It’s fall and big fish with big teeth are beginning to get active. For fly fishers and hardware throwers alike here is a simple – yet effective –means for constructing a tippet that will withstand the rigors of pike, muskie, pickerel, bluefish, specks and other fish with major molars – or incisors or whatever.
First you will need a few tools. A good pair of hemostats, a pair of diagonals or wire cutters with cutters at the tip of the tool, a pair of needle nose pliers, and a pair of serrated scissors. If you don’t already have them in your tool box a trip to the hardware store may be in order. As long as you are going to the hardware store, a hammer, anvil, acetylene torch, concrete mixer, a box of 16d nails, and a grinder can be purchased as well. You won’t need them for this project, but didn’t you really want that stuff ? Oh what the heck; throw in the arc welder and a string of Christmas lights.
The next item you will need is the actual leader material itself. My favorite is Rio Wire Bite. This is great stuff but it’s a bit on the pricey side. Don’t expect your nippers to cut it. That’s what the serrated scissors are for. Any knotable coated wire will work, and this tippet method will help you save a few bucks.
Then you will need some snaps such as those found at the end of a snap swivel. Whether you use the type shown or the all wire snaps is a matter of personal preference.
Now to begin the construction, liberate the snap from the swivel using the diagonals. Carefully cut the wire of the swivel allowing the snap to come free. The snaps can also be purchased separate from the swivel.
Then cut about two feet of the desired tippet material, (24 inches or 61 cm or 0.0003291569 nautical miles) from the spool.
At one end tie a Non-Slip Mono Loop or Perfection Loop. This will enable you to use the loop to loop method to connect the tippet to the leader. At the other end you can attach the snap to the wire by using an improved clinch knot or a figure 8 knot. You may need the needle nose pliers or hemostats to pull the knots tight. Be sure to lubricate the knots before pulling them tight.
The snap will move some but that is okay. It gives more action to the fly and field tests (well actually lake tests) have shown that its effectiveness is not diminished. In fact, it seems to impart more action into the large flies used. Changing flies is simply a matter of opening the snap, removing the fly, replacing it with another fly, and closing the snap. With the Rio Wire Bite, you can tie on individual flies, much as you would with monofilament, but I don’t see the need for it with a leader like this.
An advantage of this over a crimped leader or tippet is that the loop or knot at the snap is not as likely to pick up “lake salad” as a crimp will be.
This tippet can also be attached to the business end of a rod throwing plugs and it works just fine.
Tie up a bunch while sitting in front of the TV before going fishing. Make them in various lengths and test strengths of wire. Then you will have a supply when you are ready to go fishing.
There are some comments from a couple of contributors to the Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide that I feel are worth noting:
Ed Jaworowski wrote:
I’ve made numerous trips to northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan for pike, and taken them as well in Alaska, Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador. The leaders you recommend are fine, but here’s another approach. You only need a pair of sharp cutters. Connect the mono to the knottable/tieable wire with an overhand knot in the wire, and a uni-knot in mono. I thoroughly dislike a perfection loop in the wire. The uni-knot connection is much smaller, neater, catches grass and junk a lot less. To the fly, a simple figure 8 works fine. Obviously, a snap on the end has great advantage for changing flies, and I generally use snaps now. But this method is quick, and you can rig up with just a spool of wire and the diagonal cutters in seconds. I’ve taken easily 5-600 pike, many 36-44″ and never had a failure. I’ve also used it for many bluefish, which are far stronger and tougher than any pike.
Bob Clouser wrote:
The leader I use is three foot of 30 lb. Maxima and a 14 inch of 20 to 30 pound bite wire with a snap and swivel.
I like Ed’s idea of “overhand knot in the wire, and a uni-knot in mono. ” More research is required – I guess I have to go fishing again.
This past weekend I accomplished something that isn’t all that uncommon. I caught a wild brook trout, a wild rainbow trout, and a wild brown trout, in the same county. Granted they were two different streams that provided the fish, but they were all wild. It was the “Pennsylvania Wild Trout Grand Slam” so to speak. The only native that was missing was the Lake Trout, Salvelinus namaycush. As I released the wild brown back into the environment where he was spawned, it got me thinking, how hard would it be to catch all the members of other families in the same county, or watershed or some other geographically defined area? Which county or waterbody would you go to?
To catch three of the four trout in Pennsylvania the answer to the question is relatively easy. Go anywhere there is a stocked stream and you are likely to fulfill the goal. If the brook, brown and rainbows are to be wild, the question gets a little more difficult. To catch all four Erie County – and by extension Lake Erie is probably the best bet, though I have yet to hear of a brook trout coming from Lake Erie.
Lake Trout Salvelinus namaycush
Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis
Brown Trout Salmo trutta
Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss
Excluding lakers, the counties where I would go to catch the other three wild trout would be Cumberland, Westmoreland, Franklin and Somerset.
What about the other families of fish? Where would you go to catch all the members of the sunfish family Centrarchidae? There are 30 species of sunfishes found in North America. To be sure, not all of them live in Pennsylvania. So I have abbreviated the list, to just those that are common in the Keystone State.
Black Crappie Pomoxis nigromaculatus
White Crappie Pomoxis annularis
Rock Bass Ambloplites rupestris
Largemouth Bass Micropterus salmoides
Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu
Green Sunfish Lepomis cyanellus
Bluegill Lepomis macrochirus
Redear Sunfish Lepomis microlophus
Pumpkinseed Lepomis gibbosus
Longear Sunfish Lepomis megalotis
Redbreast Sunfish Lepomis auritus
It might not be possible to find all of the species in one county or one drainage, but the two counties I would consider would be Huntingdon, at Lake Raystown, or Tioga with Cowanesque, Hammond and Hills Creek lakes leading the likely places. The Susquehanna River below Sunbury is also considered.
The perch family, Percidae might be the easiest list to fill. Three species are that you have to consider in this category: walleye, yellow perch, and sauger.
Walleye Sander vitreus
Yellow Perch Perca flavescens
Sauger Sander canadensis
I’ll leave out the other members of the family Percidae which includes the darters. I suspect I would have to go to somewhere in the Ohio River drainage to catch all of them. The Allegheny River on the Westmoreland / Allegheny County line would be a good place to start, or even a little farther upstream where the Kiskiminetas enters the Allegheny in Armstrong County.
The family Moronidae includes Striped Bass, White Bass and White Perch. This could be a tough one as their natural ranges do not overlap.
Striped Bass Morone saxatilis
White Bass Morone chrysops
White Perch Morone Americana
I would be inclined to go to the Delaware River for these.
Shad, the members of the family Clupeidae, are difficult to find in Pennsylvania. The lower Susquehanna River in Lancaster or York county would be my choice to find the two prevalent species, though I wouldn’t rule out the Delaware River.
American Shad Alosa sapidissima
Hickory Shad Alosa mediocris
Last but not least, and probably the hardest to catch all four species is the family Esocidae – the Pike Family. This family includes:
Grass or Redfin Pickerel Esox americanus
Chain Pickerel Esox niger
Northern Pike Esox Lucius
Muskellunge Esox masquinongy
I would probably go to northwestern Pennsylvania for this quest. The French Creek drainage would be a good starting point. Also the Allegheny Reservoir (a.k.a. Kinzua Lake) is a likely starting point. I would also consider Tioga County, though finding a northern pike there may be a bit problematic.
I have not included any of the minnow family, or suckers, drum or other fish that may from time to time show up such as Pacific salmon.
I am curious about your thoughts on this. And by the way, all the species mentioned can be caught on a fly. A “Fish Family Grand Slam on a Fly” or a “Fish Family Grand Slam on the Same Fly”; now there is a challenge.
Cooks Run is my “home water.” I learned to fish on Cooks Run and – even though I don’t remember it – I was told I caught my first trout in Rock Run. As the story goes, I was fishing with Dad, my brother and sister, when I caught a small wild brook trout. I was so excited I ran up to the car, where Mother was reading a book. I thrust the fish into the open window of the car, at which point it decided to un-impale itself from the hook, and dropped onto my mother’s lap. That was followed by a lot of yelling screaming. Somehow the fish survived this traumatic encounter and made it back to Rock Run. However, I was the one that was hooked, and thus began my slide down the slippery slope of trout fishing.
As the years went by, I took to trout fishing with abandon. Fishing Cooks Run below Rock Run there was bigger water which made casting easier for this novice fly caster. I had a bamboo rod in my teens. Don’t get too excited, it was a Heddon, with an old single action open frame reel. I still have the reel. I gave the rod to a “friend” to refinish and re-wrap and to this day the s.o.b. claims he never got it. But I digress.
Cooks Run is one of those wonderful Pennsylvania freestone streams that tumbles out of the mountains. The insects are diverse – in the non-AMD section – and native brook trout and wild browns populate the stream along with stockies put there by the PF&BC as well as the Western Clinton County Sportsmen’s cooperative nursery.
In 1974 things changed for the worse. Cooks Run has the unfortunate geological fate to lie just inside the Pennsylvania bituminous coal measures. Crowley Run, the largest tributary that meets Cooks Run about a mile upstream of its juncture with the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, has been polluted with AMD for well over a century. Even as a youngster I do not recall ever hearing anyone talking about fish in Crowley Run. The AMD was a result of underground mining that began just before the turn of the Twentieth Century. It was further exacerbated by surface mining in the 1950s and 1960s. Through all of that Cooks Run remained clean and full of trout. In 1974 a permit was issued for two separate sites near the headwaters of Camp Run and Rock Run at the opposite end of the watershed.
At the time the area was about as wild as any place in the Sproul State Forest. Two tracks through the woods led to the sites. Two long-abandoned log cabins were near the site. In my memory one cabin had completely fallen in and the other, though standing, was uninhabitable.
Fran Contracting of Wallaceton, Clearfield County was issued the permit to mine, against the objections of the Western Clinton County Sportsmen and several others. That part of Clinton County has high sulfur coal with high ash content. There is no alkaline material in the overburden to buffer any AMD and the coal lies atop an underclay that is high in aluminum. The underlying sandstone is largely fractured allowing groundwater to travel about anywhere. All things considered, it is a terrible place to mine coal.
By 1977 the effects of mining on the Fran sites were noted downstream. Water that percolated through the backfill on top of the mountain became acidic. As it travelled across the pit floor the acid dissolved aluminum – highly lethal to trout at low pH – dropped into the fractures and came out as base flow in Rock Run, downstream of Wildcat Hollow. To look at Rock Run where the AMD enters the untrained eye cannot tell the difference between clean water and AMD. However, when Rock Run meets Cooks Run, the pH rises allowing the aluminum to precipitate out and coat the streambed with a white precipitate. The discharge from the larger 37 acre site emanates from the toe of spoil, and pollutes Camp Run. It has a more characteristic red-orange color that most people associate with AMD. From Rock Run down, Cooks Run wasn’t just polluted, it was dead!
This was my trout water. I was incensed. I wrote letters to the Fish Commission and DER, as well as my state representatives and senators, as well as the local state reps. Only the Fish Commission responded. Paul Swanson was the Regional Law Enforcement Director for the Fish Commission, and he put me in touch with Harry “Snakey” Snodgrass, of the WCCSA.
In June of 1978 Snakey organized a meeting to be held on the stream to see the effects of AMD. It’s been a long time and I don’t remember who all were there but in addition to Snakey and me, there was Jay Johnston, WCO of PFC; Jack Paulhamus, District Forester; Harry Anderson, retired Forest Ranger; Bryce Putnam and D.R. Thompson of DER’s Bureau of Mining and Reclamation; Dave Wolf, a writer at the time for the Potter County Enterprise; and a few others.
While standing on the bridge at Camp Run, either Putnam or Thompson made the statement that the stream had been polluted before the mining. At that point someone said, “Let’s throw them in the creek!” The two mining officials ran back to their car and refused to get out for the rest of the trip.
Fran Contracting and their consultant made a few half-hearted attempts to treat the AMD but it was futile. AMD continued to pour out of the site.
In 1981 I transferred to the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation’s Hawk Run District Office. The area encompassed by office included in Clinton County. Among other things I sampled AMD across the region, reviewed permits and talked about solutions to cleaning up Cooks Run.
By then the company had given up and its bonds posted on the site were forfeited. The $11,000 was not near enough to develop a detailed plan to clean up the site or treat the discharge. The Clean Streams Law in Pennsylvania pointedly states that in the event of a discharge that does not meet effluent standards the landowner is ultimately responsible. In this case the landowner is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the area is in the Sproul State Forest. This nuance in the law caused the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (now the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission) to threaten to sue the Department of Environmental Resources (of which the Bureau of Forestry was then a part) for allowing a discharge of AMD to a stream. Paul Swanson, along with a young biologist for the Fish Commission named John Arway went into District Forester Butch Davey’s office and told him in very pointed language of their intent. Well that went over like finding a turd in a punchbowl.
Inter-agency warfare was not something anyone wanted, yet the PFC and DER were ready to go at it. Sampling and studies were conducted. Meetings were held. I was involved in my work as a Mining Permit & Compliance Specialist, and that is how I came to know John. Plans were brainstormed and discarded as being unfeasible, too expensive and just plain stupid. We considered passive treatment – then in its infancy, active treatment, driving the reaction to endpoint, burning the carbonaceous material in-situ and on and on.
After transferring the Harrisburg in 1985 I began to work with Joe Schueck, a hydrogeologist/engineer. At the time Joe worked for D.R. Thompson, mentioned previously who never said much about Cooks Run. Joe was into the “magic toys” of technology. Terrain conductivity, resistivity, magnetometry and whatever other tools or technology Joe could find, we ran on the site. We drilled water sampling wells and collected hundreds of samples. In addition Joe worked with Terry Ackman from the technology side of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Terry had developed a technique where concrete grout was pumped under pressure into backfill to seal AMD producing materials. The technique looked promising. Another key player that entered the picture was Dr. Barry Scheetz, a professor in materials handling and an expert in concrete at Penn State University.
A plan was developed to map the site using the “magic toys” to determine where the AMD was being produced. Then a series of holes would be drilled into the “pods” and a concrete grout would be pumped into the ground. The grout would be made with Fluidized Bed Combustion Fly Ash (FBCFA) which would produce a low tensile strength, high compressive strength grout. Bureau of Mining and Reclamation Director, Ernie Giovannitti was enthusiastic about the project, and somehow we found money to try the experiment.
One of the vagaries of the project was people; we couldn’t hire people to do the job. Mining and construction companies were loath to take on the project because of the remoteness of the site and the questionable technique. Even though the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR) has a construction crew, that bureau wanted no part of the experiment. We would get fluidized bed combustion fly ash from Fort Drum for free, but paid the trucking costs, we could rent any of the equipment we needed. This included concrete mixers, an auger to load the ash and various other things. The Bureau of Forestry loaned us a skid loader and water tank truck. Now all that was needed was people to operate the equipment.
With Ernie’s blessing we put out a call across DER to find volunteers to come up to Clinton County for a week and run equipment. We thought we might get ten or twenty. We got scads of volunteers from all across the department – except BAMR.
In the summer of 1992 the project began. Joe Schueck was the man in charge and I was involved as a loyal assistant. I had bitched and moaned for so long about something needing to be done that it was put up or shut time and it was time to put up.
Through August we drilled 545 holes into the backfill. The holes were cased with 4 inch PVC electrical conduit. The lowest section of conduit was perforated with ¾ inch holes to allow the grout to flow out of the casing into the backfill. At the top of the casing was a threaded coupling to allow for the hose of the grout pump to be attached.
At the end of August we were ready to begin pumping grout. The first loads of fly ash arrived on site at about 2:30 in the morning, and Joe and I were there to meet them. Talk about an “Oh shit!” moment. We were now committed.
Later that morning we began to pump grout. We hauled water to the site via tank truck and dumped it into a collapsible pond. Using a grain auger we loaded fly ash into the concrete mixer and added water with the help of a portable pump. The ratio was 1 part water to between 1 and 1.6 parts ash. The resulting grout slurry was about the consistency of thin pancake batter. Then we drove the mixer to the designated injection field, selected the injection hole and using a concrete pump, pumped the grout down the hole until it would not take any more grout. This was usually expressed by the grout coming out of the ground near the hole or the cap blowing off the top of the casing. Some holes took more grout than others. Some would take more than one mixer while other holes would take only a part of a mixer.
Anyone that has ever worked with fly ash knows that it is fine and dirty. Loading the hopper of the auger at the loading site with a skid loader was dusty – sometimes to the point of blotting out the sun. When the ash was mixed with water the slurry was muddy. There was just no way around it. Through September and into October we mixed and pumped grout. As the weather turned cold
we had to abandon the project for the year.
Through the winter we plotted and planned on how to improve the efficiency of the project. Early sample results from the monitoring wells were encouraging. In May of 1993 we re-started the project. That year we had two mixers. The one from the previous year had been worn out when we began and by the time we were finished with it, it was completely shot. The two we got in 1993 weren’t much better. We also rented a closed cab back hoe to load the ash. This was a great improvement over the open skid loader. By the end of August we had completed grouting. Altogether we pumped 2007 cubic meters of grout into the 545 holes and used another 765 cubic meters to cap overtop of some of the particularly bad or “hot” zones.
We returned to Harrisburg, convinced we had done what we could and we would see success of the project. We knew that we hadn’t been able to get all of the AMD producing backfill encapsulated but we thought we had made a significant difference. Water sample results were initially encouraging. We were certain we had made an impact on Rock Run.
Through the rest of the decades we continued to sample. The results seemed to diminish. Joe moved over to BAMR to head the AMD Division and in 1999 I too went to BAMR. A change in leadership in that bureau had begun to make it more than a “put the dirt back in the hole” organization.
Passive treatment had advanced and Joe formulated a plan to use an anoxic method where sulfates in the water would be converted back to pyrite in a stable form. There’s actually a lot more to the chemical reactions but that’s the gist of it. He began the work on a large scale bench test in late 2000 and by 2002 we saw the results. It was not what we had hoped for.
By 2009 both Joe and I had retired. The sites were still producing AMD but we had tried our best to bring about positive change.
Techniques in passive and active treatment in AMD had advanced exponentially since the grout injection project. In the early 2000s BAMR had tried to collect all the water coming off the site and run it through a treatment system but because of the amount of water and the highly fractured rock, collection of all the water was deemed impossible.
Further investigation of the site began about 2011 and it was decided to re-mine the small site to the east and mix the backfill with limestone dust. The project began in 2012. All of our previous geotechnical work had not shown significant water on the small site, yet when excavation was begun, significant groundwater was found. Following completion of the site, water was sampled and the results were extremely encouraging.
In the spring of 2017 bids were let to re-mine the 37 acre injection site using the same technique and that brings us to today.
September 28, 2017
Work progressing on site. Baghouse lime was hauled in and underdrain rock was expected the next day.
Two dozers on site but both broken down. A trackhoe was grubbing out stumps. A loader and water tank also on site.
About a half a century ago when I was beginning my journey down the slippery slope of fly fishing, a wise old fly fisherman gave me a bit of advice. He told me that if I was going to fish dry flies I only needed four patterns. They are Adams, Hendrickson, Light Cahill and Yellow Adams. He said with those four flies in various sizes from 10 to 18 I could dry fly fish for trout anywhere and any time.
I have remembered his advice and have tried to keep it simple. But new and fancy materials came along. Genetic hackle and sparkly stuff that wasn’t even dreamed of then (the sparkly stuff incidentally is a spin off of the space program – really it is!) came about with other materials, tools and techniques. Like all fly tyers I delved into the mysteries and artistic realms of creating new a better patterns.
Not only would trout be a target of my thread – tinsel – fur – and feather masterpieces but other fish would be sought as well. Colors would range from black to bright florescents that might seem more in place at some modern punk music festival. Recently I read about a material that absorbs so much black it is totally black. It wont be long until it comes to a fly tying shop near you. So as I prepare for an upcoming trip to a Laurentian Shield lake in search of northern pike and walleye, I dumped the fly boxes on the table and began to sort through them. I wondered if I had too many. Nah!
But on that lake in Canada I will probably be asked what I am using to catch the fish. “Black Wooly Bugger,” is most likely going to be my answer if not “Chartreuse and White Clouser Deep Minnow.”
I just looked in my fly box again. I guess I better tie some.
The 23rd Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp concluded at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg yesterday. The students, staff and the folks at Messiah did an outstanding job in bringing about the success of the camp. For an overview of the camp please view the slide show prepared by staff member Kelsey Miller at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFnUuw0Ppk0&t=5s
This week is the 23rd Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp. Our venue this year is at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg.
We have a great group of students and they are learning a lot. For many it is their first experience at what college life might be like. What a great group to work with. They are learning the sciences behind coldwater conservation, doing habitat repair, learning to tie flies and so much more. As I type this they are learning advanced fishing techniques. For more information go to http://www.riverscamp.com
The Pennsylvania camp is the oldest in the nation and now there are 22 modeled after this one.
It seems over the past few months every time I pick up a newspaper, watch the TV news, or read the news online, somebody, somewhere is drowning. Sometimes it is the person not knowing the dangers of the water, sometimes it is experienced people testing their limits, and, sometimes, not surprisingly, it is “Hold my beer and watch this!” that causes the accident.
I just finished the book, A Speck In The Sea. This is a true story of two experienced watermen, and is a riveting account of what a lapse in judgement for just a moment, can cause. Toward the end, one of the watermen tells of throwing a bait box overboard and in just 17 seconds it disappeared from sight. 17 seconds!
The Ocean’s your mother, your bitch and your lover
And nobody gets to ride free
It’s a roll of the dice if she’ll let your survive, bow
down, boys to the Queen.
The Tale of Johnny Load, by The Nancy Atlas Project
After reading the tale of what happened on the Anna Mary, if nothing else you will remember to wear your life vest. I highly recommend this book for any angler, or person who spends any time on the water – whether it is the ocean, the bay, a lake or a small mountain stream.
I cast the fly into a small pocket of still water against the bank, and almost immediately a small brook trout came up and hit the size 14 Adams. It wasn’t much of a battle. As soon as I raised the nine foot fly rod the fish came immediately to me. I wet my had, picked the fish up and removed the fly. It returned to the water in in less than a minute, none the worse for the battle. It was just one of many I landed last Thursday afternoon. I was fishing on a small stream that tumbles out of Pennsylvania’s mountains. The weather was warm and sunny. The morning fog had burned off. The water was clear and 46oF.
Twenty-four hours earlier the tackle in my hand had been more substantial and the fight was a bit more intense. Three colleagues and I were guests of the Calvert County Department of Economic Development, represented that morning by Heather Skrym. We were aboard the Patience, owned, operated, and built from the keel up by Captain Tom Ireland.
It was overcast on the Chesapeake Bay, but the weather was not as bad as the day before when we were forced to cancel our trip on The Bay. Tuesday had seen four foot waves and strong winds that would have made fishing with planer boards next to impossible. On Wednesday the waves were in the two foot range and the wind had calmed. The water was the color of new steel and the sky had the color of weathered aluminum. The sky and water were in sharp contrast to the fluorescent chartreuse and bright white nine inch lures that were being trolled behind the boat.
At 5:30 that morning, Captain Tom piloted the boat away from its moorings at the charter docks in Back Creek at Solomons. As we rounded Drum Point and headed into The Bay, Tom pushed the throttle forward and the twin Cummins diesels’ growl increased, pushing the 42 foot, 33,000 pound Chesapeake Bay Deadrise toward our fishing destination. We asked Captain Tom about the boat, and his pride in the Patience was obvious. He had built the boat working only from a stem and rib pattern. It has white oak beams and juniper cedar planking overlaid with glass. It is capable of carrying fourteen passengers. He had become a licensed captain in 1973 and the boat was completed in 1975. It was a labor of love for him to build, and now captain the boat.
As we headed up The Bay we talked of fish and fishing. Reports of large fish last fall in the Atlantic had not materialized in The Bay this spring. Captain Tom blamed it on over-fishing by commercial fishermen. On April 25, 2017 a press release from Stripers Forever, a conservation group that has a focus on Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis), warned that commercial interests are demanding higher kill limits on the fish. According the press release, “They want to roll back the modest conservations measures put in place during 2013 and return to the harvest levels that contributed to coast-wide recreational catch declines of up to 90%.” The Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission is scheduled to meet on May 9, 2017 to consider the issue.
This was not my first trip on the Chesapeake. That occurred almost ten years ago when I fished out of Kent Island farther north on The Bay. I have since made several trips to fish the storied waters, but for the past forty years I have been intimately involved with The Bay. Working for Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Resources that morphed into the Department of Environmental Protection, most of the work I did was in the Susquehanna River basin, whether it was dealing with acid mine drainage or dirt and gravel roads. As we dealt with water quality problems in Pennsylvania we were consistently reminded that we were upstream of one of the greatest estuaries in the world and there were problems in The Bay. We worked hard to keep clean water clean, and remediate past problems. In 2007 I decided to see for myself what The Bay was all about. When that first bluefish hit my fly I was captivated. Trips followed for bluefish, stripers, shad, and the occasional goose hunt.
Now I had a chance to fish for the top prize fish of the Chesapeake Bay. We heard rumors of a 54 inch fish landed a few days earlier. As we passed the Gas Docks, Mate Bobby Thomas began to arrange the gear onboard the Patience and get ready to fish. Planer boards were put out on each side of the boat and fishing lines were attached to the cables. The lures, certainly larger than anything I was used to fishing, were set out at various lengths and depths. Then the boat rods were set. By the time the last rod was set there were 23 rigs in the water. We trolled the east side of the shipping channel at 2.5 MPH waiting for a hungry striper to grab the 5/0 hooked lure.
Tom and Bobby have been on the water for more than 40 years each. They talked of how the fishing used to be. One particular sore point is the unmitigated harvest of menhaden by large commercial interests. Removal of the base of the food chain, coupled with greater commercial harvest of stripers can only result in the destruction of the fishery. They talk of over-harvest of spot to be used as bait out in the ocean. They both agree that The Bay is not what it used to be.
During the second week in March I had attended the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers annual conference at Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. We had toured a laboratory and an oyster farm. Their news had been encouraging. Crab numbers were up and oysters were again returning in profitable numbers. On April 27, 2017, the day after our trip, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued a press release touting the increase in submerged aquatic vegetation. “The Chesapeake Bay Program today released the results of the 2016 Bay grasses survey, which found a new record number of acres of habitat essential for many of the Bay’s living creatures,” said the press release. There are some successes but there is still a long way to go.
Before we left the dock, we had agreed that the oldest member of the party would battle the first fish . With the arrival of Heather, we agreed that since she had never fished for, or caught a rockfish – as stripers are called in The Bay – she would get first chance at the fish. At quarter to ten a rod dipped and Thomas said, “Fish on!” The rod was removed from its holder and handed to Heather. She battled the fish with encouragement from the four of us as well as Thomas and the captain. Five minutes later the fish was brought to net. It was 38 inches long, well above the 35 inch minimum needed to be legal. It was another 45 minutes before the next fish hit. Tom Tatum was handed the rod and he reeled in the fish, showing his years of expertise in fighting saltwater fish. This fish passed the 40 inch mark.
A few minutes later another fish struck the lure farthest from the boat. Harry Guyer was handed the rod. Reeling in 300 yards of line can be tiring without a 37 inch striper battling for its life at the end of the line. Mate Bobby Thomas performed a sort of ballet with the other rods to keep them out of the way as Harry fought the fish. Finally it was brought to net. After landing the fish Harry admitted his arms felt like rubber.
We troll on. At 11 a.m. a rod dips and it is my turn to take the rod. I crank on the Daiwa level wind reel mounted on the 4.5 foot rod. I lean back into the rod and slowly gain the 80 lb. test line back on the reel. Soon the fish is in the landing net, and I agree with Harry about my arms feeling like rubber. It is clearly the largest striper I have ever landed, just short of the 40 inch mark.
My fly fishing brethren may scoff and snort in disdain at this type of fishing, but this is the way it is done. I asked Captain Tom if he ever takes clients fly fishing. He says he can, but he never has. To fly fish for stripers one would have to search for breaking fish, an opportunity that may not be found in a day.
It is almost two more hours before the last angler in our group is rewarded with a fish. Dana Troutman takes the rod and begins the intense battle. This fish was stubborn but Dana was rewarded with a 40 inch fish.
One day later I am in a hemlock lined valley flipping a fly into small pools, and I found myself laughing as the brightly colored brook trout came to the surface and nipped at the fly. My arms certainly don’t feel like rubber after landing them.
At six o’clock Saturday morning I find myself again at Solomons. This time I am aboard the Omerlea, a 22 foot Grady White. I am with my friends Ron and Roy and we head toward the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant. Fishing offshore of the power plant we begin to hook up with stripers; not the legal size spawned out “cows” we had found on Wednesday but smaller “schoolie” stripers that were mostly below the 20 inch mark. We also pick up an occasional American Shad (Alosa sapidissima). Regulations prevent harvest of either species. We fish with 6’6” medium action spinning tackle, using shad darts and flutter spoons, or ¾ ounce jigs tipped with white twister tails.
It is great fun to hook these fish in the swirling currents of the power plant discharge – The Bubble as it is known.
Until we decide to leave at mid-afternoon we have boated 54 fish. As I watched the water of The Bay break off the bow of the boat as we head back to the launch ramp, I couldn’t help but wonder if the water I had cast my fly into two days before was now flowing away from the boat. Three days fishing had resulted in the largest, the smallest and a bunch of fish in between, as well as reinforcing the sense of interconnectedness between the headwaters and The Bay.
If you go to Solomons there is a lot to do. The Flag Ponds Nature Center at Lusby is worth a visit. One of the primary attractions is searching for fossilized shark teeth at the park. Other attractions include the Drum Point Lighthouse and the Calvert Marine Museum. History abounds in the area. For more information about the area visit the Calvert County Economic Development website at http://www.ecalvert.com/ , or the Calvert County Tourism office at http://www.choosecalvert.com/ .
And of course no trip to Solomons can be complete without sampling the cuisine – seafood. Stoney’s Kingfishers Seafood Bar and Grill, the Ruddy Duck restaurant, the Charles Street Brasserie and my favorite, the Anglers Seafood Bar and Grill are all worth visiting. Anglers was so good I took Ron and Roy back there Saturday after our fishing adventure.
Hotels abound in the area, but become quite busy during the summer, so advanced reservations are advised. We stayed at the Holiday Inn and the accommodations were excellent.
A note about fishing: Fishing inside the clearly marked restricted area around the Gas Docks or the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station is really frowned upon by the people who operate those facilities. You will be severely chastised and may end up in the hoosegow, being towed there by people with no sense of humor and automatic weapons.
There is no open season on shad in The Bay. Regulations on Striped Bass vary from place to place and time to time in The Bay. Make sure you, or your charter are properly licensed and know the rules for the place and time you are fishing. Go to http://www.eregulations.com/maryland/fishing/striped-bass-4/ for the current regulations.
Trout season has traditionally opened on the Saturday closest to April 15th for years. Now there are other opening days – the early regional opener, mentored youth days, and probably more to come, but the traditional opening day is still a “holiday” for many of us. To paraphrase Robert Service, “It’s not so much for the trout that I’m going, as much as just going for trout.”
And traditionally the woods have been dry, and fire danger high. Oh sure most of us can remember fishing in snow or heavy rain but along with trout season comes fire season.
More than a century ago Dr. Rothrock in his 1902 report noted:
I am driven to the conclusion that a very large proportion of our spring forest fires can be distinctly charged to fishermen; for it is beyond dispute the burnings begin when the trout fishing season opens, and their starting point can often be traced directly to the bank of a stream. Most of the fires started by fishermen are done through ignorance or carelessness. The smoker throws his match (still burning) to the ground and passes on. In an hour “the woods are on fire.” The same occurs on roads leading through the forest. Few people recognize. (though most think they do) just how inflammable a bed of leaves is.
On April 15, 1931, the Associated Press put out a release with a Williamsport dateline, “The likelihood that many of them might be drafted to fight forest fires confronted trout fishermen already in the hunting camps in this part of the state ready to whip the streams at dawn tomorrow.”
1971 was another bad year.
On the advice of DER Secretary Maurice Goddard, Governor Shapp signed an order April 15, 1971 which went into effect a 5 p.m. the following day. The order placed a ban on open burning and smoking in and within 200 feet of any woodlands of the Commonwealth. The ban went into effect on the eve of the opening day of trout season, a time of year when thousands would be along the streams and in the forest.
1976 was another spring that lingers in the memories of firefighters in Pennsylvania. On April 15, 1976 a special fire-weather forecast issued a warning for “High forest fire danger over Pennsylvania and New Jersey.” It would be the equivalent of a “red flag day” in today’s vernacular. On April 19, 1976 a primary electric line along State Route 44 near Haneyville on the Clinton – Lycoming County line broke. The sparking line ignited the fine fuels along the road. Driven by 14 mph winds the fire spread rapidly. The area had been devastated during the past few years by oak leaf roller, oak leaf tier, and two lined chestnut borer causing extensive mortality, leaving a large amount of dead standing fuel. At the same time crews in the Tiadaghton District were responding to a fire across Lycoming County near Wallis Run. The Haneyville Fire spread rapidly. The fire required suppression efforts of 18 Forest Fire Wardens, 392 crew members, and 26 State Forest and Park employees. The fire burned 3,330 acres before it was extinguished on April 21. The Wallis Run Fire burned 280 acres before it was extinguished and required 166 firefighters plus men and equipment from five volunteer fire companies. At that time the Haneyville Fire was the largest fire in the history of the six-year-old Department of Environmental Resources.
So go catch some trout, renew old friendships, and be careful out there.