Monthly Archives: September 2011

After the Flood

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, September 29, 2011

Already show signs of recovery from storms

By Morgan Lyle

Fly-Fishing: Trout streams should return to normal

Photo of
Author Mike Valla of Ballston Spa fishes the upper Schoharie Creek in the Catskills ON Sept. 18. _(Valerie Valla)

Trout stream custodians, both official and volunteer, continue to assess the impact of Tropical Storms Irene and Lee on area waterways.

No doubt, there was grave damage to trout, insects and habitat on some streams, especially small, high-gradient tributaries. But there have also been encouraging reports.

“Overall conditions remain pretty much as they were prior to the flood, and we were unanimous in our conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that the recovering trout population experienced any setback as a result of the flood,” said Ken Cox, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife biologist who has overseen efforts restore the wild trout population on the Battenkill in Vermont over the past decade.

Most of that work has involved adding boulders, root wads and other natural features back to the Battenkill so trout have places to hide and grow fat ,safe from pred­ators. By and large, these structures stayed put, despite the epic flows, Cox said.

He noted that the severe weather had occurred well before the time when brown and brook trout normally spawn.

“If there is anything good to be said for the timing of Irene with respect to trout populations, it is that it occurred before the spawning season and the river substrate is loose and not overburdened with sediments. So, the prognosis for spawning and egg incubation success looks good pending ‘normal’ winter and spring river conditions,” Cox reported.

Downstream in New York, similar habitat restoration projects also held during the flood, reports Battenkill Watershed Alliance Executive Director Cynthia Browning. She and Carl Schwartz from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service looked the Washington County stretch of the river over last week.

“Mr. Schwartz found that the Battenkill had flooded out into the floodplain and then returned to its channel without significant erosion or excess sedimentation,” Browning said. “He said that there might be an initial decline in the insect pop­ulation, but that would be followed by a rebound as the newly cleaned gravel bed is re-colonized.”

“This good news for the fish habitat should not be seen as minimizing the damage to crops, houses, and infrastructure from the flooding,” Browning added.

Of course, trout streams were ground zero for the tropical storms, and it would be silly to think there would be no impact at all. Mike Valla of Ballston Spa, author of “Tying Catskill Style Dry Flies,” was poking around the upper Schoharie Creek two weeks ago and found that while the stream had already resumed running shallow and clear, it seemed barren of the aquatic insects upon which trout depend.

“Of course, who knows what things were like, bugs-wise, prior to the flood,” said Valla, who has been hanging around Catskills trout streams since his boyhood days as a houseguest of legendary fly-tiers Walt and Winnie Dette. “But it is very peculiar that the upper Schoharie headwaters seemed empty of macro invertebrates. Weird. I turned over many rocks yesterday. Nothing.”

It seems that all our trout streams will eventually recover from the great floods of 2011, but some will take longer than others.

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at

BWO and Old Eyes; Youth Team Wins Gold

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, September 22, 2011


Fly-fishing: ‘Olives’ create a stir among trout in the fall

Olives: They’re not just for martinis anymore, at least not on trout streams in October.

The several species of small mayflies collectively known as Blue-Winged Olives may be the most important hatch on New York streams for the remainder of the season (once the creeks finally settle down from the twin deluges of Irene and Lee, of course.)

Other kinds of flies can be found on area streams in the fall, primarily caddis flies and Isonychia mayflies, and since fish do feed on them, it’s worthwhile to have imitations on hand. But olives will probably be the most consistent hatch from now until the snow flies, and possible after.

Many patterns have been crafted over the years to imitate this diminutive bug. My personal favorite is a parachute-style dry fly, tied in sizes 18, 20 or 22, with a dark grayish-olive dubbed body, dark dun tail and hackle and a wing post of gray poly yarn.

The parachute hackle makes sure the fly lands upright and stays afloat, and the wing post is relatively easy to see, although not as easy at age 49 as it was at 29.

Along with a dun pattern like the parachute, it’s wise to have some Rusty Spinners in the same sizes, since you could come upon a mating swarm of olives just about any time, and trout love them.

For that matter, a Rusty Spinner in sizes 18-22 may be the most effective single dry fly you can own during small-fly season. But flies with wings that lie flat on the water are even tougher to see than parachutes with upright wing posts. This fall, I’m planning to have a sighter of some kind on my spinners, poss­ibly a small loop of brightly colored foam tied over the thorax between the wings.

It’s been said that you don’t need to see your dry fly — the fish will show you where it is when they rise. But I almost never get strikes to dries I can’t see. A bit of bright color on the top side of the fly will be invisible to the fish, but visible to me.


The U.S. youth fly-fishing team took the gold medal at the FIPS-Mouche World Fly Fishing Champ­ionship in Italy Aug. 30-Sept. 4. The men’s team, including New Yorker Loren Williams, finished fifth out of 21 teams, just a few points away from a medal in the best showing in team history.

Youth team captain, Danny Marino of West Cornwall, Conn., took the individual silver. The Italian youth team won the silver medal and Spain took the bronze. It was the first gold medal at the world championships by an American youth or senior team.

The youth team competed against the Czech Republic, France, England, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain and Wales on the Tevere River in Sansepolcro in the Tuscany region.

Lance Egan of Lehi, Utah, who blogs at, had the best individual finish for the men’s team at sixth place. Valerio Santi Amantini won the gold and fellow Italian Stefano Cominazzini won the silver; Roman Heimlich from the Czech Republic won the bronze.

The men’s team caught 168 fish and finished just six points behind bronze medalist Poland. Italy won the gold and the Czech Republic took the silver; Spain came in fourth, just one point ahead of the Americans.

Other categories of competition at the 31st FIPS-Mouche championships included “coarse” fishing, bass fishing, carp fishing, trout fishing with natural bait, shore fishing with lures and saltwater fishing by boat and from shore. Some 2,600 competitors from 55 countries took part in the opening ceremony in Florence.

Small water, long rod, long leader





Small water, long rod, long leader. Lance Egan’s blog at shows why using a long rod on a small stream is a great idea. Lance fished a 10-foot conventional fly rod, but the same principle is what makes tenkara fly rods so effective: “drastically improve presentation by eliminating drag.”

Throw Your Rod in the Water? Maybe

Fly-Fishing: No extra line? Toss your rod right in
Thursday, September 15, 2011
By Morgan Lyle

Hisao Ishigaki, in white cap, discusses technique with tenkara fly-fishing enthusiasts along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park last month. -(Morgan Lyle)

You’re using a 12-foot rod with no reel, just a 15-foot line tied to the rod’s tip, and you catch a big fish that insists on swimming rapidly away in the opposite direction. If you had a reel full of spare line, you could let the fish run, but you don’t. What do you do?

It’s happened to me, fishing with tenkara rods. Most times, I’ve stood my ground, and the huge spring of the long, soft-action rod was enough to turn the fish. But there have been occasions — a day on the West Branch of the Delaware comes to mind — when the fish simply broke off. With no reservoir of spare line, there was nothing I could do about it.

Or so I thought. But last month, at the first American conclave on tenkara fishing in West Yellowstone, Mont., I learned there’s another option.

The keynote speaker at the Tenkara USA Summit was Hisao Ishigaki, the Japanese tenkara fishing guru. Ishigaki gave a demonstration in tenkara fishing on the nearby Madison River for an attentive crowd.

Also speaking at the conclave was Craig Mathews, one of the deans of the Yellowstone region’s world-class trout fishing and owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone.

Mathews has been a tenkara fan for some time, even before fixed-line rods were widely introduced to the U.S. market in April 2009, and said he’s used it more than his conventional fly rods this year. He also seems to know the location of every big trout in Montana and Wyoming.

What does Mathews do when he can’t turn a big fish with a fixed-line fly rod? “You can just throw the rod in the water,” he told a Holiday Inn meeting room full of tenkara enth­usiasts.

That got a laugh, but Mathews wasn’t kidding. “It’s not going to go far,” he said. “When the fish settles down you can walk over and pick up the rod and land the fish.”

Yes, this is a very unorthodox technique and should probably only be employed as a last

resort. I can imagine a tenkara rod getting banged up or even broken when dragged around a rocky run by an angry brown trout.

For that matter, if I had tried it on the wide-open Delaware, I may never have seen my rod again.

Mathews is no reckless angler given to stunts. He’s a trim, clean-cut, affable, well-spoken former police chief. I doubt he throws his tenkara rod in the water very often.

But it’s also worth noting that the tactic has been in use for some 500 years.

“With the tight line, play can only be given to a fish by craft of hand and rod,” wrote Will­iam Radcliffe in his 1921 book, “Fishing from the Earliest Times.”

“Anglers know to their sorrow, that although much may be thus accomplished, occasions too frequently arise when the most expert handling can avail naught.

“In [Izaak] Walton’s time, the custom, as indeed it was the only present help, in the event of a big fish being hooked was to throw the Rod into the water and await its retrieval, if the deities of fishing so willed, until such time as the fish by pulling it all over the water had played himself out.”

Fixed-line fly-fishing is a compromise: you can’t cast as far as you can with a rod and reel, but you can achieve much better presentation. You can, in fact, catch more fish — but you may find yourself debating whether to let a big one break off or throw your rod in the creek and hope for the best.

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at