Monday, June 27, 2016

Grand Cascapedia and Bonaventure: June 19-24, 2016

Lake Branch of the Cascapedia - The start of the trip

     Last fall, I entered some preseason draws on a whim. I usually don't plan my salmon fishing trips too far in advance. I said, "If I draw a good number and get water on the Grand Cascapedia, I'm going." To my surprise, I drew lucky #13 and got the dates I wanted. Coupled with the favorable exchange rate, this trip looked like a winner right from the start. I called my buddy John and asked if he would like to join me. John had just underwent hip replacement surgery, but figured he'd feel well enough by late June. We booked a place to stay, got a guide for the first day, and tied a bunch of flies. As our departure date approached, we were concerned about the high water plaguing the Gaspé Peninsula rivers at the beginning of their seasons. Fortunately, the water was dropping and clearing. We had to deal with high water in most places on this trip, but at least it was no longer flooded.

Lake Branch salmon...always a relief to get on the board early in a trip! 

     Day 1: Our first trip was our only planned guided day of the week. We were booked on the Grand Cascapedia Lake Branch, 89 run. It is a long run full of resting pools and pots. As far as I can tell, it is a canoe-only spot. The Lake Branch was still high and relatively cold, between 48º-50ºF. The air temps were comfortable and we had overcast skies with a bit of rain.

     I tied on my favorite fly, the Sugerman Shrimp, but nothing wanted it. I left it on for a few hours before I decided to switch to Ghost Stonefly tied on a sz. 2 double hook. Our guide, Glenn Harrison, thought that was a good choice and recommended John use the same fly. After another few hours without action, John decided he wanted nothing to do with the fly. He criticized the parachute hackle, saying that it was "sort of pointless, as the hackle bends backwards in the current." Glenn and I broke his stones a bit and Glenn finally said, "Well, why don't you tie on a big Willie Gunn then?" John said, "Great idea!" and tied on his heavy copper tube fly. I left my stonefly on as we proceeded down a small run. 

     John had no luck with his Willie Gunn, but not 5 minutes after his fly swap...Boom! A fish grabbed my Ghost Stonefly! It was a weird fight. The salmon grabbed on the dangle as I stripped the fly back along an inside seam. As a result, the hook set was precarious. At first, I thought it might be a big trout. Eventually, I caught a glimpse and knew that it was a salmon. The fish ran towards me and I had to strip in line like crazy to keep up. I was finally able to put the fish on the reel but, once I did, he refused to run. He thrashed around with a short length of fly line and my long leader. I was fighting him from the canoe with my back virtually in the trees. I couldn't go back any further and the fish kept coming towards me. I finally made a quick move towards the net to end the fight as soon as possible. Glenn intercepted the salmon and the fight was over. As soon as the fish was in the net, he spit out the fly. Phew! It was sort of an anticlimactic fight, but I was relieved to land the poorly hooked salmon and get on the board early in the trip.  The fact that it took the fly John had just removed opened the flood gates for Glenn and I to break John's balls more relentlessly than we had already done. That's okay, John might make a good target, but he's also a good sport.

Ghost Stonefly (sz. 2 double), the only fly I wound up needing

     That one salmon was all the action we had that day. I thought we'd have more shots, but one salmon landed is rarely anything to complain about. At the end of the day, I was happy to not worry about getting skunked on this trip. Plus, I figured the best was yet to come.

Tools of the trade

     Day 2: Our first of two days on the Cascapedia Salmon Branch was hot and there wasn't a cloud in the sky all day long. It was a beautiful day, but not a great one for salmon fishing. I was surprised at how low the Salmon Branch was compared to the Lake Branch. It was significantly warmer, too. The water temperature topped out at 64ºF that afternoon! We had pools 103-105 during the morning rotation. Each beat fishes only two rods at a time, so John and I had the water to ourselves. I decided to fish the downstream pools, 103 and 104. Meg's (103) looked really fishy. It was definitely a dry fly pool at that level, but I had left my dries in the car. I didn't have enough time to go back for them, so I worked the pool with a wet fly and some hitched tubes. No dice. I had no luck at 104, either. John hooked a good one at 105, but lost it six-seconds into the fight. 

     We rotated at noon and fished pools 101, 102, and the pool at the small bridge that crosses the Salmon Branch. The bridge pool was our best option. Some fish showed once the sun was out of their eyes. I had one jump as my Bomber passed overhead. I'm not sure if it was annoyed at my dry fly floating overhead or just a fish that coincidentally decided to jump near my Bomber. I worked the pool well, but left with nothing to show for the day. Oh well, we still had one more day on the Grand Cascapedia.

Meg's (#103)...I still can't believe this pool didn't produce

     Day 3: Our last day on the Grand Cascapedia started off with a bang. It was overcast and much cooler than the previous day. The water had dropped back down to 58ºF overnight. I tied my Ghost Stonefly on and started working pool #104. I was hooked up to a strong fish no more than five minutes into the fishing day. Five or so minutes later, I landed salmon #2 for the trip, a bigger, fatter fish than my Lake Branch salmon from two days prior. What a good way to start the day! 

     I moved down to Meg's, this time armed with dry flies and a single handed rod. I was certain I'd nail one there on a dry. Well, it never happened. I was shocked that I didn't move anything in that pool in two days. Out of all of them, it looked like it had the most potential!

The Ghost Stone's second victim! 

    We rotated at noon once again. The clouds cleared out and the sun was almost directly overhead. I wanted to fish the bridge pool before the sun dropped directly into the salmon's eyes. John didn't want to fish the bridge, saying something like, "I didn't drive 750 miles to fish a f*****g bridge!" He dropped me off and went to check out pool #100. I started working the bridge pool, moving downstream towards the shadow cast by the bridge. Nothing took on a pure swing. When I knew I was in the hotspot, I twitched the running line with my fingers. BAM!! A fish creamed the fly on the first twitched retrieve. 

     Now the real fun started. I had to keep the salmon above the bridge, if possible. This fish was more fiery than my first salmon of the day, so I knew I was in for it. I played it as strategically as I could, easing up on him when he wanted to run below the bridge, then really putting the wood to him when I was able to get him parallel to me. When I would bear down on him, he'd move upstream, which was exactly what I wanted him to do. When he realized he wasn't going anywhere, he'd bolt down towards the safety of the bridge again. This happened a few times before I broke him and a kind angler from New York landed him for me. After a quick picture, he was on his way back to the bridge. I had limited out for the day and it was barely noon. Unfortunately, I had trashed my lucky Ghost Stonefly with my pliers. 

I'd gladly drive 750 miles to fish this bridge again!

     Nothing else produced for John, but I knew the bridge pool would be rested by the time the sun was setting, so I suggested we try it again. He protested briefly, but agreed to try it while I coached him. Again, the salmon were unreceptive to the swing, so I advised him to start stripping once the fly hit the hotspot. It didn't take long before a salmon nailed his fly, a sz. 4 Black Bear Green Butt. To both of our chagrins, the fish didn't take hold of the fly. It wasn't hooked, but it felt the steel and never returned. That was the end of our time on the Grand Cascapedia, but we still had more fishing to do.

Fish #3 on the Stonefly...a formidable opponent. 

     Day 4: On our fourth day, we moved to the Bonaventure. What we didn't know was that we could have been on the Grand Cascapedia for an unplanned fourth day. John drew water for the wading sector, but we didn't get the message until we were on the way back to Connecticut. Gah! 

     Anyhow, the water was dropping on the Bonaventure and we were optimistic. We started at Premier Est in D Sector. There looked to be too much water there, so we only took one pass each. We decided to move to C Sector and fish Run-a-Pitt. After a couple of passes through the pool, we met a pair of anglers from Nova Scotia. They were floating the river and camping along the way. We had a great time and lots of laughs and even fished a bit in between. No one hooked up that day and, collectively, we only saw one fish jump all day long. 

     Day 5: John wanted to increase our odds, so he hired a guide and canoe for us. We fished A sector. It was my first time fishing that far downriver. It was overcast and cool, a good day for salmon fishing. Unfortunately, the fish didn't agree, at least not with us. We saw a few fish caught, but it was never where we were at the time. The guide said something like, "It's like everyone got to where I wanted to fish just before we did." 

     Near the end of the day, while experimenting, I rolled a salmon while stripping a large Magog Smelt. I didn't get the fish to come back, even though I am fairly confident in that exact situation. There's a lot more to the story, but I'm going to leave it there for now and go with my gut the next time. 

A pretty scene on the Bonaventure

Day 6: This was our last day. We spent the entire day at one pool (Malin). Maybe it was foolish, but our prospects didn't look good anywhere. It was another bluebird day. Hardly anyone was reporting catches. We took several passed through the long pool throughout the day, with nothing to show for it in the end. However, I had a great time hanging out on the banks and talking to the other anglers. I met up with a new friend with whom I've spoken to on the phone and chatted online. I made some new friends. Even though the fishing was dead (we only saw one salmon hooked all day long), I had a really great time on our last day. It wasn't wasted at all. The camaraderie was better than the fishing was, so we all made the best of it. 

     I've said it before...I've never been skunked on a salmon fishing trip, but I've never experienced truly exceptional fishing, either. This trip conformed to the pattern. Overall, I was pleased. I hooked three nice fish and landed them all. One fish landed every two days is a decent enough ratio. Practically speaking, this trip was a bargain compared to most years. If I had it to do over again, I definitely would. One big lesson learned is to check everyone's voicemail everyday, just in case someone gets lucky and draws good water! Other than that, I was able to hone some subtle areas of my salmon fishing game and focus on strategy. Big or small, I learn something on every trip. This trip was no exception. 

Rainbow on the Cascapedia

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Islander Precision Reels - Great Customer Service!

     A few weeks ago, one of the pawls failed on my favorite shad fishing reel, the Islander IR4. That reel has fought a lot of tough fish. I guess the fish finally exacted their revenge. I called Islander and spoke to their manager, Elliott Williams. I asked for two pawls and a spring. When I inquired about the price, Mr. Williams told me not to worry about it. About a week later, the parts arrived and my trusty IR4 is good as new! Thanks for the great customer service, Elliott and everyone else at Islander Precision Reels. I am a very satisfied angler! 

Ready for duty once again

Friday, June 3, 2016

Last Blast of Shad...And A Nasty Surprise!

My last fresh shad of the season

     Forgive the tardiness of this post. I haven't had much time to devote to anything computer-related lately. This report deals with three separate trips: May 25, 27, and 30. I devoted all of my time to a Connecticut River tributary on these three trips. The water had quickly warmed up and the run was on. 

     On May 25, my favorite spot was loaded with fresh shad and the occasional colored fish. Fishing was hot that afternoon. There was a two hour stretch of non-stop action. Fishing cooled a bit that evening, but my friend Sonny and I were still into enough fresh shad to keep us happy. A #4 fly tied with Chinese red Uni-Yarn caught all of my fish but one. That one fish happened to be my largest for the day, a chunky 4 lb. female, who took a #4 fluorescent pink fly. 

     May 27 was more good fishing. I met up with Sonny and his friend Frank at the aforementioned spot. We were all into fish that morning. In my estimation, we caught one fresh shad for every one-to-three colored ones that day. Clearly, the run had peaked, though the fishing was still good. The Chinese red fly was the only one I used that day. Once again, it racked up double digit numbers. 

     The noteworthy event on the 27th happened at the end of the day. I decided to move and fish a pool upstream. I hooked a few small males, but nothing memorable. When I got to the hotspot of the pool, I felt some taps on my line. I cast again, but no dice. I made another cast of the same distance and...WHAM!! Save for one particular Kola River Atlantic salmon, it was the hardest take I've ever had from a fish, pound-for-pound. The shad absolutely creamed my fly and bolted downriver. My favorite shad reel, and Islander IR4, backlashed and I had to clear the birds nest before I could fight and land the fish. It was another plump, fresh roe shad. It would have been a great way to end the day, except that the feisty female shad was the last nail in the coffin for the pawl on my reel. My drag was shot and the reel would have to be retired until I could get a replacement pawl from Islander. Oh well, it's a good story...

My fly and my reel were toast by the end of the day.

     May 30 was my best numbers day of the year, but the lack of fresh fish was sort of a letdown. I would guess that I hooked one fresh shad for every eight-to-ten colored ones. I knew this would be my last day of American shad fishing in 2016. The colored fish were mostly lethargic, though they were definitely willing to take a Chinese red shad fly. My buddy Doug came up for a few hours and caught some shad. It was fun, but the shad weren't the reason why I will always remember this day. 

     At one point in the afternoon, I got a series of text messages. After swinging my fly through the run, I let it settle on the sandy river bottom while I checked my phone. The messages wound up being unimportant, so I put my phone back into my waders pocket and began to strip in my running line. During the first pull, I felt the weight of a small fish on my line. I stripped all my line in and prepared to remove the hook from what was probably a small chub or baby walleye. It was neither of those things. It was a sea lamprey! Gross! It was wiggling all over with my fly in its mouth. The fly must have dropped right into its nest and the lamprey attacked it. Not wanting to put my fingers near its mouth, I wrestled my fly away from it with my forceps. It wasn't easy to get my fly back. The lamprey wiggled around like crazy. It's the only time I've heard of a lamprey being caught on a fly. It's a nasty fish, but sort of a cool experience. 


     I'm pretty happy with how this season went. I really enjoyed fishing the Connecticut River, especially when the big roe shad were in. I'm looking forward to doing it again next spring. In the meantime, I have to get into Atlantic salmon mode. In about two weeks, I'll be on the Grand Cascapedia...hopefully catching big salmon and not lampreys!