"How was the fishing,?" came the sleepy inquiry.
"Great," was the standard reply. I'd have to have some
kind of horrific, near-death experience to not have a
great time being out fishing.
"How was the catching?," was the second question. She's
learned that the two answers aren't necessarily the same,
and can often be on opposite ends of the spectrum.
"Pretty mediocre...until the last 15 minutes." She could
hear the broad smile that infected my voice.
"That good, huh?"
The Conestoga River is the perfect example of why I've fallen
in love with Pennsylvania. The alarm turns the radio on, the
sound cutting through the soft light of Sunday morning. In
10 minutes, I'll be sitting on the tailgate of my truck,
slipping on my wading boots and stringing up my 4 wt. In
another 5 minutes, I'll be knee deep in the mild water,
casting nymphs at feeding carp, or swinging small streamers
through the currents, looking for bass and sunfish. There's
nothing like this in my hometown.
I fished here yesterday morning, too. A couple of hours of
relaxation and fishing, and not a bad bit of fishing at that.
Plenty of olive backed smallies, iridescent red-breasted sunfish,
aggressive rock bass, and even a solitary yellow perch. I
even managed 3 or 4 smallmouth bass in the 10 -12" range,
pretty good for this water. Some late morning experimentation
with a yellow gurgler raised a few larger fish, one hooking
up, but it abandoned the fly in clump of weeds, leveraging
itself off of the barbless hook.
This morning, however, things had changed. The sky was overcast,
and a cooling breeze riffled its way across the water. Hoping
to take advantage of the previous day's successes, I rigged up
with a black Sneaky Pete, hoping to once again tempt some
larger fish to the surface. As I drifted and twitched the
topwater presentation over the numerous weedbeds, and through
the currented runs, it became clearer and clearer that the
fish were not interested. The Cat's Whisker that had been
producing so well for me the past couple of trips had finally
succumbed to the abuses of small, rough teeth, and slashing
I flipped through the too many boxes that bulge the pockets
of my vest and settled on a Cypert's Mylar Minnow, in similar
colors to the Whiskers. I began to work downstream of the
access point that I use, just below the public pool in County
Park. This stretch of the river is generally a couple of
feet deep, with rock bottom and long, trailing clumps of
weeds. The current cuts some deeper, faster runs, down
to 4 feet. The standard performance for the past couple
of trips here is to twitch the fly past larger rocks, or
swing it in the currents. Bass from 4 - 10" would hone
in on the fly, smacking it quickly and then diving back
towards the bottom. In slower waters, the sunfish would
leap upon the intruder, inhaling and expelling it, seemingly
in the same motion.
The changing weather had pushed this pattern by the wayside,
and the few fish that I managed, were brought up by bouncing
the bottom through a school of nymphing fish, when I could
differentiate the bass from the suckers picking algae from
the rock bottom and flashing in the light. I waded down
to a stretch of sunfish water, and turned back, working
the small minnow pattern upstream, managing a few small
I keep tormenting myself with the carp in this area. They
are extremely cunning fish, and I've yet to hook, much less
and one. They feed only for the briefest of periods, dipping
down to the rocky bottom, and then back up to filter the
mouthful. The only prolonged feeding they seem to do is
headfirst in the weeds, making presentation of a fly
virtually impossible. They seem to know every log,
rock and weed in the river, as even standing perfectly
still, they'll never get more than a couple yards away
from me before bolting to the depths in a cloud of silt.
Across the shore, from a high branch, a royal blue kingfisher
is trying to show me how it's supposed to be done. With
resounding splashes, he barrels into the water, popping
to the surface, than flitting back to his perch, often
with some small morsel in his beak.
I continue upstream, and ponder my next steps. There's
some flat water across the river, and the long shale ledges
make some deeper pools that often hold better fish. Near
to me is the rapidly flowing current, cutting a deeper
track into the bottom. I see a couple of flashes in the
tail end of the run, and flip the fly upstream of them,
letting the current pull and tumble it into the depths.
I manage a couple of 6" bass, before the action slows again.
I see a large rock hanging in the slow water on the opposite
side of this narrow run. I flip the pattern out over the
rock, and two bronze shapes streak toward it. In a fit of
competitive hunger, the larger of the two fish pounces
upon the pseudo-minnow, and I lift the rod in a short,
firm stroke. The fish turns against the pressure,
diving into the current, and stripping line through
my fingers. The end of the run dumps out into a pool
of scattered weed beds, and the fish heads straight
for the first one. I lift the rod high and to the side,
the pressure of the rod and 4# tippet straining against
the fish to lay it on its side, just shy of the weedy mass.
The fish rockets off toward the shallows, turning back
again as it begins to break the surface of the water.
In an acrobatic leap, the bass clears the water, flipping
and shaking, a blur of bronze, olive, and creamy underbelly.
A couple more bulldogging runs, and the fish slides to
hand. I ease the small barbless hook out of the corner
of its jaw and hold it up against my rod. Tail at the
butt cap, nose to the start of the ID writing I put on
the rod this last winter. Thirteen inches, give or take,
a fat fish that's probably in excess of a pound and a half.
My cry of elation echoes back and forth through the valley
of trees surrounding me, no doubt terrifying someone walking
their dog through the park. I slide the fish back into the
water, and I'm back to working that same run.
More casts over the rock fail to produce, so I go back to
plumbing the depths of the run. Three drifts later, the
line hangs up, and the fly line begins to turn a tight
loop in the moving water as it pivots around the stuck fly.
If you're not on the bottom, you're not where the fish are,
the saying goes. I lift sharply, hoping that the fly is
only caught on a small piece of stone and can be moved easily.
The rod bends, but with the slight give that suggests fish.
The response is immediate, and the fly line collected in
loops at my feet slips out through my fingers. The fish
drives along the surface, and looks to be a near match for
the last one. It heads cross-river, its sights set on the
clump of weeds waving in the gentler current. I lift the
rod and lay it over, but this fish is determined. The
line is tight in my hands, and I know I've got to give,
because the line soon will, and the fish isn't in any
mood to. The fish goes headlong into the weeds, but
they're sparse enough that I can work him back out of them.
The fish comes back across and down current, line peeling
off the reel to the song of the drag. This fish is heading
for any clump of weeds it can find, and I know it's only a
matter of time until the pressure of the fish, weeds and my
pulling, will rupture the tippet. In my mind's eye, the
4# test suddenly seems like a gossamer strand, threatened
by each pull and touch.
I wade out quickly to the middle of the river, the water rushing
up toward my hips with each step. As I get to the center of
river, I'm now in a position to pull away from the weeds,
regardless of which clump the fish buries in next. As if
in countermove, the fish streaks downstream, a blistering
pace that has the line rolling off the spool at a rapid clip.
The farther the fish gets downstream, the less control I have,
so I head down the middle of the river, swirling weeds
clutching at my legs as I try to make up line. The fish
sounds, and wrestles against the pressure at the bottom
of the river. Finally, it slides up to the surface, and
a high lift of the rod brings the fish to my hands. In
a last, desperate, act the fish surges away as I reach
for the leader, splashing me with water. I lift the rod
again, and lip the gorgeous bronze fish. A quick unhook
and then comparison against the rod. Past the top
decorative trim wrap near the reel seat. Pushing 15"
and easily a couple of pounds.
I hold the fish, head into the current. A couple of waves
of the tail as the cool water rushes over its gills and
then off. My hands are trembling with an overload of
adrenaline. I look back the 30 yards upstream to the run.
I laugh silently at myself and head in towards the shore.
I've gotten my reward for my earlier perseverance; to go
back again would just be greedy. ~ Jason