Jun 20, 2010

My first Deer Camp - The one that started it all

If I had to attribute my love for the whitetail woods to one person, it would definitely be my dad.  My dad was born and raised in Northeast PA so for him, hunting was a way of life and something everyone did when they were growing up.  The stories from all those days he spent in the field would keep me engrossed for hours.  Even today I can still listen to those same stories with the same enthusiasm and excitement.  Matter of fact during our annual Bow and Muzzle loader hunts we get the old man primed for a night of story telling and it never gets old.

My mom and dad divorced when I was very young and my dad moved from CT to NJ so I didn't get to spend lots of time with him when I was growing up.   The time we did spend together always brought a trip to the water for some trout or bass and during many summer visits even a camping trip.  It was during these visits that I would get to hear the stories from his past fishing and hunting trips and it was those stories that drove my passion to hunt someday.  Stories of hunting the big woods of PA, chasing bucks around the mountains, leaving a buck laying during a blizzard only to return the next day to pick up the rope and continue the long drag out.  Yup, that was the stuff I wanted to do.  My mom didn't hunt but she always took us fishing.  My uncles, mom's brothers, hunted but none had the stories or the experience of the big woods that my dad had.  So at age 12 when I was old enough to take the hunter education class I did and that fall I was participating in my first bowhunting camp in the Delaware Water Gap in NJ.  I still hunt the same area today, some 33 years later,  that I hunted during my first trip.

The deal my mom and dad made was that as long as I kept my grades up and behaved, I would be allowed to take a few extra days off from school to attend hunting camp.  Now I'm pretty sure that this deal is the reason I did well in school and stayed out of trouble because I had been waiting for this for what seemed like a lifetime and there was no way I was going to mess this up.  At 45 the actual details of how I had gotten down to NJ and into camp are a little fuzzy but I'm pretty sure it had to do with a bus trip into NY where my step mother picked me up and drove me up to the gap to join my dad and the crew.  My dad and his friends had been holding this annual bowhunting trip many years before I joined them so they had their usual camp site #18 along the river which include a double outhouse, a nice big tent and the usual gang of misfits.  As we pulled into the campsite that first night all I was more excited than a kid on Christmas morning, man life was good.  My dad's hunting clan consisted of many characters and I use the term characters in honor and love for these guys.  The crew for the annual trip was Harrington, One Eye Mike, big mike, Whitey, Jimmy and Freddy.  Some of the crew also had kids about the same age as me so I had company in Chris and Mike Jr on many of these early trips.  There were a few other stragglers that would come and go but this crew made up the regulars at that time.

With my dad, there is no such thing as easy, but there are shortcuts - well what he calls shortcuts anyway - so don't be surprised when I tell you that our camp was at the bottom of the mountain even though you could come in from the top of the mountain.  Every morning we would get up around 3am and start the lanterns, break ice off the bucket to make coffee and cook up a little breakfast.  Wait, nothing is ever little with my dad so breakfast was usually a full breakfast and it didn't matter if you were hungry or not because you were eating it.  After breakfast we would give that old double outhouse a workout and then gather up our gear and start our long, dark hike up the mountain.  Now because we had such a long hike we would wear very little and carry everything up in backpacks and I mean everything because to quote my dad "you can't use it if you don't have it!".

Once we got to the top of the mountain, we would strip down, dry off and change into our hunting clothes and only then drop off the back side of the mountain to hunt a hollow we referred to as The Hole - I talked about this place and the process of getting to it in an earlier post titled A Little Walk in the Woods.  Anyway, once in the hole we would split up and head into our hunting spots where we would spend the majority of the day until about 2pm before we would head out of the hole back off the top to hunt the front side of the mountain because you didn't want to be in the hole much later than that and try to get a deer out of there.  Getting a deer out of there is a chore and one of the reasons that my dad had an 8point or bigger rule which we routinely ignored.  The rule was simple, if you shoot a deer that was less than 8 points you were on your own and at our age, we didn't care about dragging our deer out with no help.   Normally after our evening hunt we would leave our bows hung in a tree near the top of the mountain so it was one less thing we would need to carry up the next day.  Back at camp everyone would pitch in preparing dinner, building a fire and getting gear ready for the morning.  We would then relax around a camp fire and discuss the days activities and ofcourse listen to some of those old stories and then hit the sack to repeat it the next day.

There are a few things i will never forget from that first trip.  One is the need to collect small pieces of throwing wood.  throwing wood, yup that is what we call a Curtism - It's just the way my dad talks and it doesn't make sense to normal people but we understand it completely.  Anyway you needed throwing wood to use when the skunks came into camp every night.  So when a skunk would come into camp and he wouldn't leave after yelling at him, you threw a piece of wood at him.  The next evening you would gather up your wood again for that nights visit from the skunks.

The second thing I remember is the first time I ever heard a deer bleat. It was the last day of camp and I had stayed in camp that morning to help my dad clean up from breakfast so we would get a little later start which was fine seeing we were going to do an early morning push for the guys.  So after cleaning up from breakfast we headed up to the top of the mountain and found us a nice dead fall that was just on the edge of the mountain and looking down into the hole.  We took a seat on the dead fall and planned to stay there for a bit before starting a push.  I remember it was cold and we even had some snow flurries as we sat on that dead fall enjoying the coming of a new day.  We sat there scanning the woods and talking when all of a sudden I heard it.  Yup, it was a sheep....atleast that is what I thought it was and I even said so to my dad...Then I heard it again and once again asking my dad "Did you hear that sheep?".  He told me to shush and proceeded to tell me that it wasn't a sheep but instead a deer.  Being the young smart guy I was I told him that no it was a deer and that maybe he was getting old.  I've heard sheep before and this was definitely a sheep and I started to laugh at his insistence that it was a deer.  He shushed me again, but this time he put his hand over my mouth and I damn near fell off the dead fall I was sitting on.  Now we were both laughing a little bit but he did his best to quiet me down and convince me it was a deer.  Now you have to understand that I grew up in the city and I really did swear it was a sheep and then all of a sudden out steps this doe just bleating away.  I sat there totally motionless with my mouth wide open.  I can still see that little deer today walking across that flat making her best sheep sounds.

Now I've come a long way since that first hunting trip and we continue to hunt the same area every year including our week long archery trip and our annual muzzle loader trip.  My dad is the only one still hunting with us from his original crew and now me and my friends are the regular crew enjoying time with our kids as well.  Camp has changed a little bit, no tents anymore but pop-up campers instead.  No outhouse, but indoor plumbing and showers.  We still camp at the same campground just not along the wooded sites.  We still walk up the mountain every morning even if we don't hunt "The Hole" every day.  And the best part of all is that I get to continue sharing my love and passion for the whitetail woods with my dad.

Happy Fathers Day dad and thank you for taking the time to tell us those stories and for sharing your passion of hunting.  By the way, did I ever tell you the story about the time...............  :)

Jun 16, 2010

The Passion Continues to Build

If you read my Penns Creek Trip report post you already know that my son Brendan learned to fly fish on that trip and he definitely has the bug - no pun intended.  Since we've been back he has been wanting to do some more fly fishing but the weather just hasn't cooperated with our schedules until yesterday.  Instead of hitting the trout stream I figured a trip to the pond for some blue gills was in order.  I mentioned this pond in my Spring Practice post and that chasing the blue gills is a great place to start when teaching someone new.  Even though we threw my son to the wolves with his introduction to fly fishing on a tough river to fish, he never lost the enthusiasm for the fly rod so I knew he didn't need the pond for some easy fish, just some more practice.

The pond is kind of in a dip on one side so you are standing about 8 feet below the top of the field  and the other side the brush is as close as 10 feet, so this pond forces you to really pay attention to your back cast and forces you into some awkward positions but the blue gills really don't seem to care so much about your presentation so if it gets a little sloppy that is fine.

I changed spools and put the sink tip line on and tied on a green weenie, which has worked well here for the blue gills before, and then I sat down and kicked back on the hillside to watch and offer some comments and corrections.  It didn't take long for the hillside to remind him to check his back cast and even forced a couple of roll casts out of him but overall he still had all the fundamentals down and it's been almost two weeks since his first instruction. 

We could see the blue gills check out the fly and even mouth it once or twice but no real takers so I switched him over to a wooly worm for a little more life like action thanks to the hackle on the woolly worm.  On the second cast he was hooked up and I could tell right away from the bend in the line and the drag the fish was taking he had hooked into one of the bass that call this pond home.  He fought the fish like perfectly.  Letting it take line when it wanted to and taking it back as needed.  It wasn't long before we put the bass in the net and were taking a picture of it.  We thanked the bass for his help in this lesson and released him to fight another day.  Now I've fished this dang pond 6 times this year and haven't hooked into a bass yet.  Man I hate Kids.  Not really but you have to wonder some times don't you.

Brendan continued to work that pond from a couple of different angles and he landed another nice bass on the woolly worm and a pretty nice blue gill.  He did let me get a couple of casts in but I didn't catch a thing....By the way did I mention that I hate kids.. :)

Jun 11, 2010

Penns Creek Trip report

This is the second year that we put together a little fly fishing trip with my brother and my dad and we were fortunate to have my son along this year which isn't an easy task seeing everyone has busy schedules and we live in three different states, but we pulled it off.  Last year we fished locally around my dad's house in the Poconos of PA but this year I talked everyone into a trip out to Central PA to fish the famed Penns Creek.

Penns Creek is a limestone creek that is located in the Northern part of Central Pennsylvania, and is well known for its large Green Drake hatch in late May and early June when people come from all over the world to fish this hatch.  Penns Creek runs through three counties in Pennsylvania (Centre, Mifflin and Union) and divided into 3 main fishing zones which comprise almost 35 miles of fishing.  Our plan was to fish the Middle zone which is home to a 3.9 mile Catch & Release section that is accessible only on foot or by bike.  This middle section of the creek runs through some incredible mountains and through Bald Eagle State forest making for some breath taking scenery, lots of wildlife and some interesting fishing.

This was our first trip to Penns Creek and as any trip to a new spot it required stops into the local fly shops for some first hand information and expertise.  In researching the local fly shops I noticed most of them provide some type of lodging so I booked a small apartment on top of Penns Creek Angler fly shop which is owned and operated by Bruce Fisher.  Upon our arrival Thursday morning we stopped in to see Bruce and pick his brain for some starting points to fish and some suggestions on what to use.  Bruce gave us the low down and marked up the map with a few spots to park and we were on our way.   Bruce mentioned that the water is low and clear and the fish had been hammered over the past couple weeks due to the Green Drake hatch so fishing was going to be tough and tough was an understatement.

There is plenty of posted land around so it's important to make sure to respect the landowners wishes and to park and fish only from those open and designated areas.  There are many cabins and part time homes and many of these have signs posted allowing fisherman to access the river through their property with asking very little of the fisherman except to respect the property, don't leave trash and don't block driveway access.  Some even ask you practice Catch and Release even outside the C&R section and I don't think that is asking much for free access to the river.

We started out that morning just down river from the end of the C&R section and found we had  much of the river all to ourselves which was nice seeing we had no idea what to expect.  Even though my son had never fly fished before and only received an hour long crash course in my dad's backyard the night before he was going to start out using the fly rod so I would be his teacher and guide this day and my dad would help my brother out as he only started last year.  My son and I headed up river to find our starting point and then fish back down to the car while my dad and brother would start down stream and work back up.  We almost got run over by a whitetail fawn that was laying in the tall grass along the bank of the creek so we stopped and watched her for a bit but I only had the small camera and couldn't get a picture of her without chasing her down and I didn't want to do that.  At our first spot i was showing my son where to cast and how to drift the olive woolly bugger along and as it reached down stream to give it a few twitches and as I twitched it we saw a fish come up for it, but return back to the bottom so we twitched it again and up it came and our first Penns Creek trout was hooked up and back off in less than a minute.  ARGGHHHH.  Needless to say I was excited and actually had a little confidence going which I should've known better based on all the reading I have done about this creek.  The river held up to its reputation and was stingy at best with the trout.  We fished until 1pm and then headed out for some lunch and to unpack our stuff in the apartment.

We headed back out around 4pm and this time decided to hike into the C&R section for another adventure.  Once again we found some incredible water, fish rising and even more frustration.  We did run across these turtles laying eggs int he sand and gravel which was pretty cool.  We fished until just after 8pm and after a quick piggy back ride across the river for my son, who by the way is almost 20 and about 205 lbs, because he decided to wear his hip boats instead of chest waders.  So instead of making him swim it across I carried him.  I did refuse to give my brother the camera just in case this didn't work out as planned he wouldn't have any proof of the mishap.  Well we made it without getting wet but it was touch and go a couple of steps.

This river has some incredible food sources from some incredibly large crayfish and bait fish to so many different bugs and hatches (big stone flies, large black caddis, sulfurs, some left over drakes, blue wing olives small tan caddis to name a few that we had seen) it makes your head spin and makes it even more difficult to figure out what the heck the trout want.  You could sit there and watch 10 - 12  fish rise to the surface taking bugs in a 100 foot stretch of water but with the low and clear water conditions and the bright sun you just couldn't get close enough to see what the heck they were taking and many times you put them down and have to wait them out again.  I know for my brother and son this had to be really frustrating as it was frustrating me and I had done enough research to know what to expect.  Honestly i think we ended day one with one lost trout and one or two creek chubs.  I can tell you this much, I took more crap from the crew over this stellar trip that I had talked them into so I knew I had to get this figured out quick.
Friday morning brought another beautiful day to match wits with some Penns Creek trout.  Much of the middle section and C&R area is not stocked so you are fishing for fish born and raised in this creek and they have probably seen everything you can think of throwing at them.  The game plan today was for me to do some nymphing and to switch it up often to try and figure out what was going on.   I set my son up with some wet flies (orange & partridge) while my brother worked some wets and my dad kept stubbornly working the dry flies.  It didn't take long for my son to start hooking fish on the wet flies, except they weren't trout but instead some small mouth bass and creek chubs again.  We worked the same section of water just outside the C&R section with about the same results except that now my son was catching fish and really learning and having fun wit the fly rod.  My brother and dad continued to struggle but I started to also pick up some fish, just not trout.

I knew we were getting closer and it looked like it was time to downsize again which I did that afternoon while back in the C&R section and it paid off with a beautiful 14 inch brown trout.  I was fishing deep water with a indicator and a large golden stone fly with a size 18 pheasant tail with a orange hot spot as a dropper and this brown took the pheasant tail.  Needless to say it wasn't long before the rest of the crew were getting setup for nymphing and plucking those small pheasant tails from my box.  The only problem with nymphing is you are not doing it right if you are not ticking bottom but my brother and son thought that mean hooking bottom necessary to good fishing so I spent lots of time re-rigging their setups instead of fishing which was still fun in my book.  We finished the night with only that one trout a few more small mouth bass and ofcourse some creek chubs.  At this point my son was out fishing everyone.  First time ever with a fly rod and he was hooking into fish all over the place.  It hurts more when he takes your rod only to catch another one while you are re rigging his.  End of the day tally was 3 small mouth bass about a dozen chubs and one brown trout.  That trout made my trip and I could care less if I caught anything else but I knew we would have to work hard Saturday to get another.

Saturday morning was our last attempt and the good news was we had some rain the night before and cloud cover.  I thought for sure this would help and it did.  We headed back in to the C&R section where I caught my fish the night before, but instead of hitting this spot right away we walked up stream more to fish an island area my dad had seen the day before.  We fished it with only a couple of chubs to show for it so we headed down to the deep run and Brendan jumped right into a spot and before you knew it, it was fish on and a good one at that.  Now remember he has never fly fished before and never fought a good sized fish on the fly rod so I tried to keep him calm and talk him through it as his excitement grew with every scream of the drag.  At one point as I was down stream of him hoping to get a chance to net his fish as I found myself dodging the line as the fish was running circles around me.  I did my best to not yell at my son and keep my cool and he fought the fish like a seasoned fly fisherman as I netted his first ever Penns Creek Brown trout and first trout on the fly.  This beautiful 15 inch brown took the size 18 pheasant tail and spit it out as I lifted the net.  We hooted and hollered a little bit as we admired the incredible fish and figured we could get a quick picture before we release him.  My son said, take a picture of him in the net and ofcourse I didn't listen for some reason so as he lifted the trout out of the net, the fish gave one more jump and splash right back into the drink before we could get a picture of it.  I was heart broken to say the least but my son just kept on smiling, picked up the fly rod and jumped back in. He was hooked on fly fishing for ever now.

We continued to work down stream  as we headed back to the car.  At one point I set the hook on what I new was a big fish and I yelled out that we were going to need a bigger net.  After a short fight I finally got the fish up where we could get a look at it and wouldn't you know it was the biggest creek chub any of us had ever seen.  He was all of 20 inches and thick and that should give you some idea of the food that Penns Creek has to offer up to the fish that call it home.  My son had one more trout on and lost it and it was time to call it quits and start the trip home to my dad's house.

We only landed two trout, about 18 creek chubs and 4 bass but we had loads of laughs, some incredible sites and best of all time spent with family.  There are two things for certain, this was not our last trip to Penns Creek and we have created a new fly fishing monster, my son in the process.  We are already talking about next years trip and were to go so if you have any suggestions please share them.

Jun 9, 2010

Memorial Weekend Fishing Report

I know this one is late, but I didn't have much time after this trip prior to heading out for my Penns Creek trip so here it is.

Had some friends up from New Jersey to hit the salt and try their luck chasing striped bass and fluke.  Our normal trip starts out with an early wake up of 2am to give us time to wipe the sand out of the eyes have some wake-up juice and load the truck before meeting others at the parking lot for a 3:15am departure for our hour plus ride to the boat.  My friends boat is docked at Groton, CT which gives us a nice short ride to the Race in the Long Island Sound.  Captain Ernie likes to get out before the sun comes up and this usually works in our favor.

We set out for the short 10 minute ride to Race Rock in clear and calm conditions and had lines in by 5:15am and the first fish just minutes after.  We started out using parachute jigs tipped with a pork strip on a wire rod.  Basically the Captain's job is put the boat over fish and you snap the rod to give the jig action and wham.....Fish on....  well, it is supposed to be that easy but much of this depends on the tide, bait and the fish's willingness to cooperate.  We worked are way along the rock picking up some fish, a keeper here and there and plenty of shorts.  The race is New York waters and their fishing regulation allow for 1 fish over 40" and 1 fish over 28" for a total of two fish per person.  It's always nice to get keepers in the boat, but we have to work a little harder for the 40+ inch fish.

About an hour into the fishing we started to see the birds working over some bait, which turned out to be sand eels, and the bass picking away at these bait balls so away went the wire rods and out came the spinning gear.  If I could only fish for stripers one way it would be on light tackle gear and I'd throw all the big stuff out.  It didn't take long for the guys to hook up on the spinning rods and the excitement really rises.  Everyone is running around like little boys at Christmas time.  It wasn't fast and furious by any means but it was fun fishing the mini blitz.  Capt would position the boat and we'd make some casts and then the fish would move a bit and we would repeat the dance.  This dance goes well when all the other boats play well and for the most part they did.  Turns out the fish were chasing sand eels and ofcourse we had NOTHING in the boat that matched.  You got to be kidding me, all this gear and nothing to match the hatch.  Oh well, you can count on one thing for certain...We had sand eel rigs ready the next day.

After getting 6 keeper bass in the cooler one of which was a nice 38" fish that Paulie caught on the spinning gear we headed off to do some Fluke fishing.  Fluke fishing is one of my favorites as it is a little more relaxing as we drift fluke rigs tipped with Squid or smelt along the bottom waiting for the fish to bite.  Sometimes the fishing is fast and other times very slow.  Today was one of those slow days and getting onto fluke was tough.  In NY waters fluke must be a minimum of  21" long and you are allowed two fluke per person.  CT regulations are different once again at only 19.5" and 3 fish per person but you must follow the regulations of the state whose waters you are fishing in so we worked through many shorts (fluke that didn't meet the minimum length) before landing our fist keeper at 22".  Now that is a nice sized fluke and great eating.  When you are fluke fishing there is no telling what you will catch.  Blues will come by and eat your bait, black sea bass, skate and even sand sharks but I've never seen someone catch a rock or a dead crab but we saw both of these caught this weekend.

We ended the Saturday Trip with 6 keeper bass, 2 keeper fluke (both caught by me - My personal best at 26"), some skate, sea robin and a dead crab and were back at the dock by 1:30pm to clean fish, clean up and start the hour plus drive home.  The day isn't over until we get all the gear reorganized, take some showers, eat some dinner and a few drinks and then in bed by 9pm to start the whole thing over again on Sunday.

Sunday started out the same way with an early wake up and long drive to the marina.  the big difference today was fog.  Man I hate the fog it's just plain scary.  The ride out to Race Rock was a little slower but familiar.  It didn't take long before Raymond was hooked up on the first bass of the day on the old wire rod.  After a few passes the birds started working over bait and we could see the bass chasing them once again so we switched one of the rods over for trolling an umbrella rig which allows multiple hooks to be trolled along the back of the boat.  Now this is something I really hate because it usually means multiple fish hooked up at one time so we gave the rig to the biggest guy and it was a good thing we did because on two passes with this rig he hooked 4 fish at one time on each pass.  That's not fun, that's work.  We continued to pick away at fish and decided to put the wire rods away and have some more fun with the spinning gear and this time we had the right rigs to match the hatch - Sand eels.  Anyone that fishes top water knows how much fun it is to watch a fish come up and smack your bait, but in the salt with a 36 - 38 inch fish it is incredible and usually cause for pure chaos as we  dance around the boat casting to busting fish.  

After playing with the bass for a few hours and having 6 keepers in the boat it was off to do some fluking.  We hit the same spot as Saturday but after a few drifts of nothing we decided to take the 30 minute boat ride and run across the pond to another NY spot and it was good thing we did.  The first drift yielded a keeper fluke at 27".  Raymond almost yanked it clean out of the water without a net.  We worked the area over and caught more shorts and ended up with 3 more NY keepers.  We also landed a couple of sea bass, one blue fish and a sand shark.  Nothing like a mixed bag to make the day fun.  We fished until about 1:30pm and headed back to the marina.  We had to stop to watch a seal trying to eat a skate and then another stop to check the captains lobster pots.  Back at the dock it's repeat the process of unload the boat, cleaning it down and cleaning the fish and ofcourse some pictures. Day two yielded 6 keeper bass, one blue fish, one keeper sea bass and 4 keeper fluke. We had a great 2 days of fishing with plenty of laughs, some surprises and enough fish to enjoy for dinner.

Here are some additional pictures from the weekend.