Small stream report: brookies and mayflies and…bears

So I’m standing in the brook, working out a few kinks in the leader, when I see this large, black blur moving through the forest. My first thought was, “Someone brought their freaking huge dog and now I’m going to have to contend with all kinds of rambunctious behavior.” Then I noticed it was a black bear cub. Great. Where there’s a black bear cub, there’s a mama bear, and the last thing I need right now is a mama bear that thinks I’m a threat to her kids. I calmly lit a cigar — let them smell where I am, and hopefully they hate Nicaraguan tobacco — and began my one-sided calls of “Hey, bear!”

I figured from the way the cub was moving — really fast, past my position, heading up a trail — that he was in more trouble than I was. Everything about his actions said, “Crap, I’m gonna get it, I’m way behind mom!” Just to be sure, I stayed in position for a few minutes to make sure I didn’t see any more Ursas. But I kept that cigar blazing, I kept up my call-and-hopefully-no-response, and I was looking over my shoulder the entire time I was fishing. Of course, I understand that all things being normal, bears generally want less to do with you than you do with them. But it’s always unnerving to see an animal that large in the wild.

To the fishing. This brook was higher than normal, albeit flowing clear, but at this level most of the pools and runs were blown out. I saw caddis and midges and some un-IDed huge mayfly spinner. I fished a dry/dropper, and to my surprise the char only wanted the dry. Even more surprisingly, they ignored almost all of my weighted micro-streamers. I pricked many fish, and most of them were in the 2″-4″ class. I’m content to use a bigger dry for these fish; they never get hooked, so there are are no complications from catch-and-release. I did land a few, and I decided to take a picture of one of them. And here it is.

Please take care when photographing wild fish: always keep your hands wet, keep the fish submerged until you’re ready to shoot, then only expose the fish to air for a few seconds at most.

Small stream report: hiding in plain sight

I had the pleasure of fishing with Toby Lapinski earlier this week and even though it’s that time of year, our quarry was not striped bass, but rather small wild trout and char. This brook was new to me, so I was stoked to be on undiscovered waters. The stream is overgrown with briars and saplings, to say nothing of the broken limbs and downed trees that seemed to be everywhere. It had riffles, glides, plunges — a nifty combination for a brook that is in some places small enough to jump across. (That’s, of course, if I could get a running start. And not be wearing waders. And be 20 years younger.) Funny thing! I’ve driven past this brook hundreds of times and never knew it was there.

I was hoping these schools of fry in the sunlit shallows were YOY browns or brookies. But no. They’re black nosed dace YOY, maybe a couple centimeters long. Did you know that some scientists think that the eastern BND spread after the last ice age from a single colony in present-day Connecticut?
Not a bad bit of camo. You get the sense of the wildness of the place. I’d estimate the water to have been medium-high — remember, this was my first time here — which is a good spring flow, but we had bright sunshine and no canopy working against us. We saw midges, and there was also a decent hatch of small (16-18) tan caddis. Some of the sexiest runs and holes were surprising blanks, like this one. There’s always next time. Photo by Toby Lapinski.
Toby captured the largest fish of the outing, this vibrant char. We both fished a dry/dropper, and while Toby had some takes on the dry, all of my action came on the dropper, which was 2x short size 18 BHPT. I also tried some micro streamers, but had no takers. I highly recommend a dry/dropper setup on a new stream. It’s the fastest way to find out what the fish want. Photo by Toby Lapinski.
Small stream wild browns like this are fearsome fighters. It’s almost like playing a minute smallmouth bass. I pricked several more little browns on the tiny dropper nymph.

If you love fishing small streams, now’s the time to prove it.

Mid-to-late September is traditionally the time I like to revisit my favorite thin blue lines to reacquaint myself with the wild things that live there. But not this year. Connecticut is in drought conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme. Many brooks have been reduced to a trickle; in some cases, entire sections have gone dry.

While I’m fond of the expression, “nature finds a way” — and it always does — now is not the time to be fishing small streams. Hopefully the fish have survived the heat and dry of summer by hunkering down under a cut bank or in a deep slot or a spring house. It’s been harsh conditions for months now, and the last thing they need is to have the life sucked out of them by doing battle with us. (And the spawn is coming, as if that weren’t stressful enough.) Don’t be fooled by cooler air and water temperatures or one rainstorm — these fish are in survival mode.

So please — if you really love small streams and the trout and char that live in them — put the small stream rods and the bushy flies away until flows get back to normal. Thank you.

It’s all bad news. This is already a week old. And the statewide streamflow table is even worse.

Small Stream Report 6/4/20: the natives aren’t restless

I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon knocking on the doors of two favorite brooks. Conditions were similar on both thin blue lines: low water, clear water (thankfully still cold) and bright mid-day sunshine that kept the bite off. Still, a dozen-plus were pricked and a handful landed. All the bite activity came in the deeper plunges, runs, and cutbanks. Given the low water, I decided a downstream approach was best.  (For more on small stream approaches, please read my article “Upstream, Downstream, Small Stream.”)

Bugs were bountiful. One of these streams sees a good number of yellow sallies this time of year, so I fished a size 16 Partridge and Yellow dropped off my bushy dry. It definitely got the attention of the char. Also seen: caddis, midges all sizes, sulphurs, and a few large spinners (March Browns?). 

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I love how nature makes something out of nothing. No soil? No problem. We’ll just make a fertile bed on this boulder out of leaf compost and moss and lichens and let the ferns do their thing.

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It was no surprise that the best char of the day came from one of the deeper pools, and took a subsurface fly, in this case a black micro-bugger. Given the size of the brook, this buck could be considered a giant.

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Small streams on the brain

Last week I visited three local small streams, partially because I could; partially because the weather didn’t suck; partially because I was curious to see if anyone wanted to play; but mostly because I just plain love small streams.

I began Wednesday afternoon at Stream A. The air temp was just about freezing, and there was still a solid white shelf of ice framing this woodland brook. Didn’t see any bugs, and the action was slow. No love on a bushy dry/nymph dropper, so I switched over to an ICU Sculpin. I was jigging the fly in a plunge pool when I felt some weight. The next thing I saw was an open mouth rising from the depths. And then the char was gone. That was enough to keep me smiling, though.

Remnants from the last ice age. This stuff should pretty much be gone by the middle of this week. However, I’d still expect the water temperatures to be very cold.

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Streams B and C are in more urbanized locations. They’re not for everyone, especially if you desire the unspoiled by humans angling backdrop. So while they lack the classic beauty of the high-gradient mountain brook or lilting meadow stream, they are, nonetheless, charming in a “cool, I hooked a section of heater hose” kind of way. I went Friday, and I thought that with the heavy cloud cover and late afternoon timing, I might get an offer to buy with my white mini bugger sales pitch. Nothing doing. Although I did have a rather tasty cigar.

So much depends 
upon 
 
a brown tree 
trunk
 
glazed with rain
water
 
beside the white 
insulation.

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Small stream father & son outing

Yesterday was a brilliant day for a walk in the woods. No school for Gordo, so we packed up the 6′ Fenwick glass rod, a couple energy bars and some water, and headed northwest. Our hike was about a mile into the woods, and our reward was a gorgeous thin blue line with a fresh influx of groundwater. Even days after the rains, the brook was tea stained and filled with leaves. The fish were hunkered down — all our takes came on tungsten beadhead flies (size 18 2x short Frenchie and ICU Sculpin), none on the dry. We pricked a bunch, and managed two beauties to net, one brown and one brookie.

Gordo dapping a dry/dropper in a boiling plunge pool. No customers here, but a few yards downstream…

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We tag-teamed this jewel of a wild brown. Dad made the cast, Gordo landed him. I want to find a better word than exquisite — how about ornamental?

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Small Stream Color, or: A little something to get us through today’s gray

Snuck out for a couple hours the other day on Ye Olde Brook Trout Emporium. The catching was a bit on the slow side, but the fishing was tremendous. At last! Freedom!  I took them on the dry (size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow) and the wet (size 20 Snipe and Purple) dropper. Water was 56 degrees and medium low. Bugs everywhere: midges, some large dark un-IDed mayfly spinners (mahogany duns?), caddis, and my first confirmed sulphur sightings of 2017.

Sky of blue, sea of green. The canopy is filling in, and the wooded wetlands are in their glory. 

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While I was disappointed in the number of fish that wanted to play, I did see more actively feeding char on this stream — especially in slower, deeper water — than ever before. Those that were coming up for the naturals were also quite willing to inspect my dry, even though it was substantially larger than what was hatching. This fellow pounced when the opportunity presented itself. You can see the beginnings of a kype.

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Ray Bergman, you magnificent bastard, I read your book! This brookie was quietly sipping, forming delicate rise rings in some glassy water. I approached from upstream, made a long cast, and got him on the wet dropper by raising the rod tip and doing a hand-twist retrieve. By far the hardest hit of the day.

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Small stream report: First wild brookies of 2017

The older I get, the more I embrace the philosophy of, “I don’t need to be right.” But boy, did I make a good call about fishing a small stream today.

I thought there would be enough water for the fish to be comfortable in. Yes, there’d be more tomorrow, but with a cold front approaching — and plenty of cloud cover — today would be the better mid-day option. So I visited an old friend from 11am-1:30pm. There are three things I want to tell you about.

Nature finds a way. This particular brook was disastrously low  when I visited it in August (not to fish, just to look). Yet somehow the brookies made it through the stress of a scorching summer that reduced their home to a trickle. Today, I pricked ten, landed six. Jeez, I’d sign up for that in May. In January it comes off as an unimaginable bounty. I’ve never done this well on this stream in winter.

The first salmonid of 2017. I don’t usually handle fish this small, but this gorgeous creature made my heart leap up in my chest. Happy New Year!

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Droppers are the quickest way to find out what the fish want. You may be bored with me saying this, but I will continue to shout it from the rooftops. I started the day with a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow dry. After 15 minutes of no luck, I added a 2x short size 18 SHBHPT dropper. While most of my fish — particularly in the deeper pools — feasted on the dropper, the dry took the largest char of the day.

One swing and a miss — then on the next cast, the kill shot delivered. 

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Small streams in winter are places of unparalleled tranquility. It rained the entire time I fished. My left boot foot leaked. My fingertips were frozen. Funny thing! I looked at my watch and realized I’d been fishing for two hours. Sure, it helped that the catching was good. But watching the smoke from my Punch Gran Puro Robusto curl into the mist didn’t suck either.

Looks cold. Was cold. And wonderful. 

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How my fingers got so numb. But the Fontinalis fins were worth the price of admission.

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Notes from a small stream

Forget the calendar or the current warm spell — we are already in summer mode. That means low water, very spooky fish, and, I suspect, a large number of residents unwilling to show themselves. The water is still at mid-spring temperatures.

The canopy is full in, and does an exceptional job of keeping things cool.

Pricked close to ten fish, with none landed. All my risers were found in deeper and/or faster water, with an emphasis on “faster.”

Observed three nursery pools — shallow and slow — that held numerous young-of-year brookies. Looks like a strong Class of 2015 if they avoid the birds and survive the summer extremes.

The diversity of bug life never ceases to amaze me: midges, from tiny to size 12; golden stones (about a 16); caddis (size 18); and a few unIDed mayflies (about a 10).

Found a new brook on the way home and lost a pig (for a small stream) on my first cast. He was so twitterpated that he leapt twice after he spit the hook. I’ll see you again, pal, since I know where you live.

Let them be. Ugh. After the mild winter, it’s going to be a disaster season for poison ivy.

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See if you can find Señor Frog. (It’s not that hard.)

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An hour on a small stream

April is always a good time to visit a small stream. You can see how Mother Nature wrecked certain pools and improved others over the winter. And of course, you knock on some doors to see if anyone’s home.

Water was on the low side of medium, cool, and distilled spirits clear. Hatches: big Blue Quills, some smaller BWOs, and a few stray caddis and midges. I saw three fish rising to feed, which is rare for these conditions (mid-day, low water). I didn’t even try to catch them.

I have decided that one hour in the woods on a sunny spring day is an absolute good for the soul.

I cannot think of a jauntier, I-don’t-give-a-damn plant name than skunk cabbage. 

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Pricked four, landed one. Two were small, and one got off when the leader tangled on a submerged branch. This handsome specimen sat still long enough for a portrait.

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