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Making me think

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend a full, fabulous day on the water guiding Kirk Deeter and his wife (she's a wicked good angler). Kirk is an editor-at-large at Field & Stream, editor of Angling Trade, author of a number of excellent fly fishing books and a guide on waters near his home in Colorado. I'll add a post in the near future about our day together and what I learned from Kirk but for right now I thought I'd post my comment to his current blog post about guiding on Field & Stream's Fly Talk:

Kirk - I really appreciate your thoughts on guiding and a guide’s responsibilities because it makes me reflect on my work, my mission, my weaknesses and my strengths.

In the last two weeks I’ve had two clients come back to fish with me, carrying new rods and reels that they had purchased after their experience in my boat. They were ecstatic about their new set-ups. I found myself thinking “that’s they way it’s supposed to work” in reference to the relationship between tackle manufacturers, guides and consumers: guide chooses gear based on personal preference and experience (not based on best discount)…manufacturer helps get that gear into guides hands by offering discounts…consumer tries gear with guide then goes out and buys what they liked.

Well, as you so clearly pointed out, that’s not what it’s all about. The ultimate goal from the industry prospective shouldn’t be just to sell one more rod but to add one more dedicated, passionate participant to the sport (or a segment of the sport new to that angler.) If a guide succeeds in that mission than all of us reading this blog know how many rods that angler will buy over a lifetime of fishing. More importantly, that angler may teach their kids to fish, join a conservation organization, write a letter to state rep, buy out of state licenses and find fulfillment in being on the water.

I know I’m staying tuned to hear more about what you think about higher standards, higher expectations for the guiding industry.

Check out Kirk's blog. Lots of good thought provoking posts. If you read Gordon's recent post "Clearing the Line..." you'll enjoy this earlier post, Reel Dumb Advice, on Fly Talk that Kirk wrote after our day  together chasing stripers. When you can tear yourself away from the computer remember to get out and go fishing. This stretch of mostly stable, south-southwesterly weather flow has really turned on the flats fishing. The fish have been agressive and not very selective EARLY in the morning. Figure out how early you can drag your butt out of bed, set your alarm clock then reset the alarm for at least an hour earlier. You'll be glad you did so once you're on the water.

Capt. Peter Fallon


Tools of the Trade - Weather Info

Picture 20 I've been checking the radar images on my computer since 3:00 this morning, watching patches of green turn yellow and sometimes red as they move from northeast Massachusetts through coastal New Hampshire right towards Phippsburg, Maine. A 4:30 phone call with my anglers based over in Sebasco allowed us to delay our departure while we waited for the last cell to pass to our north and east.

I'll gladly fish in any weather that's safe. Twenty years ago I was a bit more brazen about going out in thunderstorms. After all, I had never been on a boat struck by lightning and had been through enough squalls to feel confidant that I could find quick shelter from sudden, strong winds. I don't know if I'm just older or actually smarter, but my attitude towards thunderstorms has changed.

When Gordon and I led trips for Hebron Academy we would reflect on our enormous responsibility; parents and school trusting us with the care and well being of teenagers a days paddle or snowshoe from a place to call for assistance. We weren't control freaks, nervous Nellie's, or fraidy cats but we were always assessing risks (it helps to have an attorney along with you when you're contemplating risk). I was always clear with myself that I would do everything possible to be sure that my group wouldn't end up in a situation that would land us on the front page of the Lewiston Sun or in a teaser for the channel six evening news. We knew that experiencing the out of doors, fully, and with adolescents, involved risks and that despite all of the training, preparation, gear and best judgment accidents do happen. We just wanted to know that we had done everything possible to avoid mishap and that if (god forbid) we ever ended up having to call a parent with news of an injury or answer questions on the stand we could say with certainty that we played to the highest standards.

LL Bean is a very careful company in both product and policy (which is why my wife will wear Bean's Gore-tex jackets but not their sweaters or dress slacks and it's why the company survives the lean times in the retail market). I continue to be amazed at the thoroughness of their risk assessment and I only see a tiny sliver of it as it relates to classes and trips that we lead in the Outdoor Discovery School. Teaching fly casting on a Freeport lawn with a piece of yarn tethered to tippet is about as safe an outdoor activity that you can find. Our safety protocols are significant and exceed the standards ( 30/30 Rule) set forth by NOAA and other government agencies.  At the first sign of thunder (not lightning) we immediately head indoors and remain there for thirty minutes after the last sign of thunder (not lightning).

According to the National Weather Service Lightning Safety page, lightning kills more people in the U.S. every year than tornadoes and hurricanes combined. It is highly unpredictable and more people are struck before and after the peak of the thunderstorm.

A forecast calling for a chance of thunderstorms doesn't keep me off the water. If I used that standard I'd miss out on a third of July and August and be sitting home on perfectly safe days. I rely on reading the doppler radar images available online, listening to NOAA weather radio on the VHF and watching the sky to stay in touch with whats happening around us and what's headed our way. For many seasons I would call in to Sarah to get updates on the radar images. She's become very skilled at reading the screen...

"Okay, there's a large cell tracking northeast of Sebago Lake that looks like it will pass north of Augusta within 30 minutes and then the next group is along a northwest to southeast line that stretches from Keene, NH to Southeastern MA. It is mostly yellow on the leading edge but there are areas blossoming into red as it tracks our way. Watching the loop, I'm guessing that it will be here in three hours at the soonest. Nothing preceding it right now. All green just behind the front, so if you hole up at the Kennebec Tavern around noon and go in for lunch you should be able to fish in the drizzle after it passes but check back with me in a bit for an update"

Now I almost never say (or think, Dear) that "I've trained my wife to...", but I will brag about her ability to read the radar images and load the boat into the trailer. These days I can access the images directly on my iphone, so the calls are a fond memory.

Last cell has almost reached us. Time to hop in the truck, wait at the ramp, check the radar on the phone and then go fish.

Capt. Peter Fallon

Shallow Water Striper Fishing

The last three days have been a lot of fun. Either the fish that have been hiding out in or off the river are becoming more active or we've had a push of new bass move into our waters. I suspect that it the latter, but until I get my acoustical tags I'll have to keep on guessing.

Richdawn12   We were lines in by 4:15 Monday morning. Despite our early start we didn't find any stripers until the water just started to rise at 5:00. We were perfectly positioned to have single and double waking fish pass by us as they cruised in a foot of water, up a bar and turned the corner to move onto the flat. We only took one fish just over the slot in that spot but had lots of fun for about 45 minutes. With no wind the water was glassy calm and we could see these bulges of water pushing towards us from a hundred yards away.

We prospected on a couple of other flats with no sign of fish and then moved out to cast into the surf that was rolling up on the island off the mouth of the river. Nothing but mackerel out there that we could find. About half tide we were back on fish in shallow water with just enough sunlight and water clarity to see them fairly close to the boat and get an idea of what they were up to. The water was too deep to expect wakes and we saw no swirls or splashes but could watch the stripers grubbing on the bottom in an area rich with crabs and shrimp. We couldn't spot fish way off and plot our cast, but we could get an idea of where the fish were milling and cruising and make some quick, short casts. The crab flies were the ticket. Didn't try any shrimp imitations so can't report on their effectiveness.

We finished our 12 hour marathon by working the deeper ledges on the bottom of the tide as we headed back upriver, finding fish willing to eat at every stop. The water is still amazingly muddy in the Kennebec at this stage of the tide but the bass could find what we were tossing. This wasn't fly water so we went to the  1 oz. Lunker City Pro Jig with 5 3/4 inch Fin-S-Fish. This is my stand by jig choice, versatile and effective - sinks readily, great action, quality hook, catches fish.

IMG_0702 Tuesday was in many ways similar to Monday, without the light later in the morning. We didn't see as many waking fish. Maybe it was the tide being an hour later, maybe it was the guy who kept trolling back and forth close off our bow right in the travel lane for the fish, maybe it was just a different day. We had a number of shots but just couldn't put it together. Fishing with Roger and John is always a blast. These guys can cast, tie gorgeous and effective flies and know how to catch fish.

IMG_0699 We messed around chasing a big lone fish on another mud flat before moving to find the crab patrol bass. They were cooperative and it was fun to see them act just as I expected. I told Roger and John to "think nymphing", that the takes would be subtle and come when the fly was right on the bottom and the bass would spit more than they could imagine. After a few minutes Roger kept exclaiming "it's just like nymphing, it's just like nymphing...that hit was nothing like a classic striper take." Roger was dialed in and took a number of fish. We haven't had many stripers in Maine that are under 20 inches and we all rejoiced at finding some schoolies. The best fish of the day spit the hook on Roger after five minutes through no fault of his. Played perfectly it was one of those fishing moments where you toss up your hands and have no thoughts of what you could have done differently.

When we lost the water movement we made a big move. Roger and John made a quick trip back to the Gun Club to check in and announce that there were more fish still to be caught. I hauled out at Morse Cove, relaunched in the New Meadows and picked up John and Roger to fish the top of the dropping tide under perfect cloudy skies. It took us some exploring to find the flat that the fish were favoring but there was no mistaking where they were when one of Roger's casts caused thirty fish to swirl and bolt. They didn't go far and four casts later the Gurgler was harassed and finally inhaled by a nice fish. We caught a few more and then...they were gone. We then found actively feeding fish under diving birds for the first time in weeks. The stripers were spread out and coming up as singles, but once again the Gurgler was the perfect call on Roger's part. Can you guess what I was tying last night after another 12 hour day (I had to do some prospecting on my own after Roger and John headed home to stay married) while sipping a Bud, listening to the Sox and trying to stay awake until 9:00?

Capt. Peter Fallon

Waterflow Trending in the Right Direction

Here's a graph of waterflow rates on the Kennebec River from Sidney, Maine (between Augusta and Waterville) that I copied from the USGS Streamflow Site. You'll notice that the scale on the y-axis is not linear. The triangle data points indicate the average flow rate over the past 24 years, which means that the river has been running at 4 to 10 times the average rate over the past couple of weeks due to runoff from rain and dam releases upriver.

Picture 19

We're slowly seeing clearer water on the flats, with a significant difference between clarity on the incoming tide and the outgoing tide. Even water at Small Point is still stained. I'm looking forward to better sightcasting conditions in the next week.

I didn't see any surface action down around the mouth of the Kennebec yesterday morning. I did find a couple of groups of fish holding in very dirty water later in the tide. They were glued to the bottom but very willing to eat if you got down to them - tick, tick, tick, tick, bam.

Capt. Peter Fallon

A Quick Review

The fishing continues to be mixed, with some really fun periods interspersed with some really slow stretches.

The water ranges from muddy to stained, which has limited our sighting opportunities. I've been spending time in the New Meadows and around Harpswell, away from all of the runoff charging down the Kennebec and Androscoggin. We're now trending in the right direction but it will take a while to get that crystal clear water that we prize this time of the summer. When I've been in places with the best (relative term) visibility under bright sun with little wind I'm seeing the stripers just after they have seen us. I talked to another guide last night who's been spending some time offshore looking for tuna. He reported tea colored water 12 and 15 miles offshore. Wow.

All of the surface activity that I've found has been either one or two fish waking in wicked shallow water or individual fish coming up for very small prey. At times it has been a single fish on a flat and at other times larges numbers of bass that are really spread out. I had a successful couple of hours on a group of fish that covered an area of about two acres. The "rises" looked like what you'd see on a northern Maine trout pond at sunset on a still June evening. We fished them with that scenario in mind, waiting to cast until we could cover a rise and if we executed the cast we were rewarded. All of the fish that we landed were smaller slot fish but we did have one good chance on a pair of big bass that waked their way right towards us. We watched as they lazily turned just feet off the bow of the boat and meandered away from us. We tried...

The next morning we found rising fish again on a different flat but at a similar time of day and stage of tide. This was a much smaller group of fish on a much smaller flat. Their behavior was different, as were our results. These fish were also feeding on tiny prey, often popping alone, but with a much splashier, aggressive swirl. They were incredibly fussy. We had started our trip well before sunrise, but this was the second stop on the tour (after unsuccessfully targeting some much larger fish at first light) and once the ebbing tide slowed the stripers came to the surface infrequently. We just didn't have the time to fully figure them out before the show was over.

Bluefish reports from Harpswell to Saco seem to have tapered off since the last round of big rains. There are still scattered schools around and I suspect that we'll start to hear about big blitzes again this week. The weather pattern has finally shifted and we're set up for steady improvement. The approaching weak tides won't help to turn the bass on to feeding with wild abandon, but will let the sediment settle out of the water. If you're heading out, go early or go late.

Capt. Peter Fallon

Sun. Wow.

IMG_0619c We've emerged. Finally crossed out of darkness and into the light. Our eyes have been set on this weekend for days, waiting to see if the forecasters would be right. I can't remember that last morning that started sunny and bright.

Now, I'm all in favor of fishing under the cover of fog, over content and secure feeling fish. I love what rain does to release a striper's inhibitions, to keep the crowds off the water, to limit the beating that I take from the sun. I'll gladly fish in any weather and know that some of the "worst" days have produced images etched in my memory, but I'll admit that after living in a three week long Gore-Tex commercial I am ready for a day in the sun with stark blue skies over deep blue water. I'm wearing shorts today and putting sunscreen on my arms and donning my darker lensed glasses.

I actually turned down two trips for this date to take my wife out in the boat with no agenda, no schedule, no 3:00 AM alarm. She's been loosing her mind due to solar radiation deprivation. Really. She was ready to hop a flight to anyplace sunny on the ocean. Belize. Tampa. Key West. Even the Jersey Shore. We've been looking ahead to today, hoping and praying that the forecast would come true.

IMG_0591 The rains and east wind and wacky barometer have made fishing difficult. A day of improvement (Tuesday) is followed by a day of disappointment (Wednesday). A decent morning (Saturday) precedes a deathly slow evening. The stripers are still around and the bait is still here in abundance. The water is stained, even at the mouth of the New Meadows and along the beaches, so sight fishing is limited to finding waking fish and they have been elusive on too many mornings and evenings. When we do get on them, they are single fish not pods. It has been two plus weeks since a fly line has landed on top of a school that erupts and blasts away. We have found some loosely organized surface feeds that are short in duration. These episodes have been a welcome sight and the bass have not been selective, eating bright hollow flyes, flashy megamushies, dark clousers, olive muddlers.

IMG_0626 I'm excited about a more stable weather pattern and clearing water. I'm loving my new flats boat. I can't wait to get Sarah out today for some therapy - Sunday Times crossword, a nap in the sun and an ice cold Bud with a basket of fried Maine shrimp picked up dockside - and she'll be healed. Here's to summer finally arriving in Maine.

Capt. Peter Fallon