August 13 – 16 – Raquette Lake, NY –
Joe is a good guy. I enjoy fishing with him whether on a stream or lake. Trout or bass. Last year I didn’t get up to the Adirondacks which I try to do at least once each year. This year we made a plan to fish the week of the 13th.
I gather my gear, both fly and conventional, as we will do both. I bring my trout stuff as well as just in case. I have one stop to make before I get to Joe’s – that is Tom Welsh’s shop in North Creek on 28N. He gave me a fly when Gary and I fished with him on the Hudson some years ago. Joe and I used it on the Raquette and, like magic, it outperformed all the others. Well, not the Wacky Worm, but all the other frog flies.
Tom had promised me a dozen but then health issues knocked him out of commission for a while. This year he set aside a half dozen for me, in green and white.
He was on the front porch making pickles from his home grown cucumbers when I arrived. We chatted and caught up on things personal and fishing. I took the flies and would have taken more but he asked that I not clean him out as he had some sports coming who would want some. I also took one of each of his other creations, all well tied and looking very promising.
Joe and I went out as soon as I arrived covering many of the spots we had success at last time I was up. My casting with a bass rod was rusty and the rig needed some work as well. We fished on, me pulling backlashes out after each cast and Joe pulling bass out.
He said the fishing has been tough. The bite was soft and the fish few and far between. Must be the crazy hot weather, he figures. We stopped for some dinner at the town Tavern, tying up at the dock, then back out again.
That night he helped me adjust my casting reels and we put some High-Viz Suffix line on the one, I had braid on the other. My casting improved greatly.
My arsenal was now ready to catch some fish – a casting rod with braid and a Sebile Frog for work in the weeds and lily pads, another caster with a Wacky Worm. My vintage 1961 Wright Magill Champion spinning rod recently refurbished by friend Chuck Neuner was ready for whatever lure hit my fancy (a Jitter Bug or crank bait) and of course the fly rod with one of Tom Welsh’s frogs.
The next morning we looked for the big bass by the rocks in town and then headed for the Marion River, one of my favorite places. My son Jason and I canoed it as part of our 40 mile trip back in 1985. It is wild and beautiful as it winds its way to the next lake in the chain. We caught some fish here before but what I remember most is the big bass that attacked my frog and missed it in the middle of the thick pads. I was looking to find him or his relative.
Joe introduced me to the Sebile Frog a few trips ago. They are special and I had to search the internet to find them. I finally found a few on the web site of a store in Minnesota. I called rather than order on line and asked if they had more than those listed. The lady said “Let me go look in the store.” She had a few more hanging on the retail rack and I asked her to send them all – no matter the price or color. This was the first time I got to use them since.
We motored a considerable distance and then turned to fish our way back, favoring any lily pad covered water. I had the leader on the braid connected with a small swivel, not trusting my knots line to line. As I popped the frog the swivel would pop as well. A fish smashed the swivel! They are there and looking up. Obviously any movement on the top of the pads was good enough. I considered looping a hook behind the swivel but before I completed that thought a nice small mouth grabbed the frog but I struck too soon. Joe reminded me to let him turn, to count to two before setting the hook. Hard to do in the excitement of a hit.
As we progressed there were more hits to the frog and the swivel but no hookups. I slowed my retrieve, letting the frog sit for a good bit before the next pop. I targeted both thick pads and those where the water is showing around them. It was in the thickest pads, mid-way from the bank to the edge that the big guy hit. He took the frog in and I let him turn, striking hard on the downward plunge. He was deep in weeds but the braid allowed me to apply enough pressure to bring him out. In the river, he still had a lot to say. Joe leaned over the gunnel and when he came within reach grabbed his jaw. Nice fish!
We put him on the Boga Grip – 4.25 pounds. My biggest bass, a large mouth. Wow. Fishing on we caught some more both in the river and the lake, but the thrill of the frogged bass from the pads was all I could think about.
That night we had dinner with the ladies of the lake, Joe’s neighbors that he likes to take out at least once each season. Florence, whose husband started the nature course at the Cortland Camp across the road, and Betz who was up visiting after having sold her lake house last year. We ate at the pizza place in Old Forge that also serves clams and shrimp, as fresh and tasty as any I have ever had. Finished the evening with some Northern Lights ice cream in Inlet. Heaven!
We skipped breakfast and headed out, trying a few local spots before heading over to the Sagamore River. It is a bass river here but up at the head waters, by historic Camp Sagamore, it’s a trout stream. We went up a bit and fished it as we floated out. A few hits but no fish on until we came near the mouth. Chatting with kayakers and canoeists who all inquired as to our luck. There was one pontoon boat who let us know that if it was him catching those fish, they would be dead and on the menu. I wondered why he needed to tell us that.
We gassed up and had some lunch. Best grilled cheese and tomato in these mountains.
Next we worked the north end of the lake with slim results. In one location, I put the fly rod to work but had to keep it in open water near the pads as it was not weedless. I let it sit and a curious bass came up to take a look. He just stood there seemingly staring at the tail of the frog. I gave it a twitch and he ran like a spooked trout. The bass were very soft in their takes. They would play with the Wacky Worm rather than grab it. Joe had the touch, none-the-less, but I was having a tough time hooking up.
We went to the mouth of the Marion again but thunder storms drove us in for some delicious black cherries and a nap. Refreshed, we headed back out with fly rods rigged – Tom Welsh’s frogs on the leader. Joe continued with his worms as I put my 9 foot, 6 weight Teton to work. I picked this rod up in Islamorada in 1992 when on a bone fish trip with Sue. Our guide had just purchased the rod company and was planning to turn it into a saltwater line. This rod came with the inventory from Wyoming.
It took some getting used to but soon I was able to lay out line, the frog plopping on the surface; allow the rings to clear and give it a single pop every 30 seconds or so. There were no rises on the lake except for a school of smelt that was forming as the sun went down. Joe kept catching fish as I stuck to my plan. Flip. Plop. Pop.
Something disturbed the frog, but just barely. I thought it may have been one of the small bait fish. Then it disappeared. No smash, no mouth coming out of the water. He just inhaled it from underneath. Fish on! I told Joe. He fished on with the worm until it happened again, and again. He switched and now we both worked the fly rods and had a good many fish, including one in the two pound range, all sucking it in from underneath. Then the thunder returned as the light faded.
Dinner at the Toboggan Inn at Eagle Bay was delicious.
What a great trip. Good friend, good food and good fishing. I headed home at first light to try and beat the traffic which I did except for some around the new Tappan Zee (I just can’t call it the Mario Bridge). I got home and showed Sue the photos, then looked at them myself, over and over again, smiling.
For more stories why not try Letters to Mack?