When May arrives every year its a good time to head back East to fish favortie and familiar waters from the time of my life when I lived in Pa., before moving to Montana. Its one of the perfect times of the year to fish in the East and I was able to combine it with business and social obligations as well.
After attending the Chicago pipe show with my son Glenn and helping him launch his pipe carreer I met with my good friend Bob Sholiton. Bob and I have been friends for many years , brought together by our common love of pipes and tobacco and flyfishing. I m indebted to Bob for introducing me to bamboo rods, which he makes, as well as fishing and tying with soft hackle flies. He s made rods for me and provided countless flies over the years as well as introducing me to the Mo. Bob recently built a beautiful cabin in Coon Valley, Wisconsin, adjacent to Timber Coulee; a small creek, fed by mineral rich cold water springs that drain the wood covered hillsides of the valley. Deep in the Driftless area, a region untouched by glaciers, it has some of the richest farm land I ve ever seen. The area is filled with dairy farms and tilled for various crops.
We arrived mid afternoon and I was itchin to get out on the water. Bob and I were joined by bamboo rod maker, Ron Bartch, who had given a seminar in Chicago while I was at the pipe show. Ron is one of the leading bamboo rod makers in the US and he allowed me to use one of his fabulous rods, a 6'6" four or five weight that was designed for fisherman like myself who are used to graphite rods. It was much stilffer and faster than the conventional softer slower bamboo rods and was well suited to my fast, choppy, casting style.
As we didnt get started until late in the day we decided just to fish the area around Bob's cabin. Ron went up stream and I walked down and fished back up. The stream is only about 15 feet wide and crystal clear and while it has some deep pools it could easily be crossed at almost any point. Stealth was a high priority and all casting was done upstream with the fly floating quickly down with the current while you stripped line to match the drift. This is completely the opposite the way large rivers are fished. Generally, you postion yourself above the rising fish and fish down and across to them staying about 20-40 ' away from them to hide your presence.
It took me awhile to get used to this style of fishing. I hooked numerous overhanging branches & tall grasses beflore I realized I had to look behind and to the side of me before I cast, a big difference than when fishing a wide open river like the Mo. ! Eventually after a couple lost flies and retying tippit, I got the hang of it.....
I found my first rising fish just below a riffle that ran into a 4 ' deep pool in a bend of the stream. A couple of fish were taking something off to the sides of the current. I slowly moved into position, made a couple casts with a small tan cdc caddis I had tied and immediately spooked them ; down they went. Figuring it was a good time to " rest the water", I took out a tin of my favorite tobacco and filled and lit a pipe. By the time I was contentedly puffing the fish were beginning to rise again. This time I cast to the side of the current into faster moving water, right on a foam line and was rewarded with an immediate strike which I of course missed. First, as it happened so quickly and secondly because I wasn t used to stripping line as soon as the fly hit the water. I sheepsihly retrieved my fly, as I was flustered, it had become tangled around my boot. Fly and boot separated I was ready to try again. This time I cast on the other side of the riffle, started stripping as soon as the fly hit the water and after a foot or so of travel I was rewared with a slashing strike from one of the natural golden colored brown trout with bright red spots on their sides. While the fish wasn t large, maybe 10-12", he jumped like an aerial acrobat across the small pool and put quite a bend in my bamboo rod. What fun !! After releasing him I rested the water and was able to take a couple other smaller fish out of the same pool and then headed back to the cabin for dinner.
For the next two days Bob, Ron, and I explored miles of this stream and some surrounding ones as well. Spring had come to Coon Valley, the trees had almost all their leaves, the lilac and other colorful flowers were in bloom. Wild turkey calls echoed thru the valley in the early morning. Gold finches, grospeaks, cardinals, and red wing black birds in vibrant scarlets crowded the bird feeders set about the property. The day after we arrived the returning humming birds announced the presence by buzzing us as we sat on the porch and tapping on the windows until their feeders were filled with fresh sugar water. What a pleasure to be out on these warm blooming Spring days, tramping the woods and farm lands arrivng at a new pool filled with hungry brown trout and solving the technical problems involved in order to catch fish in this wonderful country.
My next stop was the West Branch of the Delaware River which flows out of the Cannonsville Resavoir in New York state and joins the East Branch near Hancock to form the Main branch of the Delaware River. While I cut my teeth fishing freestone streams in the Poconos and the Lehigh river this was the river where I really learned the intricacies of flyfishing. I was fortunate to learn the river from two fine fisherman, Bob Senawanne aka "Cranky Bob" and Mike Cherba.
Bob is the former owner of A.A. Outfitters, the original store was just outside of Hickory Run State Park along the Lehigh River. He ran the shop for many years and while it was successful, Bob always preffered to be out fishing and not stuck behind he counter, hence the appelation "Cranky Bob" came from the store. This problem was solved when the shop later moved to Blakeslee and was then bought out by his manager Gene, which freed up a lot of his time for fishing and ended the cranky era. I was one of the few people who was flexible during the week we wound up spending a lot of time together. He introduced me to many fine streams in the Pocono's. He has permission to fish many private areas of the Brodhead. He introduced me to Mud Run and the Pohopoco. Best of all he taught me to explore....
Bob was one of the first anglers to discover the Delaware as it developed into one the East's best trout streams. After the Canonsville reservoir was completed in 1967 the character of the West Branch changed and became a tailwater fishery. The warm water species that previously inhabited that stretch of river were soon displaced by brown and rainbow trout which quickly adapted and thrived in the colder water. Abundant hatches of mayflies and caddis as well as crustaceans and invertabrates insured the vitality of the West Branch as a trout fishery.
In the 70 s Bob combed the river by boat and by foot, befriending landowners with his infectious grin, a loaf of fresh baked bread or a bottle of wine under his arm. They were all equally seduced and Bob had permission to fish on private property all thru the valley. He later purchased property near Stylesville, where he lives today. Unfortunately, when I was fishing with Bob, I was too inexperienced to really get what he was doing. He generously gave me the best spots and as I gave them a cursory cast or two before charging ahead , he d clean up behind me!
On our trips to the Delaware, we'd generally arrive in Hancock by 10:00 and then spend the next 2 or 3 hours driving up and down the river looking at his favorite spots, Balls Eddy, The Orvis shop boat ramp, The Junction Pool, Cucchi s, Bob s Rock, Hale Eddy, and finally Dannigers. I used to think he was doing it just to drive me crazy. Now I understand that he was getting in touch with the river, kicking over rocks looking at nymphs, seeing what was in the air, watching the wind and clouds. Sensing and sifting all the myriad factors that determine what kind of day it could be . Many, many days and nights with Bob on the Delaware....
My time with Bob transitioned into my next period with Mike and his wife, Lynn Cherba. Bob also had been an early influence on Mike who lives and grew up in the Hazelton area and fished the Lehigh and Pocono streams as a young teen. He later graduated to tougher streams such as the Le Tort and Yellow Breeches being tutored by the likes of Vince Marrinaro, and Charlie Fox.
Mike, a longtime smoker, found me on the internet when he became interested in pipes in 1997. He and Lynn visited the Pocono Lake shop and found we had a common interest in fly fishing and we decided to get together and fish the West Branch where Mike had a trailer at Harry s. At the time I didn t know that this meeting would eventually change most my perceptions on fly fishing.
Mike is a match the hatch flyfisherman. He casts only to rising fish and loves to go after the ones in the toughest positions or require the highest technical difficulty. He casts as accurtately at 60' as he does at shorter distances. His casting stroke is invariably the same tho he s got many trick casts up his sleeve for difficult spots. His presentation is flawless, generally prefering to back up a cast about a foot above the fish and letting the leader unfurl and make a short drift down, fly first. With over 30 years experience on the water he can recognize what stage of the hatch fish are taking from rise forms. His fly tying is innovative and effective. Mike is the consumate fly fisherman and in a sport where there is no best, he is the best. The only fisherman I ve seen that s in his league casting on a stream is Bob Jaclyn.
After fishing with Mike and Lynn on the West Branch I told Bob about the myexperieince and discovered that over the years Mike and Bob were old friends andhad lost track of each other. I arranged a trip together out to Spring creek in Central Pa. We were also joined by Alan Thomlinson, a good friend of Mike s who owned the fly shop InBenton, and another pipe smoker friend of mine, Mike Kidd, who lived and guidedon the creek. I dont think anyone but Lynn caught anything that day. It was earlyin Spring and not many bugs were hatching but we had a marvelous time just chatting and smoking on the bank most of the day. I didnt realize it at the time, but this was the end of an era for Bob and I as he subsequently disappeared for a few years after that.Moving around, going out West, It s just Bob s way, he floats in and out of people s lives, his only constant is he s fishing somewhere.....
Over the next few years I fished a lot with Mike and Lynn, most weekends up on the Delaware or if they could get a day off during the week we d head to Penn's, Fishing or Spring Creek . Mike and Lynn joined the Henryville fishing club with the help of members Joe DiDario and Bob Marti. In 2002, I went out to the Mo. for the second time with Mike & Lynn and this time decided to remain, only returning to PA to retrieve my shop and possesions. Mike and Lynn introduced Bob Marti and Joe De Dario to the Mo as well and the past 4 years and we have fished the Mo and the Spring creeks in Livingston together. Great fishing and camraderie!
I was pleased that for this trip back East, Joe D, Bob Marti, and the Cherba s were able to get together on the West Branch. I arrived on Friday, May 11, just at the peak of the Hendrickson hatch. Hendrickson s are lare mayflies usually imitated on a size 12 or 14 hook. They have reddish bodies and big variegated wings . They re a large meal and bring out the big fish up. They shared the menu with "pop corn" tan caddis; nicknamed for their erratic bouncing pattern over the water. Having them around made the fishing more difficult as both hatches seem to wax and wane throughout the day and the fish were taking different stages of each hatch , sometimes seemingly at random for this frustrated fisherman!
Staying at Harry's offers a lot more privacy then water with conventional public access as he owns two miles of river front. While the whole river is public, it s a long walk in to the Home Pool we were fishing and low flows kept the boats out. We had about half the water to ourselves from the flats in front of Mike's cabin, thru the riffles and finally to the slow table top water of the home pool. We were comfortably spread out and fished the type of water we each prefered. Mike chose the flats , a long quiet , slow, sometimes deep stretch of water . Most of the large fish feed on the banks and are spookier than all get out ! Mike generally positions himslef in mid river and casts 50- 60 ' to the bank . Besides needing an exceptionally delicate cast, the fly must land inches from the feeding fish or the faster current in mid river will immediately drag the fly; fish gone, end of story. He picked up three fairly quickly before retiring to the porch for a satisfied smoke.....
My friend Joe had it wired that day and for the rest of the weekend as well. He was about 50 yards down river from me and whenever i looked his way his rod was bent . We were fishing the slow flatwater section of the home pool near the tail; I saw him land a big brown whose head and tail didn t fit in a large Brodin net. Certainly a fish of a lifetime. On the Delaware, 3-4 fish is a good day and his fishing over the weekend was nothing less than fantastic.
I had to leave by mid day on Sunday and was determined to get a last couple hours of fishing in even tho there was only a smattering of caddis around along with bright sun and clear skies. I armored up in my once clean gortex waders and sat my butt down on the bank and waited and waited. Realizing this would probably be a two pipe interval before any heads were showing I headed back to the house for a second pipe after finishing the first. Lo and behold sitting on the porch talking to Mike was " Cranky Bob" . I hadn t seen Bob since our trip to Spring Creek at least 7 years ago. Looking fit as ever, he gave me his trademark big grin , his weathered face all the more creased .
After a little chit chat we reverted to our previous student teacher relationship. Bob has taken many trips to Montana and loves to fish the Mo. I figured after living there the past 5 years I d have a thing or two to tell him. Wrong ! Bob began his lesson by asking me if I had fished various tributaries of the Mo. in Cascade country. He mentioned Hound Creek and a few others I ve never even heard of. He told me ranchers to go see, who might give permission to fish on private property. Bob is and will always be the master. I m sure if he were born in an in an earlier era he would have been a frontiersman, exploring the wilds, venturing where few men had ever set foot or fly. In this time, he s aforerunner. I forsee him marching off to his eternity, a big boyish grin on his face bi-sected by a chewed cigar butt clentched in his teeth, a bottle of wine or loaf of bread under one arm, a flyrod in the other, in order to ask the infinite for some eternal place to fish.....
With deep graitude to Mike Cheba, "Cranky Bob and Bob Sholiton