Fly fishing the ocean has taken over much of my fishing time. Having said that, I still try to fish for all species in both fresh and saltwater when time and conditions allow, especially the chub in winter on my local river, the Ribble.
Recently I visited the United States to chase striped bass in Chesapeake Bay in the State of Maryland. Before the striper bass fishing part of the trip. I had arranged to visit Up-State New York to fish for muskies, smallmouth bass, and trout and I was going to fish the St Lawrence river for carp, muskies and small mouth bass. These latter two species with a fly rod. I would also spend sometime fishing the Grass and the Ausable trout rivers. The latter is rated as one of the Blue Ribbon trout streams in the State. My carp fishing was booked with Joe Babbitt's St Lawrence River Experience near Ogdensburg.
The trip started as usual with my arrival at a wet and windy Manchester airport where I was booked on a Continental flight aboard a Boeing 777 for Newark, New Jersey. And why does it nearly always rain when I fly out of Manchester? At Newark I changed flights for the short haul up to Montreal, arriving at the Canadian destination around dusk, where it wasn't much different from wet and windy Manchester.
John, a good friend of Joe Babbitt's, met me at the gate, collected my bags then led me through a throng of people to his four wheel drive vehicle. Here I met up with my fishing companion for the next couple of weeks, Greger Johnson from Sweden.
John said "It's about an hours drive south to the American border. Then another hour to the village of Waddington, a few miles from the main city of Ogdensburg. At the border we were asked for our passports and green cards. After a quick check we were waved through. Some two hours after leaving Montreal we were at Joe Babbitt's camp on the banks of the St Lawrence river where, they say, dreams are made for carp anglers.
After a very friendly and warm greeting from Joe Babbitt, Greger and I were shown to our cabin home for the next few days. It was warm, comfortable and clean with an excellent kitchen area and a wood burning stove for those cold nights. (In late September/early October the thermometer can go below zero degrees F.) My first job was to make some tea, then off to bed for a good nights sleep. As I sat sipping tea, Joe told me all about the fishing available. In one sentence he said "You might catch a forty perhaps a fifty pound carp". I thought a twenty pounder would satisfy me! His next sentence really got me excited when he said "There are some good muskie, pike and small mouth bass in the St Lawrence and the Grass River". Then it was off to bed.
Sometime after nine o'clock next morning Joe knocked on the door." Martin and Greger, you want some breakfast?" It sounded a good idea, I shouted back "Give us fifteen minutes".
After showering and dressing in fleece and shirt we were ready for bacon and eggs. As we piled into Joe's vehicle I noticed the vehicles, buildings and ground were covered in frost. The wood burning stove had certainly done a good job of keeping us warm through the night. It had certainly been a cold one.
During the short drive to Joe's favourite diner in Madrid I spotted a group of five deer, several skeins of Canada geese and a group of mallard. The trees looked wonderful in all their magnificent fall colours. Joe said "I use this diner in Madrid because they bake their own bread daily and the food is good". That was OK with us. After the crispy bacon and eggs, home made bread with lots of fresh coffee served by a good looking blond waitress - we were ready for the day ahead.
Joe said "Come on, I will give you a tour of the area and we can take a look at the Grass river" The Grass river at Madrid and Caton was a mixture of slow deep pools, fast shallow runs and steady glides. We liked what we had seen. It certainly looked fishable. The riverside trees and bushes were quite magnificent in the autumn colours of reds, gold, oranges and yellows. The autumn sunshine of course made them look even more spectacular. No doubt the view would have been different on a cold wet misty morning!
At Caton we stopped for coffee. Two hundred yards below the coffee shop on the far bank was a most magnificent soft red maple tree casting its beautiful red reflection across the river. During the following days at Madrid and Caton, Greger and I caught many smallmouth bass on a white and red clouser minnow tied up on a size one hook in conjunction with a floating line and a six weight rod.
During that first day tour, we visited the City of Ogdensburg, the local tackle shops, the farmers market where we purchased some fruit at what seemed like bargain prices. Then it was off to visit Wall-Mart for the necessary fishing licence. Greger, on his first visit to the States, was amazed and virtually speechless at the cheap prices. "No wonder we call it Rip Off Britain" I said to Greger. He thought the same about his country. I spotted a fly/spinning rod marked up at twenty seven dollars and purchased one. It was a four piece seven and a half feet in length for use with a six weight line or casting weights up to half an ounce. At this price I couldn't go wrong. It would be ideal for those days when I take a beginner fly fishing or spinning. Greger thought the same and purchased six rods. One for himself the others for his friends back home. Having got our permits we could go off fishing.
Back in our cabin, Greger and I sat around with Joe drinking tea and talking about the fish in the river below our cabin. Joe told us "The weed bed alongside the jetty holds bass, pike and the occasional muskie and of course carp. Further along the bank to the left the water backs up. That's a good area for carp with many twenty and thirty pounders being caught. Sometimes an angler will land a forty pound plus fish". I asked Joe about tackle and baits.
"We have various types of carp rods including Voodoo model carp rods from Masterline International, Shimano bait runner reels which are all spooled up with the best branded lines. Fox bite indicators and rod rests, bed chairs, seats, landing and weigh nets, weigh mats and scales. In fact everything a carp angler needs". I reckoned one of the great benefits of using the St Lawrence River Experience for carp fishing is, it takes away the worry of transporting your bait and tackle across the pond. You don't have to worry about baggage handlers breaking your valuable rods or the airlines getting them lost. For a one-off payment of fifty pounds sterling you can use all of Joe's top class tackle. You can of course bring your own tackle and save fifty pounds sterling. Personally for peace of mind, I would advise you to make that one-off payment.
I would also advise you take a good waterproof coat and some thigh waders. In fact you would be better off with a pair of chest waders. If you don't have a pair you can buy some in the States where they are cheap. Chest highs will allow you to wade out on the shallows when playing a big fish. A small rowing dingy is available should you get weeded by a big fish or snagged up. Of course having a boat on site allows you to bait your chosen swim more accurately. Boiled baits and corn are supplied, in fact Joe will bait your swim in advance.
On our second day Greger and I decided to give carp fishing a try. He had never caught one, they don't have them where he lives in Swedish Lapland. Our tackle consisted of twelve foot, two and three quarter pound test curve rods, bait runner reels and all the other bits and pieces of tackle. Weights were four ounce, lines fifteen pound breaking strain with a fifty pound shock leader. The river is huge with big cargo-carrying ships and tankers designed for the ocean moving up and down river all the day and night. All this activity didn't stop the carp from eating.
I felt I was fishing the ocean. I did say to one of the anglers, "All I need is to change the boilie for a bit of squid then I could imagine I was fishing Dungeness for cod or bass!" The size 1 hair-rigged hook was baited with two standard boilies with a pop-up on top. The whole lot was then thrown out some fifty or sixty yards into the river. Some anglers were casting even further. What I will say is, the fishing is incredibly easy. Put in the time and you can soon build up a big list of carp with thirty and perhaps forty pound fish to your credit. If you're extremely lucky you might get a fifty pounder. Then you get a free weeks holiday. Even the kids catch thirty pounders.
Some twenty minutes after casting out his bait, Greger had a take. Picking up the rod he found himself attached to a moving object. Using a pumping action Greger soon had his first ever carp in the landing net, a beautiful common that weighed twenty one and a half pounds. Some ten minutes later my bite alarm sounded its strident note. Picking up the rod I felt myself hooked into a heavy object. No line was given and apart from the fish shaking its head a few times, I just pumped the fish in towards the landing net. It felt like a cod with its head shaking but turned out to be another beautiful looking common that weighed eighteen pounds. I stayed fishing for another half an hour taking another common carp of 25lbs. It was time for tea and some fly casting from the jetty in the hope of catching a smallmouth bass.
The next day was spent sight seeing and some fly casting practise, but after tea I went off and fished for the carp which is a very sociable occasion. Everyone sits around chatting until a bite alarm sounds its warning of a take.
Using the same tackle as the previous day, I cast out two boilies with the pop up on top then joined the other lads. Ten perhaps fifteen minutes later the indicator sounded. I picked up the rod and felt the fish which I could see was moving to my left. I crammed on some pressure to stop it, then started to pump the fish in, suddenly the line went slack. One nil to the fish. Winding in, I found the bait to be OK and threw it back out to the same baited spot. Thirty minutes later I was attached to another fish. This one took about five yards of line, then it was the pumping game. Lower the rod, take in the line, lift and repeat. Soon a good carp was a few yards from the net - where it decided to jump, but couldn't quite lift its tail from the water We all shouted in excitement at this unusual behaviour. You don't expect carp to try tail walking!
That was the highlight of my carp fishing on this trip. A couple of minutes later it was netted. It looked a good one. It was. My first thirty pounder, weighing thirty pound four ounces. For two or three minutes it felt good to have caught a personal best carp, then I realised it's all so easy on the St Lawrence river with Joe Babbitt. Give me a bass from the ocean on a fly rod any day I thought.
Half an hour later I caught a fully scaled mirror carp weighing twenty four pounds. Everyone thought this was an exceptional. Someone shouted "What a fish, you only capture one of these in a thousand". I couldn't understand all the fuss. Later I had another good common weighing about twenty five pounds. That was the end of my carp fishing. Personally I thought it was all too easy and boring. Cast out, wait for a fish to hook itself then wind the fish in. For those who like to catch lots of big carp, my advice is go and fish the St Lawrence River Experience with Joe Babbitt. You're guaranteed a lot of string pullers and from my experience, it's excellent value for money and I witnessed the other anglers catch a lot of big fish.
There are three types of package. If you want to fish twenty four hours a day then the Bivvy Package is for you. It will also of course keep your costs down. This package includes: A top quality bivvy, bed chair, sleeping bag, lantern/lamp per person, cooking stove, pots, all the utensils one needed for the week, igloo cooler box, toilet facilities, communications equipment and a first aid kit. There is boat to ferry you to the various swims with a twice daily visit from Joe. He will also collect and deliver paid-for supplies and food to your bivvy. Joe also brings ten pounds of cooked maize per person a day for baiting up your swims.
For those of you who want to bring the wife or girlfriend, perhaps the children, do some fishing but also spend some time touring the area, visiting the shops, museums, art galleries etc. Then the package for you is the self catering/trailer home. Accommodation is in a two or four berth trailer with electricity and running water, bed linen, pillows, towels, crockery, cooking utensils, shower and fridge freezer. Fresh milk and bread will be delivered to your trailer home on your day of arrival.
For two couples going across for some fishing and other holiday activities, I can thoroughly recommend the self catering cabin with its two bedrooms, both fitted with en suit shower and toilet. There is a good size kitchen with lounge area that looks out over the St Lawrence river. Everything you need is supplied.
For further details write to Joe Babbitt, PO Box 722, Waddington near Ogdensburge, New York State, 13694 USA. Telephone 001-315-393-2350
or E-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org