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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Hiking through the hills carrying a stick

I picked a cool, grey day last week to visit a stream in another state nearly three hours from my house. The water appeared to be on the low side of medium, and the brookies were looking up. While the subsurface downstream wet was effective — particularly in deeper pools and runs — the dry was eagerly and wantonly attacked by the local natives. I started off with a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow, then switched over to a size 14 Ginger Elk Hair Caddis. On the way down, I used a black mini bugger and an ICU Sculpin. The cigar of the day was a Sancho Panza Belicoso. Delicious! Here are a few mementos from my adventure.

Contrary to popular belief, sometimes it is easy being green.

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This was a highly productive set of pools. I am always intrigued by the number of fish that can occupy any given area. Population density here was impressive.

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I often get to the point where I wonder,”how many photos of wild brook trout do I really need to take?” So I’ll try to ruthlessly edit my potential subject material. It needs to be a fish that stands out from the crowd in some way, whether its size, color, spirit, etc. What caught my eye on this particular fish was the clarity of its lateral line.

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More of those “nature finds a way” plants that insist on proving that a boulder is a fine place to work and live.

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The point of release. Playing around here with a slower shutter speed. I like the static distortion of the water near head and tail. Big pectoral fins for a char that size.

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Walking through the woods carrying a stick

A bit of a late start this morning. At 10:15am I was making haste into the woods through a phalanx of poison ivy. It was already sweltering, even below the canopy. Midges swarmed me. But I only had one cigar, a short robusto, and it would have to wait. The game plan was upstream dry, then downstream wet. In addition to the aforementioned midges, there were little black stones, some creamy mayflies, and (always) regrettably, mosquitos. Summer can’t be far off, for the sulphus had also made an appearance; I saw two spinners captured in spider webs. While the air was steamy, the brook was cool 61 degrees and running at an ideal height.

Never eat anything bigger than your head. This little guy made seven attempts at the fly before succeeding on the eighth.

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Today’s dry was a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow, and after a slow start, the brookies began to show themselves in earnest. Pricked far more than I landed, but that was just fine with me. Mostly smaller fish in the mix, although I did land a titan of a wild brown. As usual, there were a few runs were I had no takes on the dry that left me scratching my head. I made note of those pools for the return trip. Halfway up the stream, I decided my patience with the nuisance gnats was at an end. Wonderful thing, a cigar. You introduce its tip to flame, and the entire universe of winged insects ignores you.

Why a small piece of fluorescent green chenille tied to a hook works so well on a small stream. Dozens of these dangling from trees everywhere.

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On the way back downstream, I didn’t do as well subsurface as I thought I would. But I still managed to get into plenty of char. Three hours was about all I had in my tank (today’s word should have been “hydration”) so I called it at 1:15pm. A shower beckoned. Besides, I needed to try out that poison ivy soap my wife put in my stocking last Christmas.

This breathtaking wild brown absolutely hammered the dry. She was so powerful she momentarily put herself on the reel, peeling off a foot of line into the bargain. 

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The sulphur hatch has started. This spinner was still squirming in the web when I walked by.

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I spent a good chunk of time yesterday planting hydrangeas, amending the soil, taking out all manner of rocks and pebbles so my shrubs would have a nice home. What a kick in the groin to find plants growing green and strong on top of boulders. This gives new meaning to the phrase “rock garden.” Once again, nature finds a way.

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There’s cold in them thar hills

You get a day like today and it’s easy to think that finally, winter is over. But last week when Grady Allen — owner of UpCountry Sportfishing — and I ventured over the hills and far away, there were constant reminders that winter’s grip can be tenacious.

We fished River X in the Berkshires. I had never been before, and the first thing I noticed on the drive up was that there was still white stuff on the ground. The banks of the river were a patchwork of earth, snow, and ice. Frozen shelves still extended from the shore, and while clear, the water was high from runoff. Even more telling, its temperature was a bracing 34 degrees. In April. Not so good for the fishing. Grady took one lonely brookie on an ICU Sculpin, and your humble scribe wore the collar. Here are a few photos from our adventure.

“I’ll have a block of ice with my boulder, please.” Must have been some winter up here.

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Grady working an upstream seam. We only managed one cigar each this morning; we cut the trip short for lack of a bite. (I always like to fish with people I consider to be better anglers than me. That way, if we both blank, I don’t feel like such a loser.)

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Amidst the hoary streamscape, a green totem of spring.

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January thaw on a small stream

I broke one of my cardinal rules today: never go into the woods if you’ve recently watched Deliverance.  There were no mountain men bent on buggery — and sadly, precious few bugs. I was hoping a near 50-degree day and some sunshine would trigger a hatch, but all I saw was one lonely grey big midge/small stonefly thingy flitting over the water. Although the creek was up due to yesterday’s rains, the water had cleared nicely by the time I threw my first cast, around 1pm.

I did the upstream dry thing, then the downstream subsurface thing. No takers on the dry. I wasn’t surprised, given the height of the water and its temperature. (I forgot my thermometer, but I experienced the sting when I had to go up to my elbow to liberate a fly from the bottom.)

A satellite image of the Chesapeake Bay’s frozen tributaries. Well, it could be.

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More fun with photography. See if you can find the duck’s head and the hawk’s head.

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My only strike of the day came on a downstream presentation with a weighted wet/streamer. A fine brown hen, long and lean, a good size for a brook this small. She was hiding in a deep pool that courses between two boulders. One touch was all I needed, and releasing her was almost as gratifying as catching her.

Your first trout of the year should be a memorable one. What a staggering array of colors on her gill plate. Also note the blemish on her nose. I couldn’t tell if it was an old wound or just a cosmetic oddity. I had not caught her before today.

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The winning fly. I like to fish small hybrid wet/streamers with tungsten heads on small streams. It’s a simple fly, easy to tie, and it uses a mix of natural and synthetic materials: A copper tungsten head, some weighted wire on the hook shank, black Krystal Flash tail, black Ice Dub body, palmered then hackled with grizzly hen. This fly is unnamed. (For you detail-oriented folks, that’s not ice. It’s a big chunk of stream side quartz.)

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