They Went Turkey Hunting

I spent last weekend at my brother’s home near New Gloucester, Maine. I taught a wet fly class at Bean’s on Friday, and then Friday evening we had a really nice dinner of grilled venison steaks, with salad, broasted potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob. It was delish! Larry and his daughter, Emily, wanted to go turkey hunting early the next morning. So while they were out in the woods at 4:15 AM, I slept until about 6:00 AM. When I awoke, I made coffee, set up my fly tying stuff on the dining room table, and set about leisurely tying in a little over three hours what ended up to be 2-1/2 dozen Clouser Minnows. We were planning to do some striper fishing.

2-1/2 dozen Clouser Minnows. I tied these Saturday morning on May 26th. They were intended for stripers. Chartreuse and White, Blue and White, and Black and White. Sizes #2 and #1. This was a quick set-up, hand-held shot. It’s been some years since I tied any Clouser Minnows, and it was fun tying them up.

The box on the right is my “schlappen organizer.” It’s a Plano #3450, six-compartment storage box. The feathers are stripped of the fluff and what’s left fits perfectly in the individual compartments in the box. This one is loaded with the six colors of schlappen that I use the most, at my fingertips. Some of the compartments have 40-50 feathers in them. A nice idea that I got last summer, but it took months to act on it. First time I looked for them my local hardware store didn’t have what I wanted. I bought these at a store in Granby, Connecticut, where my daughter lives. I’m glad I did. I have three of these all filled with schlappen colors and a few other feathers for wet fly and streamer hackles and tails.

So Saturday evening, Larry, Emily, and me leave the house, heading down I-95 for the Kennebunkport exit and the Mousam River. We were early by a few hours but we wanted to fish the falling tide and be there at dead low, which was about 9:20 PM on the 26th. We met Tim Spahr, Maine Warden and “star” of the Animal Planet Television series program, Northwoods Law.

We started fishing the lower river, with no action at first. Tim hooked a small fish that got off. The image below is of another angler, Tim, and Emily lined up on the south side of the Mousam River.

Mousam River, Maine, on a falling tide. Warden Tim Spahr is the second angler, my niece Emily Bastian, is the farthest out. You can see four anglers in the distance on the north side. They were spin fishing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 😉

There were stripers driving bait against the opposite shore in a small backwater area to the left of the expensive piece of real estate on the left, but we couldn’t get over there. They fed unmolested as we wished they would move to our side of the river. Tim decided to hop on his motorcycle and drive over there, but of course when he got there the tide was lower and both stripers and bait had moved out. We fished our way down to the mouth but did nothing for the next hour-and-a-half. Not a strike. About nine o’clock, we moved back into the river channel. We started to see a few fish popping the surface. I was using a chartreuse squid pattern that I had designed about ten years ago, which had been successful on my most recent striper trip of seven or eight years ago. That was back before my daughter Kim was married, but I fished with a friend of hers near Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and boated three stripers that day on my Chartreuse Squid.

As the bass fed sporadically in the river, the three of us started to impale little herring on the hook points of our flies. The river was swarming with bait! I admit I tossed a few casts with a four-incher as a double bait-fly rig, but it came off. I had a feeling of discouragement and decided to tie on a chartreuse and white Clouser Minnow. After a few minutes of casting this fly, double-hauling and throwing 65 -70 foot casts, I got a knot in my fly line that checked my cast short when it caught at the stripping guide. Wouldn’t you know it, as I held the rod up on my right elbow, trying to free the knot, the line tightened, swung down-and-across, and a fish hit the fly as it swam in the current. I hollered, “Fish on!”

But of course I had to still undo the knot, which seemed to take forever as I felt the bass holding in the current. It was kind of awkward having a striper on as the rod was bent over my elbow. When I freed my line, I grabbed the grip and raised the rod. The fish took off, several times. I was using a six-weight, nine foot rod, with a seven-weight sink-tip line, since I didn’t expect to be striper fishing this weekend. At least I had a Fly-Logic disc drag reel. But the fish barked my knuckles with the reel handle a couple times with unexpected runs. As I played the fish, a stranger came along and stopped. As the fight closed in and I brought the fish to shore, he asked, “Do you mind if I shine a flashlight on it?”

“Not at all,” I replied. In fact I rather appreciated the fact that I could see the fish. My light was in the brim of my hat, and it had gotten wet earlier and shorted out. There’s nothing more useless than a flashlight that doesn’t work. The fish had the fly so deeply that my forceps were too short, so the stranger’s light was beneficial as it illuminated the mouth of the fish so I could get my fingers on target to unhook the barbless fly.

He was not carrying a rod but I thought it a little curious when he said, “Do you mind if I ask what size tippet you’re using?”

“I think it’s either 0x or 1x,” I answered. Later I thought the odds were good that he was a fly angler. Most spin fisher’s would have asked, “What size leader are you using?” At least that’s my thought.

Then I remembered my camera and mentioned a photo. Then I asked the fellow if he would mind, and he very graciously obliged. The photo below, taken by a friendly passerby, is my first striper of the year, and my first bass in seven or eight years. I was thrilled! I tried to remember to smile, I guess it worked.

My first striper of the season. The fish hit a chartreuse and white Clouser Minnow about 9:15 PM.

I hooked and lost two more fish, but over all the evening was a combination of excitement and discouragement at the same time. Larry and Emily did not get a strike all evening. Yet there were fish working the surface all over, steady for almost two hours. Many within casting distance, and some came so close that they were within the radius of our rod tips. Emily tried at least ten different flies, including a surface popper. I think the bait was very plentiful; there were no blitzes, just fish working close enough to the surface that one would think casting to the rise we’d have hooked up a few more times. I thought maybe a floating line with a floating minnow pattern…or maybe some wider profile, big-eyed herring pattern. Perhaps next time we’ll figure it out.

Monday morning we rose early to take Larry’s Corson 16-footer to the Saco River. Long story short, we got some fish, even though we started fishing around 6:30 AM. Somewhere in the middle section of the river between the ocean and the dock, I saw one good rise very near the boat. Larry pedal-controlled the trolling motor into position and for the next ten minutes we worked this area. Then we saw some small boils of fish chasing bait. I cast my Clouser to the spot, started stripping, and got my first chance of the day to yell the magic words: “Fish on!”

As soon as I hollered, Larry echoed with his call, “Fish on!

“We got a double!” I yelled excitedly in a high-pitched, Flip Wilson style falsetto voice. We can get a little wound up at times. Why not? It’s fun! Emily took this photo with her camera of both fish:

The boys and their toys! My brother, Larry, on the left, and me with a set of striper “schoolie” twins. Larry was using a spinning rod pitching a Slugo, partly because of the inherent difficulty of three people fly casting simultaneously from one boat. We did do that later in the morning when we hit stripers chasing bait and I hooked up on a Clouser Minnow and they didn’t. Bass often key in on small bait, when we first hit them a couple hours later they were chasing sand eels. Emily Bastian photo.

We didn’t get into them until low tide about 10:30. I hooked and netted the first fish, again on the chartreuse and white Clouser Minnow. Emily took these photos with my camera:

Saco River striper, and yours truly. My brother Larry can be partially seen on the bow seat.

Here’s another shot of the same fish:

The official “fish pose.” I got a sunburn that day.

Larry Bastian and nice striper. We didn’t tape this fish, but we could clearly see it was over the legal maximum size limit of 26″. This bass was pushing 30″. Emily Bastian photo.

Up until I caught the first nice striper, I had been using Emily’s fly rod and as soon as I netted, got it photographed, and released the fish, Emily wanted her rod. I can understand that. I had brought mine along but used hers because she had been spin-casting too. I was taking the time to set up and rig my 9-foot, 6 wt. Sage with a sink tip line. I guess I looked a little impatient there while they took the fish photo! 🙂

After a while, Emily too got into the action, hooking and landing her first striper of the season. her dad took this photo below:

Emily Bastian and schoolie striper. Her first bass of the year, just like the one on her shirt. Larry Bastian photo.

We really had fun in the boat. At one point in the afternoon, a school of several hundred mackerel churned a swarm of herring from two-hundred yards off, sweeping toward us in a frenzied froth of chopping, slashing, the water making a rattling sound, growing louder as they closed in, with silver spray flying everywhere, right up to the edge of the boat. It took just seconds for the mackerel to drive the bait all that distance to our position. We also saw giant sturgeon and several times we had bass right beside the boat. We saw a few stripers that were well over three feet long. We were in an inlet area about five to seven feet deep and you could see the stripers, herring, and sand eels all over the place. We had small schools of bass busting bait all around, at times there were several schools of stripers working at once in several directions. Nice too, that we were the only boat in the bay. It was wicked fun! If I lived closer to the salt I’d be doing more of that fishing.

My brother just e-mailed me a little while ago – Monday evening June 4th, to point out that I forgot to mention that he caught the biggest fish. Actually I would have had photos of that but my memory card was full right after Emily took the two photos of my bass. The one I netted was the first good-sized striper we caught, and after that, with all the fish working for well over two hours, I didn’t have time to stop fishing to sit and edit and delete photos from my camera card. Emily took some photos, but she has yet to send them to me. Larry caught one striper that was not legal because it was too big to keep. We quickly taped it at 28″ or 29″. In Maine there is a one fish limit, a slot size where the striper must be between 20″ and 26″, anything smaller or larger must be released at once, though you may also kill one striper over 40″. Either way it’s a one-fish limit with the size restrictions.

The above paragraph was written last night – Emily sent me the three new photos this morning.

I headed south the same day to my daughter’s in Granby, Connecticut, to prepare a fresh-caught striped bass for dinner. I stuffed it and baked it. Served with red skinned potatoes and asparagus, and Anchor Steam beer, It was delicious!

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When the Fisherman is Away

There’s an old saying that I’ve heard folks say ever since I was a kid. Here it is: “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” My version of this regarding a recent experience goes like this: “When the fisherman is away, the dog will play.” At least that’s how it sometimes goes.

I have a number of fly tying and dog stories that are mine or those of friends, stashed into a project I started three years ago. This project is the writing of  short humorous stories, accounts, and tales of various fishing and hunting experiences that I’ve had over lo, these many years. When the idea started I thought I’d have about thirty topics, but the list has swelled to nearly ninety at present. Seven chapters are finished. My plan is to publish these stories in a two or three volume set. But today, I need to write something; I am so far behind in my blog posts.

Since late April I’ve fished a number of times. The seven trips I have made to Spring Creek have thus far resulted in me hooking over 160 trout, a pretty good per-trip average of twenty-some fish. Two of them were days when I hooked close to forty. May 17th, while fishing nearby Big Pine Creek with two friends, I had the best day I’ve ever had there. I netted fifteen nice rainbows, all save one from nymphing heavy water riffles with four split-shot and a two-fly rig, five to eight feet under the indicator. I haven’t done that in a number of years, and it was refreshing and exhilarating to find out how much I love fishing like that. Hey, they weren’t rising, and a “Bugger” produced only one trout, so the tactic of nymphing is generally what works best under these conditions. I capped the day off with two big browns in the evening on a dry; a Slate Drake Extended Body Dun pattern of my own design. This pattern and several other Slate Drakes will soon be available for sale directly from me. You can post a comment here, which will give me your e-mail address, and from there I can contact you about placing an order.

Over Memorial Day weekend after my May 25th class at L. L. Bean, I fished in Maine with my brother, Larry, and my niece, Emily, for stripers, successfully. I have photos of all these excursions that I’d like to post. So far it’s been a good season. I’d love to fish more, but I am still backed up with fly tying orders, and then there’s the yard work both at home and the cabin.

On the earlier mentioned May 17th trip, I departed the house around 8:30 AM to meet my New Jersey friends at McConnell’s Country Store and Fly Shop in Waterville. http://www.mcconnellscountrystore.com/

Our friend Dave Rothrock was working in the shop and we chatted with him a bit, ordered sandwiches from the deli for lunch, and headed up to the Delayed Harvest Area below Slate Run. This post is about what happened when I returned home. The Pine Creek fishing story will be posted separately. For now I am writing about Abigail, my ten-year old Cocker Spaniel. She was a surprise gift from my wife Lou Anne, on my 50th birthday in 2002. On May 17th, she was “the dog that played while the fisherman was away.”

Abigail – companion, bird dog, comic actor, well-disciplined, mild-mannered, generally well-behaved dog. I love her more than any of the four dogs I owned. She’s just as cute as she can be.

My day of fishing on May 17th started out with me intending to stop and head home mid-afternoon to take care of a few things, one of which was mowing the lawn. Another was to receive and deposit in the bank a check that I had been expecting. I decided to stay and fish. Excellent choice. The check could wait (turned out it did not arrive anyway), and the mowing was no worse the next day. Abigail had the house to herself for over twelve-plus hours that I was away. She’s normally out several times a day, but when Lou Anne was living and worked full time, and if I traveled or guided, Abigail was often in the house for up to eleven hours. She was well-housebroken and there was never an incident, but we had learned to keep the trash containers out of her reach. She loved to get after facial tissue and especially, used napkins that might have a trace of food or other “intersting” aroma embedded in them. On occasion she would pull twenty or thirty feet of toilet paper off the roll. Otherwise, she’s always been a great pet; gentle, sweet, playful, great with my grandsons, and very good afield hunting grouse and woodcock.

A handful of times over the years she got into my fly tying stuff, though never causing a major catastrophe. Once she got hold of a 1/2 ounce bundle of schlappen, and even though Lou Anne was in the room with her at the time, she was occupied on the computer. When I walked in after the bundle was “separated” I asked Lou Anne why she didn’t stop her. She of course thought that Abigail was simply playing with one of her chew toys. Another time recently I heard Abigail chewing on something as I sat tying flies. For about minute I heard but did not pay attention to what she was doing, again, thinking she had her Nylabone. When I looked down, Abigail was right beside me on the floor, calmly tearing the nails off a jungle cock cape. I was instantly horrrified. She doesn’t eat the feathers, she just wants the skin. It’s the bird dog equivalent of beef jerky. I of course intervened to save the cape, and I now regret that my immediate dismay prevented me from the presence of mind to take a macro photo of her head, because she had about a dozen jungle cock nails clinging to her lips. That would have actually been very funny – in hindsight.

Abigail sleeps in bed with me, tucked up against my torso because she’s always been a lover and craves affection. When I returned home from fishing all day about 9:30 PM, I was up for only about fifteen minutes. I was pretty exhausted after fishing most of the day, being on my feet and wading the heavy riffs for a good nine hours. At 4:00 AM I was awakened by the sounds of Abigail retching and, well, without further details, she coughed up something. I was in REM sleep, and this was not welcomed. Not at all. I got out of bed, turned on the light, squinting in a half-daze at this slimy, four-inch long slug of broken feathers and quill stems on the comforter. Curious, because normally if she was into my fly tying stuff, I would see it right away. I knew she had gotten into some feathers, but there had been no evidence that she had disturbed anything. I cleaned it up with paper towels and we both went back to sleep.

It was not until I had my coffee the next morning and had been up for a couple hours when I located the scene of the crime on my living room floor, carefully hidden from view behind the coffee table.

See, Abigail is a good dog – disciplined to come, sit, stay, and she even posed for this mug shot. Since she is the only animal residing at my house, she was guilty as charged, the result of circumstantial evidence. This is the remains of a packaged pair of mallard wing quills. Feathers scattered about. What was gone without a trace were the wing bones that held any remaining sinew of dried flesh, tendons, and of course, that disgusting flavorful goodness that dogs love. My first inclination was to gather everything up and trash it, but when I started to pick the feathers up, I noticed that she had not really chewed most of them and they were still useable.

This set of wings was bought by me at The Bear’s Den in Taunton, Massachusetts, on February 25th when I taught a class there. I demonstrated to the class how to select, cut, and remove the individual right and left primary wing feathers to pair them up for the wet flies we were tying, so all the prime quills had been removed. Probably 80% of these feathers were salvageable.

Sorted mallard wing feathers, courtesy of Abigail, my Cocker Spaniel. At upper left are the gray, white, and black-tipped coverts used to tie wings on the 19th Century Orvis Bass fly, the Cheney. There are gray coverts for spoon wings on the Henshall and Mather. On the right are the long-barbed center quills that can be married easily with goose shoulder for married wing flies, and a few pairs of slate wing quills. And of course, a nice lot of practically unscathed dark blue, white-tipped quills for the McGinty, Good Evening, or the tips for the paired, whole-feather wing on the Hummingbird.

Abigail actually did me a favor, and the only downside of her behavior was a little tummy ache.

Today is June 3rd. Friday was overcast all day. Yesterday the sun poked out for less than a couple hours all day. Today it’s foggy and cloudy, and the sun is struggling desperately to gain a foothold on this summer day. All the while as I was typing this post, my fingers got cold. There’s a chill in the house with the outdoor temperature in the upper 50’s overnight, and it’s kind of damp. I can’t believe I just built a fire in the wood stove… but it is already providing a very welcome feeling of warmth and comfort.

More good news: The cooler weather and recent rains have kept Big Pine Creek cold and very fishable. I am definitely going to get over there and fish this coming week. There are still Slate Drakes, caddis, and olives hatching.