Updated: Dec 1, 2020
After seeing the vast amounts of gear at The Feathered Hook and getting a five-minute tutorial on casting a fly rod (see previous post for more information), it was time to put my very limited experience to the real test. One boat, one guide, one very painful sunburn (seriously, check and make sure your sunscreen isn’t expired), and six caught fish later, I’d call the adventure a success.
The early morning sun was just starting to warm up the air when the boat first slid in the water. The shimmering water parted for The Layla as she bobbed happily in the river. In just a few minutes, we were out on the Juniata River, starting our day fishing for bass.
My guide, Matt, has been working at The Feathered Hook for seven years now, and loves being out on the water more than anything else. It’s clear to see why; the early morning sun peeking over the mountain is a breathtaking view, and the chirps and hums of nature surrounds you in a peaceful embrace. “Why sit on the couch watching TV when you can sit on a boat and enjoy nature?” Matt asks. It’s so peaceful and relaxing that anyone would enjoy a day out on the water just enjoying the view.
But we’re here to fish. Matt expertly ties the knots on the fly rod, preparing us for a day of fishing for bass. His practiced hands make quick work of the silky line, and soon enough he’s helping me with my first casts into the water.
At first, trying to balance in the boat, remembering my quick casting tutorial, and being concerned about hitting Matt in the face with the fly rod makes for an… interesting spectacle. His patient teachings and small corrections quickly make a huge difference, and pretty soon I’m casting about 15 feet out and can reasonably target an area.
My guide, Matt, is an expert at all things relating to fishing. He’s easy-going, calmly helping with every cast and netted fish, and knows the river like the back of his hand. When he picks up a fly rod, the line sings and dances exactly where he wants it to go. He got into fishing a few years ago after graduating college with a degree in community/commercial recreation management and hasn’t looked back since.
After a bit of unsuccessful fishing with the fly rod, we switch to regular fishing tackle. The result is immediate; we have a fish in the boat in just a few minutes. We stick with the rod and reel for much of the day, as the fish seem to be biting near the river bed. “That’s just one of those things,” Matt says. “Some days they’re hunting on top of the water and other times they’re along the bottom of the river. You have to be able to adjust your gear: lures, bait, or rods.”
Though The Feathered Hook is known for their trout fishing, at the height of summer, the fish aren’t as active as the water temperature gets too high. Instead, we try for the smallmouth bass in the river. “The bass don’t mind the warm water as much. In fact, they’re more actively hunting for food right now while the water is warmer. Many fishermen like going after bass too because, pound-for-pound, bass pull harder than any other fish.”
And let me tell you, they pull way harder than you think. Definitely not “pull you into the river” hard, but enough that it’s astounding when you pull a tiny four or five-pound fish out of the river that easily felt like a ten or twelve-pound fish (at least to my inexperienced hands). It felt like an addiction too; the thrill of waiting for the next “hit” of a fish and the gratification of having one on the line made the day fly by. Even handling the fish once they were in the boat was an experience. Holding them up for pictures, you put your thumb in the bottom pocket of their mouth. While weird at first, their little mouths felt like sandpaper, and their scales were shimmering and glistening in the sunlight. It was truly so exciting to be able to hold part of nature like that. “If you catch enough of them, your thumb starts to get calloused. That’s always a good feeling; you know you’ve had a good day out on the water when you can feel it on your thumb,” Matt adds.
During our float down the Juniata River, we saw a multitude of other wildlife. We saw two Bald Eagles (one adult and one juvenile), a mink along the bank, plenty of catfish creeping along the bottom of the river (“Catfish are really shy and hard to fish for,” says Matt) and swarms of birds hunting insects in the air. We even saw two huge Great Blue herons hunting in the shallows! Their wings were absolutely massive when they unfurled to take flight, and it was an amazing spectacle to watch.
Even a monsoon-like rainstorm in the middle of our float didn’t limit our experience. Though I felt much like a soggy blob, the views of the storm rolling over the mountains as we reached our exit point was unmatched, and the splashing and sparkling water as the raindrops hit the shimmering river made the torrential downpour worth it. It was definitely memorable, and did feel quite refreshing after a day in the sun.
Matt’s expertise and willingness to teach a novice really made the day. His excitement even when I caught a tiny fish was infectious, and his helpful guiding really made the experience worth it. I have no doubt that I owe the success of the day to his expert knowledge of the river.
“We even have a guarantee. If a client on a guided float doesn’t catch a single fish, we’ll take them back out for free. I don’t know of any other place that does that,” Matt says. While this is an incredible guarantee, we had no problem catching fish with Matt’s expert guidance. It was as easy as him pointing out a spot, me casting, and then a tug on the line. In one spot, I caught three fish in the span of five minutes!
“The most important thing for us is that everyone has fun. Whether you catch two fish or twenty, I want people to leave thinking, “Wow, that was such a fun day.” Enjoying the experience is the most important.”