Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Dream Is Over

For a period of six years, I made the Merrimack River the challenge of my angling life.  My reasoning was, sooner or later the Atlantic Salmon restoration program would be successful. The Merrimack and Pemigewasset Rivers, with their substantial volume of quality tributaries, would become my home waters.

Each of the years starting in 1984 the numbers of returns was looking promising.  I was certain that the thrill experienced in Maine and Canada would be mine a bit closer to home.  This was Atlantic Salmon fishing, after all, and each and every reasons for not making the catch was in play.  The water too high, too low, nope they are not here yet or the proverbial, "you should have been here yesterday".

So for six years I traveled to down town Lawrence, Massachusetts in the shadow of the Essex Dam.  The very thoughtless obstruction that killed the run in the first place.  Many hours were spent hanging around and looking.  Park the car near the tracks and walk the train trestle in order to get a glimpse.  A window and a little sun.  You know how that works.  Yes?

I would stand looking and my mind would wander to what that first spring must have looked like as I peered down from the bridge facing the dam wall.   I just can not imagine the sight of all those different species trapped below the dam.  I'm sure that some who saw and smelled the remains were saddened.  But as more dams were built on other rivers, they were erected with the same lack of regard.   Blocked, and begging to continue, the migration was halted.  There must have been millions of fish.

By far, Lawrence is the strangest environment I have ever pursued the King of Fishes.  Paper mills, fabric mills and shoe manufacturing companies lined both banks from the dam down river for a full half mile.  The canals on both sides of the river, receiving their flow from the dams impoundment, forced the water through the sluice ways running under each building and turning the turbines to drive leather belts and fly wheels that the young grease monkeys would keep well oiled.

And so it was just another one of the many days on the Merrimack.  I arrived at the river early in the morning of June 6.  The flow was moving in a very moderate way for early June.  I made the decision to concentrate on river left about fifty yards down from the base of the dam.  The flow sweeps under the route 28 bridge then under the train trestle and straight down river past the boat ramp.  I have seen fish tight to the steep bank before as they moved up the edge.

As I jockeyed about from pocket to pocket, a very strange thing happened.  The water coming through the dam slowed down substantially.  I was fishing a brown bomber dry fly, and casting up stream when all of a sudden a bright flash swirled under the big high floater.  "That was no shad",  I screamed it in my head a second time.  Immediately, I decided that I would change to a wet fly. I moved away from the river out of sight or vibration. Marking the location on the bank and moved quickly to get ahead of the fish. I call this the bait and switch.  I learned this trick years before on the Miramichi River while following anglers fishing the dry fly in our down river rotation.  It was like they were my spoters and would get fish to show that I could target as we made our steps.  

This day I moved up river and started with a shorter line and would work slowly down to the position where I saw the fish.  This way if the fish was higher up and followed the dry fly you would be covering the water of an up river lie properly without lining the fish.

On the fifth cast a fine Atlantic took my size 8 Coburn Special.  I always thought this to be a green river.  What a total delight as the fish jumped repeatedly and took me down river below the boat ramp.  Brought to hand, the hook removed with ease, and then a moment of reality.  At least twenty five people of all walks of life had gathered and witnessed the catch.  Not many Merrimack Atlantic Salmon had been angled that I knew about but for a few that fell to Shad darts.

Then I heard someone say, "do you want your picture taken"  I said yes and am very happy to have the photo in this story.

It's now twenty four years since that season.  I never fished another minute for returning salmon on the Merrimack  It seemed that two was too many and six years was enough.

Fast forward to today and we know the program has not worked and is scheduled to end.  I have heard talk of private money.    Who knows?  The original genetics were lost.  I believe this factor has proven the bitter pill.  The effort that all involved made has been gallant.  Each and every person who made that effort has my deepest admiration and appreciation.  I wish the excitement of a few years ago would have lasted.

But nature will always rule.  No mater how modern we think we are, the cycle of life is not a malleable environment.  Perhaps the genetic engineers of present and future, will create the Souhegan River strain as well as a few other tributaries.

I still have an emotional connection to our great river.  I love every time I see it.  I teach some casting classes on the the rivers.  Places where students and instructor will sometimes gaze over the pool and hope to see one boil.   Hope that one day we might feel the pull of a big Pemi Salmon on it's way to the head waters. You just stop, stare and dream and the words "imagine what it must have been like?" will trickle past your lips as you shake your head slowly side to side.

Sadly, for me right now, the dream is over.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Never Tell A Lie

For a number of years I have been using The Measure Net system.  Why, you might ask?  Well the quality and function of the item is exactly what you would expect.  In my opinion far better than the price paid.  What is most important is the fact that I know exactly the size of my fish without removal from the water and with the shortest amount of time.  I just received my third and will put it in action first thing in the morning.  It's Landlocked Salmon time here in New England.

Here is the link to a wonderful product.   The Measure Net 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The FlySpoke Super Bug

3/0 Black Heron Natural Amherst Embellished

I'm a great lover of the Syd Glasso tying style.  It keeps in place all the wonder of flow and composition of those old Spey classics yet offers just a creative rendering that makes them fresh.  This variant, tied on an Alec Jackson 3/0, of Syd's Black Heron is a beautiful as I can offer to do justice to his craft.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Two Hand Casting "The Lift"

The start of any, from the dangle, two hand cast is to make sure that all slack is out of the system. Slack that must be eliminated by using part of the lift is a delayed transfer of energy from body to rod to line. Slack in the lift can even become slack at the beginning of the sweep. The first upward movement, or lift, is used to clear line from the surface tension to make our next move easier and afford the ability to make a well placed and properly shaped anchor set.  A rule of thumb height to a lift would be to clear half the line from the water.

The shotgun lift is that basic move to get things fluid. Other lifts like crescent, cut and spiral are more dynamic and can be effective in situations that need a bit more energy or a change of position of the line. The shotgun lift is made with a slow, SLOW, short, perpendicular tip movement up with an appropriate slow tempo.  Speed is not necessary.  There needs to be variation in the power, tempo and height of the lift determined by river condition. A flat mid section of a pool might require less power on the lift that say the faster moving tail out.  A key factor about any lift is that there is no abrupt movement.  Between lift and sweep there is no pause.  We call them using two words but they are one movement.  The concept of power on and power off with tempo is always in effect.

The key to any well executed lift is the judgement of power required to make the line free to move upward and transition to the sweep without a stop. This is where power to tempo transforms to the dramatic power at the start of your sweep. Use your lift wisely and concentrate on the ability to get your casting to feel continuous from it's very first movement till you follow through back to the water.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013


We are going to be fast approaching some late winter fishing in New York.  Before you know it March and April will seem close at hand and you might want to be ready.  Here are a few items to think about.

#10-When nymphing leave your fast action rod in the car, the softer more shock resistant the better, those fish are crazy
#9- Get to the river well before dawn, you will be lucky to be first
#8-3X Fluorocarbon works fine using a Davy Knot at the fly and a Double Surgeon leader to tippet, lighter will get you a few more hook ups but you won't stand much of a chance
#7-Change flies every 15 casts
#6-Have enough flies with you to give patterns that work to others, you will receive in kind
#5-Visit all the local fly shops, spend money at each, and ask the same questions looking for consistency
#4-Constantly check your leader for damage
#3-If you are swinging flies always choose the harder to access less frequented side of the river
#2-Let your fly dangle in the current at the end of each swing
And the #1 thing to remember while fishing Steelhead on the Salmon River in New York

 You are but a humble participant in a game that will require all the skill you can surmount when a big November Steelhead decides it is the boss..........  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Two Hand Casting "The Stop", Or Not To Stop. There Isn't A Question.......

In our two hand casting quest for that perfect loop, there is one aspect that controls the shape of the loop that is without question. It is called "The Stop". I now call it the "The Almost Stop" and a much more modern version called "Pull Rod Straight".. Given are the elements of straight tip path and smooth continuous acceleration and we come to the finally of each stroke with either an abrupt stop or just a stopping of the forward movement of the top hand  . Inertia of the rod and line weight will not allow us to stop like hitting a wall. But there are things we can do to make the almost stop as close to dead stop as possible.  There is also a way to use the none abrupt stop to make tight loops.  Yes, even tighter loops.  I know we have all been trained in the formation of making loops with abrupt stops.

First let's understand the physics and nature of the hard stop made by the muscles in our upper arm. There is such a thing as the most effective and strongest position of each muscle in our body. For the upper arm it comes with a bend at the elbow and residing close in to our upper body. What does this tell us about the use of our upper grip and the stop? It tells us that if we extend our elbow far forward and open we are increasingly at a disadvantage in the strength required to make the abrupt stop.

In my teaching a constant fault I see is the extension of the upper grip arm too far forward. No matter abrupt or non stop methods will have the upper arm in a bent position.  We blame this over extension on Singlehandcastitis and the muscle memory of many casting years.  This is one way to make a cast but not the only way.  Take Lefty Kreh for an example in relation to a single hand casting stroke. His forward stroke starts well back and then slightly rotates to a stop with the elbow very close to the body. He uses body rotation and forward movement as part of the driving power source.  He likes to keep this tight to the core position as it will help the arm muscles to stay flexed and not extended. He also believes that this strong tight position will keep us casting longer and free of injury. We know that the extension of these muscles is the weakest position they can be placed.

You need only watch Goran Andersson cast to understand this high stop with flexed arm. The entire purpose of Scandinavian style casting is distance with the least amount of effort. Scandi casting has some of the principles of the non stop casting technique.  I can well understand the thinking that extending the length of a stroke by the extension of our upper arm seems logical. But if the almost abrupt stop causing a tight efficient front shape of a loop is the goal then a stop that takes longer than an almost stop is not the answer.

The difference between the stop and forced over the tip style and the "pull rod straight" style is most manifested in the shape of the loop created.  When we abruptly stop a fully loaded rod it will cause the line to move over the tip.  The tip will move forward and then bend down toward the horizon.  Depending on the flex and action of the rod it can bend quite a bit.  This is called counter flex.  Counter flex is necessary. When the rod is stopped in this way and counter flex happens it drives the rod leg of the loop down and causes a shock dimple shape to the loop.  Not the worst thing to happen and is a natural effect of counter flex.

"Pull Rod Straight" is an Al Buhr creation that in my practice has been changing the shape of my loops.  Al told me about this as a means to help reduce early and excessive rotation between top and bottom hands. This is the cause of bulbous or even tailing loops by causing the rod line leg to dip below a straight tip path.
Here are the steps for using the Pull Rod Straight technique.  Imagine that you are in a perfect rounded up to key position  with both hand about to make the forward stroke.  Abrupt stop has us using some sort of ratio of power between top and bottom hands that is usually applied in the last part of the forward stroke.  We have all seen this as a 50/50 or 40/60.    Depends on style but the concept is the same.  The factor in abrupt stop is that the top and bottom hands are making the transition from the rod facing backward and loading to facing forward and un loading making the transition at the same time.  In "Pull Rod Straight", both top and bottom hands move forward together during the stroke.  The rod is being heavily butt loaded as the butt of the rod is pushed forward in unison with the top hand.  When the forward movement is far enough to make that strong fulcrum position the top hand stops moving forward.  A firm hold on the rod is made but no hard stop, No forced push and pressure in the top grip is in the heel of the hand.  The next movement is made without pause and the bottom hand, that can be as short as two inches is made aiming toward a hip pocket. Core strength of abdominal, chest and arm muscles are in play and the top hand acts only as a fulcrum.  A fulcrum that is firm but not pushed for power.  A fulcrum that is stationary and does not move forward in any way during the "Pull Rod Straight".  Tight and abrupt cause counter flex and rod vibration.   "Pull Rod Straight" allows the tip of the rod to naturally bend downward without excessive counter flex.

 I found the easiest way to feel the difference in these two casting styles was through pantomime.  Slowing down the movements with full control and doing them over and over again.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Modern Fly Lines by Bruce Richards

I just finished reading this great book cover to cover.  This is a must read that will take the mystery out of your next line choice. Learning why is the key......

Starting with the composition of lines to their final destination in casting can be a tricky part of fly fishing.  Having the knowledge to know what style of line is going to offer the greatest control in a certain angling situation is paramount.  It all starts with the understanding of how energy is transmitted from the tip of your rod to the last point of dissipation.

Bruce Richards offers you this knowledge in a well written and illustrated gem.  A wonderful read for anglers of all abilities.

A must read if you want to understand how to crack that whip!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Berry Brook Berry Brook Berry Brook Berry Brook Berry Brook Berry Brook Berry Brook Berry Brook Berry Brook

That's right, Berry @#$#@#$#@ Brook. How many times have you been asked about Berry Brook? Do those monster brown trout really exist or are they just a figment of the State of New Hampshire's warped mind.

I'm happy to say that they do exist.

In the past twelve years. of going to Berry Brook many, many times, I have seen a total of five fish. And I'm not talking about the little stockers. I have hooked two of the five and landed none of the two.

Next time you are looking for a bit of humility give this a try. Stand on the bridge all ready to cast but don't. Think of yourself as a deer hunter. Quite, not moving and waiting to see your quarry. You wouldn't randomly be shooting arrows. Four hours will not fly by as quickly as when we are casting. These fish are so spooky that the mere action of waving a fly rod will keep them far away. If you are very lucky you might see a boil in the tail out just above the bridge, maybe sitting on the ocean side in the current on the out going tide or a boil down below the bridge in the calm brackish water.

The one other option is accessed by walking river right(the left side looking up stream when the tide is going out) all the way up to the big rock in the woods. This is the legal limit for fishing and also the head of tide. Sitting and waiting through high tide and hoping for some movement is the key.

If you are lucky to see one, don't panic, you will get a cast or two at most. So pick your spot to stand with stealth and stay far from the water's edge. Try a black or olive leach or woolly bugger with a long leader.

Berry Brook Indeed.

If you would like to know more about Berry Brook, please e-mail me at

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Perfect Fish, A Story With Three Parts

I spend many days in search of perfect fish, on a perfect day and with a perfect plan.  The fish that are healthy and strong and have the most brilliant colors possible.  New England with all it's wonderful charm played out in a thought process that puts me in the right place at the right time with the right angling choices.  To that end most people would say I carry the game too far..  

This spring I have had a substantial number of these days with large and beautiful fish as an added bonus.  Mostly Rainbows with some spectacular Landlocked Salmon.  We fish hard, barb free and work to do our best to analyze what is happening at every moment.  This Saturday was one of those days to remember for a long, long time.

Archie says this one is perfect
I started out the morning at three dark o'clock and hit the road for the one hour drive to my first location.  I would be meeting Leo for a few hours of landlocked Salmon angling before heading to a favorite Trout and Salmon hole.  The fishing was not easy and we each managed a few fish with only one that Leo had on that could be called perfect.  The fish managed to snap him off and was not brought to hand. I was just down river at the time and when I saw the fish jump it was truly impressive.  To see a big silver fish fly three feet out of the water is the magic of Salar.  For that brief moment the snow stopped and the wind was not howling any more.  For being the end of April the weather was normal in the North Country.  Normally unpredictable.

Upon arrival at stop number two,  the first connection for both of us came within ten minutes.  Leo took the  big fish of the day at  twenty one and a half inches.  I then had a bright and perfect nineteen inch beauty that fits the heart and the inspiration of this story.  Then everything just stopped.  As we continued to fish there was no movement, no takes and no insect activity.  The wind was still blowing hard and the temperature only ticked up a bit.  My guides were freezing and hours were going by without a sign of possibility.  This is the time when every fly in your box will be tried.  Leaders will be lengthened and shortened.  Weight will be added and removed.  Tippet size will be dropped at the risk of breaking off the big one.  Nothing works because nothing works.  Nothing works.

As the day continued, Leo and I stayed with the plan.  We were there until dark no matter what and would make sure that everything possible was considered.

1:30 Nothing

2:30 Nothing

3:30 Nothing and we moved up river to give the pool a rest.

4:30 Nothing

5:30 Nothing and we headed back to the pool.

"Hey, I just saw a fish swim right past me," I said.  "Maybe they are moving up to the rapid to feed", said Leo.  Then in a matter of moments, Leo had a fish take up in the head of the pool, I had one in the middle, Leo had another in the head, we switched and I had two in the head and then another toward the middle.  It went on for about one hour and was done.

There was one theme to this explosion and that was all the fish were taken on an Early Black Stonefly nymph.  This has been the go to fly for some time and was tried all day long without results.  As the feast was happening we bantered about Little Stony this and Little Stony that.  In a very clean environment where the water stays cold the Early Black Stone will be seen.  This little stonefly is effective in sizes 16 and 14 and is a true emerging insect. The activity will last as long as the water stays cold.

All I can say about this day is that it was perfect.  The fish, the river, the fly, and most of all the company and friendship.  Perfect.........


Friday, October 4, 2013

North Atlantic Oscillation, Woods Hole, NOAA, And What It Means

For a long time we anglers of Salmo Salar have been coming up with every reason possible for reduced returns. Clearly, the Atlantic Salmon rivers of the North Atlantic have been in decline.  My observation is that the further south the river mouth, the greater the decline.  In the United States the greatness of a revolution for wealth was a dagger in the heart of many fish species populations.  Now global warming, if natural or for man made reasons, continues the negative effect on southern waters.

In Canada, where there are many rivers without the blockage of dams, we have seen major disruptions in populations due to other reasons.  Netting, clear cutting, heavy metals mine spills, acid rain and greater angling pressure have all taken a toll.   In Europe the south was hit hard in the same way as the US.   Further north to a lesser degree, but over all declines have been evident.

My simple point is that you can look region by region and river by river and find a great number of reasons for decline.  I am now under the belief that there is one major factor that transcends all others.  One so clear in science it is hard to deny.   It's called The North Atlantic Oscillation(NAO).

Studies by The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute as well as The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association(NOAA)  have both been done on this subject.  My writing is but an attempt to understand the information gathered.

Most anglers I talk with about the NAO have no idea what it is.  When I mention El Nino everybody then has a reference.  Although they are not the same, the concept of this Earth phenomenon of open ocean effect on migrating species and weather patterns is understood and more important believed.

Wickapedia defines the NAO as follows:  "The North Atlantic oscillation (NAO) is a climatic phenomenon in the North Atlantic Ocean of fluctuations in the difference of atmospheric pressure at sea level between the Icelandic low and the Azores high. Through east-west oscillation motions of the Icelandic low and the Azores high, it controls the strength and direction of westerly winds and storm tracks across the North Atlantic. It is highly correlated with the Arctic oscillation, as it is a part of it".
During the 1960's and early 70's Atlantic Salmon fishing was having some of the finest years possible.  This continued into mid decade of the 70"s but the decline was noticeable and having a sharp impact.  By the early 1980's things were very different and many fishing regulations and daily limits were changed.  We still had all the river specific effects of man's doing but an overall world wide decline was taking hold.  At this same exact time there was something else that had happened.  The North Atlantic Oscillation moved from a narrow or negative difference in barometric pressure to a wide or positive difference. 

Over the past number of years information has been gathered.  Part of this puzzle has been the need to understand the numbers of smolt going to sea.  Counting wheels and down stream shock counts have proven that the numbers remain strong.  The conclusion has been to look to the ocean for the issue.  Again, lets for a moment agree that man made problems like fish farms and sea lice, acid rain and natural issues as predation have effect, but don't allow us to look at the big picture.  This big picture is in the ocean and what is happening to the Salmon while at sea and the availability of food to eat.  Food availability is the key ingredient to a healthy Salmon population.  This will be especially noticed in the numbers of multi winter, multi spawning very large fish.

If we examine the current NAO history we will find that a positive or large gradient difference has been the pattern for the last thirty five years.   This effect brings strong westerly winds, warmer Southern North Atlantic Ocean temperature and colder Northern North Atlantic Ocean temperature.  When the NAO is in a negative pattern the winds are held to the south of the salmon feeding grounds off Greenland. 

Positive equals a decreased area of feeding or a band of ocean that is battered by high winds and rough seas further north and into the winter feeding areas.  A negative pattern creates a larger feeding ground or wider band of northern ocean that is calmer.  Salmon survive in an average of fourteen feet below the surface while at sea.  A harsh and rough environment means the disruption of the food source.  Can it be that the major populations of salmon thought to winter off Greenland and the Farrows Islands can be directly impacted by the weather conditions of those locations?  Is it also possible that certain river populations do their winter feeding in different locations that are effected more or less?  Are the salmon of the Kola feeding in the same winter areas of those from Scotland?  Do the Inner Bay of Fundy salmon that have been the hardest hit feed in a location not conducive to survival?   Can it be that the salmon of a single river will disperse to different feeding areas for the survival of the species?  

Nature will feed the strong to survive only to the degree of ability.  Should the ability be decreased by food deprivation, the weakest will continue to die until a level of survivability is met.   This is called the Balance of Nature.  Should critical mass be eroded to a tipping point the result will be catastrophic. 

Over the last five years it has been possible for me to predict the size and quantity of the salmon returning to North America.  Food and the availability of food in the ocean alone is the key factor. What man has done to harm the fish has been somewhat countered by all the good that has been done over the last thirty years.  We are now in the up cycle of this science and the next ten years should prove to be a very positive time for an angler of Salar.

So I don't leave this only to the Atlantic, you steelhead fans on the West Coast need only follow the Pacific Decadal Oscillation for your answers. 


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why Didn't I Realize It A Long Time Ago

My first venture to Gaspe was in 1980.  Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were my destinations the years prior.  I really don't know why, but I decided to take a just purchased brand new 911 Super Coupe as transportation.  Must of been how the low profile Perrelli's would hold on dirt and gravel roads. Yea, that was it.....

Taking this trip was as much about the car as it was about the fishing.  I guess my love of angling had merged with the love of driving fast and both fanatic compulsions needed to be satisfied at the same time.  Talk about over stimulation.  So I pointed the silver bullet north and found the way to Matapedia.

Knowing nothing about this place turned each moment into a constant learning curve. I found myself looking at low water and fairly slow fishing conditions.  I visited as many pools as possible to get a look see and fished a few that were easily accessible.  Couldn't scratch the car or leave it out of sight. The car was a constant problem.  You know that saying, if you have to worry about something then you can't afford it.  Well there I was with a car that should not be racing around route 132, let alone parked on Route 132.

After a day or so I decided the car needed to be moving again so I made the drive to Matane.  Joseph Bates was a bad influence on me back then.  I had this great need to see all the places he talked about in his now famous book..  I was obsessed with seeing pool 45.  But as luck would be on this trip pool 45 was up river in the Provincial Park where the logging roads were too dusty for the Porsche.  I never saw pool 45.

Years went by and I continued to travel to Matapedia, Restigouche and then Grande and Petite Cascapedia's, York, Dartumoth and Bonaventure.  Year after year and time after time I fished with varying success,  The Gaspe had me and my thoughts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and those dreams past were now in the far distance.  It became totally about big fish in the clear waters that make the Gaspe famous.

As I have gotten older it seems that my mind is still very young when it comes to the excitement of planning the next adventure.  The anticipation is defining.  Even now as I write this I am thinking of Saturday and big Landlocked Salmon I hope to hook.  But something has changed.

There came a time on this years trip to Matane that what I saw looked different.  I feel like I am seeing the land and sky for the first time.  A feeling of guilt for advantage of just how incredibly beautiful these places are redirected my focus.  I have had the privilege to travel through this place without noticing all there is to see.  I regret not noticing and want to offer a simple bit of advise.  Don't waste your life in mere fishing and the need of the catch. Surround your life in the pursuit of life and if a few big fish are angled along the way so be it.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Fall Or Spring So Long As Their Big

There is one thing that Spring and Fall have in common and that is using big flies can prove very productive.
I have been working on this fly system pictured with this Renous Special where the tube and junction mare one one the same.  By taking a large rigid tube as the outside and a small rigid tube as the inner I can make it happen.  The inner tube is the stop for the hook.  Also check out the plastic cone.  This one comes from Pro Tubes and has very little weight.  If you make sure to leave just enough of the inner tube out the front you can snap on the plastic cone.  I'm really happy with this and plan a bunch more patterns.