Published by David Weaver [Fishidiot] on 07/07/2015 (4411 reads)
JOHN BROWN’S BASS By Dave Weaver Photographs and artwork courtesy of author
Harper’s Ferry is a quiet place where the gentle hiss of river current is the only consistent sound, especially at night. It was quiet a century and a half ago on the night of October 16th, 1859 as less than two dozen men, led by the messianic abolitionist from Kansas, John Brown, crossed the Potomac and slipped into the town streets to initiate what Brown believed would be the end of slavery in America. A staunch Calvinist who believed that he was on a mission from God to end slavery, Brown intended to bring to life his favorite passage from the Bible: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.” The sin of slavery would be paid for with Brown’s own blood if need be.
Thomas Jefferson said that the view from Harper’s Ferry Virginia (now West Virginia) where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers join was so “stupendous” as to be worth a trip across the Atlantic just to see its beauty. Thirty three years after our third President’s death, this little town saw played out what was arguably the seminal event leading to the Civil War – a drama seen through the lens of terrorism or martyrdom. Today, the bass fishing is fabulous in and around this tiny town so woven into the fabric of our nation’s past. For those fishermen with a historical bent, it’s easy to miss the strikes of hard hitting smallmouths due to the irresistible temptation to gaze at nearby Maryland Heights where Stonewall Jackson’s guns blasted the town into submission in 1862 (and forcing the largest surrender of Union forces in the Civil War); or the stately stone Harper house; or the old railroad bridge; or the fire engine house where Brown and his holdouts took cover; or any of a host of intriguing sites. A fisherman in the river is surrounded by bass under the surface and three states on the shorelines. So much to see, catch, and think about…so little time.
Although largely a National Park today, Harper’s Ferry was an industrial town conceived by George Washington as a serendipitously located government factory village where converging waterways, upstream from the new capital, would drive the production of armaments for the incipient military of a fledgling nation. Jefferson’s protégé, Captain Meriwether Lewis, was provisioned for his Corp of Discovery here. By the mid Nineteenth Century the country had become consumed by the controversy over the expansion of slavery and Brown, a man who by all accounts had failed at every endeavor he’d undertaken, had pledged his life to the struggle against the South’s “peculiar institution” and set his sights on Harper’s Ferry.
John Brown was completely committed. Some thought him mad. After cutting his teeth in Bleeding Kansas where he committed several heinous murders of defenseless pro slavery men, Brown concocted a plan to move his personal war against slavery east and seize Harper’s Ferry and its weapons. He believed when news of his capture of the town spread that slaves to the south would hear the news and, undoubtedly with the help of divine providence, rise up against their masters and march in unison to join Brown, from whom they would receive the captured weapons. Thus armed, a slave revolt would snowball across the land and the institution of slavery would fall. When Brown proposed his plan to some prominent abolitionists in the North he was mostly rebuffed. Frederick Douglas thought his plan impossible and refused to participate. Nevertheless, Brown did get some backing by some who shared the growing frustration of many abolitionists who had come to feel that speechifying, rhetoric, and the publishing of treatises were toothless against the nation’s great sin.
After several months of planning on a farm in Maryland, Brown was ready to strike. When he and his band crept into town that night they had, nevertheless, taken no rations with them nor did Brown seem to have any systematic operational plan to hold the town, spread the news, and develop the situation. It was a mess from the start. The raiders sent out parties in the night to detain local citizens and confiscate weapons and Harper’s Ferry remained fairly quiet through the night, but word soon began to spread and by daybreak local citizens, having discovered something awry, began a steady resistance and gunfire grew louder. The blood of locals, some innocent bystanders, and Brown’s followers began to flow in the streets. Brown seemed not to know what to do next and by morning had lost the initiative to a growing force of local militiamen and armed citizens. The local militiamen, enraged at the “vile abolitionists” and eager to avenge the deaths of townspeople, mutilated the bodies of some of Brown’s followers or cast them into the river. Panic and rumors soon spread across Virginia that an army of abolitionists were swarming down from the north and that a slave revolt was brewing. Many Southerners thought the raid a distraction, just the beginning of a larger assault. The South’s Great Nightmare seemed to be coming to life.
Although groundless, the rumors fueled a massive reaction with ripple effects felt in Washington by afternoon. On temporary duty in the Capital was Colonel Robert E. Lee and a reaction force of several dozen Marines and a couple field guns were hurriedly marshaled, placed under his command, and sent by train to Harper’s Ferry to put down what Lee called the “insurgents” and their “gross outrage against law and order.” Following this force were hundreds of militiamen and local vigilantes galvanized by the sensationalized headlines and rumors.
By the time Lee and his force reached the town in the pre-dawn hours of the 18th, much of the fighting had died down and Brown and his remaining fighters and their hostages had holed up in a fire engine house from which they had managed to keep up enough gunfire to hold the townspeople and militiamen at bay. The situation stalemated, a tense calm had settled over the town.
Lee had a lieutenant named J.E.B. Stuart, under a flag of truce, approach the engine house and offer terms. Brown refused and spent the rest of the night barricading the doors and preparing his defense. He had only a couple followers left unscathed. The local African Americans who he’d coerced into his force showed little enthusiasm for the fight. At dawn, Stuart returned to the engine house, received Brown’s final refusal to surrender, and the Marines promptly began their assault, battering the doors with hammers and eventually breaking through using a ladder as a ram. The troops quickly overwhelmed the defenders, killing one of Brown’s sons in the fight. Brown himself was struck down, wounded by a sword blow from Lieutenant Green who had led the assault into the engine house. Unapologetic and defiant, Brown was hauled off to face trail for insurrection and what he undoubtedly knew was an inevitable date with the gallows.
Published by David Weaver [Fishidiot] on 06/12/2015 (1358 reads)
The Cumberland Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited will be hosting its Annual Mid Atlantic Fly Casting Championships on June 20th, 2015 at Allenberry Resort in Boiling Springs, PA. The competition will be conducted in conjunction with The Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum 13th Annual Heritage Day Celebration. The Heritage Day event is a full day of celebrating the fly fishing heritage in Pennsylvania with over 60 vendors and exhibitors, hands on demonstrations, special seminars, instruction, raffles, auctions and the always popular Fish Swim Race on the Yellow Breeches for a chance to win $500! More information on Heritage Day is available on the Museum website: www.paflyfishing.org.
Published by Tim Bennett [TimB] on 06/01/2015 (1628 reads)
One of the nice things about fly fishing is that it usually isn’t a “crack of dawn” affair. Most hatches happen in the afternoon or evening. You can usually sleep in a little without worrying about missing the best fishing of the day. Fly fishing for hickory shad may be an exception. I usually try to get an early start when they are running.
The guys gathered at the appointed time and we made the trip south to Maryland hoping to catch the first surge of these anadromous fish on their journey up Deer Creek to spawn. We crossed the Maryland border, and then Conowingo Dam, right on schedule and pulled into the parking lot with five minutes to spare. The liquor store was just about to open. Jim knew the drill, but Bob was new to the shad game and raised an eyebrow. He said he had a few beers with him, enough for all three of us, and that there really was no need to stop. I told him we weren’t there to buy beer. That raised his other eyebrow.
There were three other cars in the lot, all waiting like us. We had a couple of laughs speculating what they might be there for at 8:00 am on a Sunday morning. Two young men in their twenties were anxious to get into the store and tried the door – locked. They peered in the window, looking for signs of movement but gave up and went back to their car. At 8:01 the door opened and we all filed in. One gentleman went right up to the counter to buy lottery tickets. The young men asked the clerk about fishing licenses - the store was also a Maryland fishing license agent. We headed right for the register with the mini bottles of spirits, and a stack of Plano boxes piled high. We were there to buy shad darts.
Shad darts are wedge-shaped jig heads with a sparse bunch of calf tail or similar fur as a tail. The lead heads are painted bright colors. They are a traditional spin fishing lure that sinks quickly and has a darting action on the retrieve. We bought the smallest size the liquor store had in several different color combinations. Anything larger would be too difficult to cast with a fly rod.
Hickory shad (Alosa mediocris) are a member of the herring family and are smaller than their relative the American shad. They typically make their spawning run in April and early May when flows and water temperature trigger the upstream migration. In 1980, Maryland placed a moratorium on the harvest of shad and implemented a restoration program that has increased the number of fish entering the streams to spawn. A catch and release fishery is allowed. A nine foot six weight rod is perfect for the hickories which range from 12-20 inches. They are strong fighters that may leap several times earning them the nickname, “poor man’s tarpon”. That may be a stretch, but they sure are fun.
So you might ask, shad darts with a fly rod? Most fly anglers fish un-weighted flies on a sink tip line for shad. We all had some small marabou streamers with us that would likely catch shad, but with weighted flies we could stick with standard floating lines. But there’s more to it than that. There’s something irreverent about using shad darts with a fly rod. I guess we could be accused of “thumbing our noses” at the perception of fly fishing as a sport for snobs. Surely, the purists would be appalled at our use of darts… from a liquor store no less! That may be partly true, but in reality the darts are pretty damn effective!
We fish the darts casting across stream just above a likely looking run and add a few upstream mends to get the fly… uh, I mean dart, down deep. If the shad are in a biting mood, they usually hit right at the end of the swing. In this technique the fly rod is actually more effective than a spinning rod because of the ability to mend the line to put the dart right in the strike zone.
As a sea run fish, shad seem a little photo sensitive in the shallow creeks and fishing typically slows down in the middle of the day. Some anglers concentrate on morning and evening when the light is less intense. It’s still worth spending the middle of the day on the water. It will give you a chance to figure out the most productive runs as well as witness the spectacle of the spawn. There’s something really cool about standing in what looks like a classic trout stream with thousands of sea run fish swimming by your feet on their reproductive journey. You likely won’t be alone in watching the migration. Osprey, herons, and bald eagles are often spotted in or over the water.
Unusually cold temperatures and high flows through Conowingo Dam delayed and prolonged the run in Deer Creek this year, making the timing difficult to predict. Armed with our darts, we lucked out and caught the first surge of the season and did well our first day. Over the next couple of weeks, some days were great, some slow. The shad run is starting to wind down now and it looks like we’ll have to wait until next spring to continue our annual tradition of an early morning road trip to catch the shad run. Maybe we’ll see you there. Look for us in the liquor store parking lot!
Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 05/23/2015 (5346 reads)
I was looking through my photographs from last year and found a Green Drake snapshot, which is one of my favorites. Green Drakes (Ephemera guttulata) are one of my favorite flies to observe, too.
I say observe as I usually find myself on Penns Creek fishing while a huge Green Drake hatch is coming off and I am doing anything, but catching a lot of trout. The mixed hatches that occur during this time of year are exciting and frustrating as many angler's would agree.
So this year I am going to stop practicing the fine art of talking to myself during the hatch and I might even throw on a sulphur or a should I dare say a emerger on during the madness?
The Green Drakes can starting showing up around May 20th and are complimented by the Coffin Fly spinners which provide equal splendor during this time of year. So sit back and get ready to enjoy the show.
Published by Joe Dziedzina [Dizzy] on 05/10/2015 (8321 reads)
With the best hatch of the season fast approaching, I thought it might be helpful for some of the “Newbie’s” to post a few words on the Sulphur Hatch to get them off to a flying start this month… so if anyone has anything to add in the way of tips, tricks, details, etc. PLEASE feel free to chime in!
The months of May and June here in southeastern PA bring forth the greatest event of the fly-fishing season… the SULPHUR HATCH. These yellowish mayflies are actually made up of three (3) different mayfly species; Ephemerella rotunda, E. invaria, and E. dorothea. Most streams in SEPA hold all three (3) species which can be good AND bad. It’s good because it extends the sulphur hatch from 1st/2nd week of May through much of June (most seasons)… and it’s bad because there are subtleties that the fish notice and key on (sometimes) and if the angler does not adjust, he (or she) could be in for a long evening. The good news though, is that the “bad” is well within your control.
First a quick overview of the three (3) players, in order of emergence; • Ephemerella rotunda: Duns have a medium yellow body color with slight “olive cast” to them… the largest of the three by a hair, could be as large as a size 12 hook size, but a size 14 will do (a true “tweener”)… often hatch out of very swift water (just below riffles)… hatching usually begins around Mother’s Day and lasts 2-3 weeks… hatch most often in late afternoons (4-6 pm)
• Ephemerella invaria: Duns have a yellowish/orange body color … best imitated with a size 14 hook… often hatch out of slightly slower flows than rotunda’s… hatching usually begins around 3rd week in May peaking around Memorial Day (slowing down in June)… hatch most often in early evenings (6-7 pm)
• Ephemerella dorothea: Duns have a pale yellow body color … best imitated with a size 16 hook (sometimes 18)… often hatch out of slower pools… hatching usually begins in last week of May and lasting well into June… hatch most often in evenings (7-8:30 pm), sometimes right at dusk in a quick “blizzard” of activity.
Believe it or not, there are other “yellow” mayflies hatching during these same times as well, but those listed above make up the Sulphur Hatch as most anglers know it. As you can see there are differences between the three and it will save your sanity to have the proper sizes/colors to cover the gamut. At the very least I would carry size 14 dry fly’s in sulphur yellow to cover the rotunda/invaria and size 16 pale yellow imitations to cover the dorothea (some anglers use a Light Cahill for this). To compound the mayhem, in addition to the over-lapping hatch activity, trout will often key on a certain “stage” of emergence from drifting nymphs, to struggling emergers, to floating duns… and just when you think you have THAT all figured out, there could be spent spinners on the water as well!
If you show up to the stream in the mid afternoon and no fish are rising and no insects are on the water (or in the air)… you could be in for some fast action by tying on a Pheasant-tail nymph (size 14-16) and fishing the riffles and runs. Prior to emergence these nymphs will fill the water column as they struggle to reach the surface. Trout will be gorging on them and you will often see flashes in the stream as fish slash from side-to-side engulfing drifting nymphs by the mouthful.
Once a good supply of duns are on the surface the trout will come up for them and the real fun begins with dry flies… fish staging in faster water will be easier targets as they have precious little time to inspect your offering. Trout holding in slower pools will be a bit tougher, but may be larger and you should still dupe them easily with a stealthy “down & across” approach. If the fish refuse your floating dry, try tying an emerger pattern or weightless nymph about 6” off the back of the dry. This will take fish that are targeting these hapless naturals. Some of you may have heard people say that the trout are easier to catch at the beginning of the sulphur hatch but get smarter as the weeks wear on? These are the guys that don’t adjust to the dorothea activity and are missing out big time. The difference in a size 16 or 14 hook may not sound like much, but place the fly’s next to each other and you will see why the trout key on one or the other. Just pay attention to what is on the water and you’ll be OK.
The last piece of the puzzle is the spinnerfall. Again, this can be as frustrating or as rewarding as you want to make it. Personally I take my largest “dry fly caught” trout every season during the spinnerfall. It’s an easy meal and one that large trout rarely pass up. As you survey the stream take notice of the presence of any swarms of “dancing” mayflies over the riffles. These will be egg-laden females preparing to drop their cargo into the drink before dying and dropping in themselves. The males in all likelihood have already fallen, spent from mating activity. During sulphur season this activity most often takes place during the early evening if not right at dark (maybe early morning if air temp’s are too high for mating flights). These mating swarms start out high above the stream surface and if you happen to notice flocks of insect-eating birds (swallows, swifts, nighthawks… maybe bats) high above, you can be pretty sure that a spinnerfall is about an hour away. Sounds complicated but it is surprisingly simple… for this activity I carry just one fly—The Rusty Spinner—in sizes 14-18. Look for subtle risers, often times near the tail ends of pools, just “dimpling’ the surface and float your imitation right down into the waiting jaws of a heavy brown. If rising fish continue to ignore your floating dun, tie on a Rusty Spinner and 9 out of 10 times you will be surprised at the response.
Always keep in mind that ANY and ALL of the above described activities could be going on… sometimes simultaneously! Just be observant, let the trout tell you what they want, and you will enjoy your cigar and cold beverage a LOT more back at the parking area… this I promise.
*NOTE* The referenced taxon above is a bit outdated as the society of entomologists (or whoever they are) have decided that E. invaria and E. rotunda are now the same species (E. invaria)… also they have added a second dorothea to E. dorothea (E. dorothea dorothea). This info is strictly for the angler’s that are over-obsessed with details (like ME for example)… the trout still eat them the same as they always have.