A few days ago, on a small stream…

As we bid farewell to March and say hello to April, I’d like to personally thank the CT DEEP for eliminating the closed season trout fishing rule. The old reg made it illegal to fish for wild trout in non-WTMA streams from March 1 though Opening Day. Enough with that nonsense! And let’s go fishing.

Since I had no previous experience fishing the day’s mark this time of year, I was curious about might be happening. As I mentioned in my last post, this not winter/not spring netherworld can be a tricky period. My random conditions drawing got me a low-side-of-medium, crystal clear flow; a mix of sun and clouds; and temperatures that struggle to get into the low 40s. I did see a few stray midges, but nothing that could be considered a proper hatch.

Spring must be close. Always a comforting sight, the skunk cabbage are popping everywhere, a clue that warmer days will soon be upon us.

The method was bushy dry/tiny bead head nymph dropper and the jigged micro streamer/nymph. If it was a deeper plunge, I did the latter. Everything else got the dry/dropper. I was pleased to find a wild char in a mark that has disappointed me no end. It’s really fishy, with plenty of cover and a big boulder that borders a deeper slot. The fish hit the dropper, but there was no hook set. Much farther upstream , I also had some repeated swipes at the dry, but again no hook set. Tug-tug-tug!!! Someone in a roiling plunge really wanted the jiggy thingy, and — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — there was, again, a failure to seal the deal.

I wish I could tell you that it turned on at some point, but those three touches were all I could manage. I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed. I suspect further research will need to be conducted this month.

But that’s not where the story ends.

I decided to drive to another mark, the place where I caught Alan last month. (Yes, I’m weird enough that I name fish. Sometimes I name them after real people, like Alan. Other times they’re just fictional , like Gus in this story.) I wasn’t sure if I was hoping for a Hail Mary or just didn’t want to end the session. I drifted the dry dropper through some deeper plunges and runs, then walked upstream.

And there it was. The place where I’d caught Alan. I spent a few minutes observing its wonderfulness. It’s at the head of a longer run. There’s a good, small cut bank with an overhanging tree that will one day fall into the brook. A deep cut runs parallel to the cut bank, and it’s evident why this a prime mark for an alpha fish: cover, current, and the head of the cafeteria line.

This time it took only one cast. The dry vanished from the surface, and when I raised the rod tip I could see that the nymph had been the target. It was a good brookie, and I immediately assumed it was Alan. Into the net, camera readied, shot taken, release completed.

It wasn’t until I got home and saw the photos that I realized that this wasn’t Alan. Wonderful thing, unique spotting! I’ve dubbed this guy “Alan’s Brother.” It all makes sense now. When I was taking this shot, I was thinking that I’d over-estimated Alan’s size. This was certainly an exceptional char for this size brook, but I remembered Alan being bigger. So, it’s good news all around: there’s more than one big old brookie in this town. I hope they made lots of whoopee last fall.

Exploring a new small stream

Last week, I went exploring on X Brook. It wasn’t a great day for fishing small streams; windy, cold front, brilliant sunshine and no canopy. Until recently, X Brook was completely off my radar. Access isn’t easy; you’ve got to do a bit of walking, and it’s surrounded by fairly dense woods and bushes. I thought you’d like to hear how I went about reconning some new water.

First, I hiked through the woods, heading upstream, taking care not to walk with heavy footfalls, and never getting close enough to the water to spook any fish. I made mental notes of potentially fishy areas, like long, glassy pools, and plunges. I wanted to be prepared for them for when I worked the brook downstream.

I kept the fly selection simple. We’re into the netherworld of not spring, not winter, so fish could be hanging out in cold water lies (think maximum depth in any given brook) as well as snottier runs and plunges. A bushy dry with a beadhead nymph dropper would cover two sections of water on any given drift. I also had a tungsten beadhead attractor nymphy/streamery thing to jig in the plunges. I felt like that had me covered for whatever water I encountered. I switched rigs up a few times, but the answer was always the same — no one home, or no one interested.

I was bitterly disappointed that no tug was forthcoming along this shadow line. I mean, c’mon! Really?

One of the things I like to do when I get no hits in a pool or run is see if I missed anything. What I mean is, if there’s a particularly sexy bit of water, and I blank, I like to find out if there were any fish. I start by standing up and making myself large in full view of anything that may be hiding. Sometimes I’ll wave a stick through the water to try to and spook fish. It’s a good idea to take great care when wading in a small stream, especially from fall through mid-spring — you don’t want to disturb any redds or crush unhatched eggs. I was a little surprised (not to mention bummed) that I didn’t see a single darting shadow in any of the runs I disturbed.

Finally, there was a decision to be made: is this stream worthy of another visit? In this case, I think it is. There is enough structure, flow and potential canopy. What’s more, I only explored a small section. It may very well be that where I was is more of a late spring/summer/fall environment, and that the best winter water is elsewhere.

I’ll keep you posted.

Currently on the vise: Squirmy Wormy Jiggy Thingy

It’s a Squirmy Worm. It’s a jig nymph. It’s a shameful fly. It’s all of the above, and I love it.

This fly comes from Toby Lapinski — who first showed it to me on a small stream outing in December. The brookies went nuts for it. Toby tells me he riffed off similar patterns, added a collar for added contrast, et voila! You have this horrible wonderfulness. I’m going to try jigging this with a soft hackle dropper above it on some small streams this spring. I would also think this pattern will drive steelhead out of their tiny minds.

This is a simple tie. You need a jig hook (12-14), chartreuse tungsten bead (1/8″), pink worm material (Toby uses Hareline Caster’s Squirmito) and some black peacock Ice Dub.

Small Stream Report 2/22/22: Fishing with BRK TRT

I hadn’t yet gone fishing this year, and Tuesday was going to be the day. I’d already made the decision to make it a small stream. But as I was checking emails and other social media that morning, I was shocked to learn that Alan Petrucci had passed away.

You may have known Alan from his license plate, BRK TRT. Or perhaps you’ve enjoyed his blog, Small Stream Reflections, or have seen him elsewhere online (he was a currentseams follower and made frequent comments on my small stream posts). Perhaps you were lucky enough to have fished with him. For me, there was a certain sort of symmetry in fishing a small stream; it would be the perfect way to honor Alan and work through the sorrow. Especially since I’d planned to fish a stream that we’d discussed dozens of times over the years. Yes. Today, I would go fishing with BRK TRT.

It was always easy to determine if Alan was fishing nearby. I took this photo along the Farmington River one fall many years ago.

I should make it clear that Alan and I weren’t fishing buddies. We didn’t hang out. Our common ground was a passion for small streams and wild brook trout. I first met him — albeit digitally — when he was a member of the now defunct Flyaddict Forums. We quickly established a rapport, and corresponded via email and the phone over the years to discuss all things thin blue lines. We even traded flies at one point. I still have some of his in my small stream box.

The trip started poorly. I forgot my yellow polaroid glasses, and on my walk back to my Jeep to get my spare pair, I tripped in the woods and bashed my knee against a rock. (When stuff like this happens, I’m always tempted to ask, “What else can go wrong?” But I usually don’t, mostly because I don’t want to know the answer.) There was still snow on the ground in this neck of the woods, not to mention a decent amount of ice clinging to rocks and other obstructions. The sky was overcast, about 44 degrees, and I was happy I brought my fingerless gloves.

Despite the lengthening daylight and warmer temps, winter still has a firm grasp on the brook.

I’d already decided that the outing wouldn’t be about catching fish, and not just because February is a tough month on a small stream. I figured I’d selectively use the dry/dropper (in this case the dropper was a size 18 Frenchie variant), then try jigging and bottom bouncing a small ICU Sculpin in the deeper runs and plunges. I wasn’t happy about the depth I was getting, so I added a BB shot to the leader about 10 inches from the fly. That seemed to work; as soon as I made the adjustment, I felt a sharp tug as I was drifting through a boiling plunge. Given the demonstrative hit, I was surprised there was no hook set.

I also spent some time paying attention to the the little changes the stream had gone through over the winter. Brooks like this one are constantly evolving; channels shift, trees fall in, obstructions washed into the system create natural dams, and so on. I also took the time to remove deadfall that served no purpose other than to mess up my drifts. My general rule of thumb is: If it’s alive, it doesn’t get touched. If it’s dead and is small and provides no cover/creates no significant current break/is not being used by a living creature, it can go.

And of course, I was there to fish with Alan. I’m not embarrassed to tell you I had more than one discussion with him, aloud. It felt good to be out in the woods and fishing and talking to him.

I blanked the entire length of the stream until the last pool. I’d gone back to the dry/dropper, and while it was chugging through a spirited run, the dry disappeared. The char wasn’t big, nor was it noteworthy for its colors, but I felt like this was a gift from Alan. I accepted it fully and eagerly, a proper ending to this solemn day.

But it’s funny, sometimes, how these things turn out. Because I suddenly decided to fish a stretch of the brook that I hadn’t fished in at least a decade. It was less than a five minute drive, so I kept my waders on. Since I was running out of time, I made another decision to double-time it to a section with easier access. I’m really unfamiliar with this stretch, but I thought I’d give the dry/dropper a sail through some of the deeper runs. I chose a pool with a very sexy cut bank beneath a leaning tree. It’s the kind of mark that just screams “fish here,” and yet how many times do you find no one home? The first drift was a blank. Ditto the second. On the third, the dry disappeared.

Right away I could tell it was a good fish. If it were the Farmington River I’d consider it a smaller trout, but on this stream it was a giant. I desperately wanted to land it, because I felt like this was the fish I was supposed to get, and somehow Alan was involved, and I didn’t want to let him down. Just as I’m lifting the fish toward the net, my rod tip and line got tangled in some branches. Really? The fishing gods can be so cruel. But in the end, the char was netted. Funny thing! It was the biggest brookie, by far, that I’ve ever caught on this stream.

Thank you, Alan. And so long, old friend. Tight lines on thin blue lines forever.

I didn’t measure it, but this was easily double-digit inches, a monster for a brook you can leap across. I was struck — as I often am — by the blue halos and the vibrant contrast of the spotting. What do you think, BRK TRT?

CT DEEP’s new Wild Trout Management Plan

Last month, the Fisheries Division of the CT DEEP announced a new draft action plan for wild trout conservation. They recently held two online presentations with the opportunity for public comment, but you can still review the draft plan and tell them what you think. (For the record, I said that while I was all in favor of wild trout conservation and management, DEEP must be cautious about over-publicizing wild fish and revealing specific locations, especially those that aren’t currently “on the books.” It only takes one motivated poacher — or excess angling pressure — to irreparably damage or wipe out a stream.)

It’s no secret that wild, native char populations are under stress not only in Connecticut, but throughout the northeast. Climate change, pollution, angling pressure — the usual suspects are omnipresent. Wild trout and char need all the help they can get. Here’s to hoping that the CT DEEP does everything right.

As The Traveling Wilburys so eloquently sang, “handle me with care.”

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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