a small pike which I was told on the way out was very rare on the river. Surprise surprise the hangover found another victim.

But then one other morning we had a few hours to kill before a falconry demonstration (which was unreal by the way) and we snuck out to a river close to where we were staying. When we met up with the ghillie, I told him we only had like two hours and he put us in the spot. Right off the bat I found a beautiful little wild brown trout. Then a while later I saw a fish roll on the inside of a seam where my dad was working his way through the head of. A short while later his rod bent under the weight of a fish that was not a pike or brown trout. After a bit of a battle, he played the fish in close enough where I could tail it for him. It was what would be considered a grilse in ballpark of five or six pounds, but it was a wild atlantic that passed over no less than three waterfalls up to about eight feet tall to meet us in the pool. And it was magnificent.

Looking ahead, with the end of summer nearing our headlights, we're now well into fall bookings for what should be a good season. There are lots of big browns being caught in Lake O right now, and it wont be long until steelhead start finding their way into the Catt and other Lake Erie creeks. Should be a great season!

Tight Lines

 - D

Dad fighting his atlantic

Tailing the salmon

My brown trout

Pretty pike from the Tay

The money pool

Trout and Smallmouth

Posted on July 2, 2019 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (1)

Kyle with a nice 23" wild Pennsylvania brown trout!

Well the fishing remains very good! Central PA wild trout are still fishing very well with all the water. Fishing streamers to undercut banks and overhanging vegetation is producing great fish up over twenty inches, and we're moving much bigger ones. Lake run smallmouth have slowed down over the last week or two. Prior to that the fishing was very good when the rivers were dropping and clearing. Looking ahead, if we keep having intermittent thunderstorms to keep the flows up we probably have another 3 weeks or so of good streamer fishing. I expect the smallies to be finishing up here fairly quickly.

Tight Lines,

 - D

Nice smallie

Jeff with a pretty brown

Matt with a nice upper teens fish

Pennsylvanian Trout

Posted on May 21, 2019 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Jeff with a nice wild streamer eating brown

Spent the last few days hitting the wild browns in Pennsylvania and man it was too much fun! A good day streamer fishing is moving ten quality fish and hooking maybe three or four. On our float we moved somewhere around thirty up to around 25", hooked nine or ten and landed six- unreal! Jeff's fish above took a double white streamer literally as it hit the water looking exactly like a take on a mouse pattern- DID YOU SEE THAT!!!! Too much fun!

With steelhead in the rearview mirror, were hoping to get another few trout trips with the streamers before the water drops low for summer. When that happens big trout tend to stay deep, though terrestrials can tempt some up. 

Tight Lines,

 - D

Matt with the prettiest fish of the trip ( I don't know why this pic will only load upside down)

Jeff with another 


2018-19 Season Review

Posted on May 14, 2019 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Our big trout of the season!

Well it's getting to be that time of year again. Though there are still decent numbers of steelhead around, particularly in the Grand River, and that we still have decent temperatures due to the cool rainy beginning of May that we've had, steelhead season is coming to an end. So it's time to look back at what the '18-'19 season had to offer.

Starting with last fall, the end of September was very hot, something that we are starting to see frequently. When I first started fly fishing for steelhead twenty some years ago, we used to really see decent numbers of fish in our New York rivers by mid-September, sometimes even earlier. My earliest steelhead I can remember catching was August 27. This was due to the fact that twenty years ago, mid-September was what early October is now weather-wise. Going forward, it looks like the season shift that has been noticably occurring over the past decade or so with warmer early fall temperatures will become the new normal, and that's a shame because early fall before the main run gets in is my favorite time.

Then by the first or second day of October the rains came. And it didn't stop for two months. There was a stretch of 45 days or so right in the middle of peak fall season where it rained 39 days. Despite the flows the overall numbers of steelhead throughout the New York Erie creeks was lower than normal, with most fish running between 20 and 24 inches. It was as though a year class was missing. In recent years, New York has struggled with smolt size due to cold flows at the hatchery. This combined with the very high populations of walleye and cormorants likely has had an effect on adult steelhead numbers. 

Whereas Lake Erie creeks and rivers were inconsistent, the Lake Ontario brown trout run was unreal. Beginning in earnest the first week of November and continuining all through the winter into the spring, the lake run brown fishing was the best I've seen it in years. Average days were double digit hookups, with many, many brown trout between 28 and 32" taken. Swinging streamers for the browns was just too much fun. This year our biggest trout of the entire season was a 32" lake run brown with about a 20" girth. The big hen went 15 maybe 16 pounds!

As for spring in Ohio, we had very good and consistent fishing. I'd say the run was right about average numbers and size wise. It was good fishing with the average day spey fishing being 2 or 3 hookups per rod. We did have some banner days, particularly in mid-April when spey fishing hookups approached or exceeded double digits, though the Grand started to get less consistent flows due to significant amounts of rain the last two weeks of April which is the timeframe we usually see the best spey fishing.

As is normal for the first week of May, the smallmouth have started making a strong showing. Those guys should stick around for the next month or so, providing good fishing. If this cool wet weather keeps up, there may even be a steelhead or two still in the Grand or the Catt in June, but it wont take them long to drop out to the lake if there is a prolonged heat spell.

If there was one factor that determined success all season long, I'd say it would have to be adaptability. Being able to recognize and react to changing and inconsistent conditions was key to consistently finding success, whether it be finding new spots that were holding fish, fishing different rivers more frequently, or even targeting different species such as lake run browns. We found success by keeping an open mind and not falling into the rhythm of complacency. I guess in steelhead fishing, that's about as good as you can strive for- the ability to meet the challenges that present themselves and hopefully find a fish or two along the way.

We're already excited for next fall.

Until we meet again, tight lines.

 - D