That’s all the time I had. But there’s a certain comfort in having a time limit. It forces you to keep moving. To spend more time with your flies in the water. And if you feels the pangs of regret over pools not covered and fish not caught, there’s always next time.
It was a lovely, sunny afternoon, albeit with a slight chill in the air. The water was perfect: dropping after the weekend’s downpours, just a tinge of color, nice and cold. There were the ubiquitous midges, BWOs sz 14-16, and some caddis. I fished with a dry/dropper and a small tungsten bead jig. Although I had a few slashes (and one landed) on the dry, the natives showed a clear preference for the jig. I had great success in deeper, darker holes, and along shaded cutbanks.
Zip it. Hush. Shaddup. Small streams and wild trout are a finite resource — and more pressure is usually a very bad thing. So for goodness’ sake, never post stream names and locations on social media. Never take photos that clearly identify your location. (Picture this scenario: you make a video and post it on YouTube. The brook is clearly identifiable. Someone sees it and comments on how beautiful the place is. Someone else comments, “I know where that is!” Someone 1 reaches out to Someone 2, and the location is revealed. Someone 2 likes to share locations with his friends, and the cascade begins. Don’t laugh — I’ve seen it happen.)
And if someone asks, you can always use my line: “I won’t even tell my mother where I fish.”
We continue “Wild Trout/Small Stream Week” on currentseams with a deep dive into the archives. Stalking Wild Trout on Connecticut’s Small Streams was one of the first articles I wrote for myself. That is, not for a specific publisher or editor, but for my own personal use. Although it’s nearly 20 years old, and some of the information is out of date, the piece remains worthy. And I’m guessing that many of you newer subscribers have yet to see it. In case you missed the link above, you can find the article here.
Anglers wielding cameras have killed more small stream wild trout — intentionally or not — in the last 10 years than in the previous 100. You can blame it on the convenience and portability of digital devices. You can blame it on social media. You can blame it on anglers. Or narcissism. Or all of the above.
Whatever the root cause, I still see far too many images on social media of mishandled wild trout. Fish being held in dry hands. Fish thrashing around in landing nets, airborne, nowhere near the water. Fish photographed laying on grass, twigs, leaves, rocks, and other substrate no wild trout that’s going to be released should ever touch.
Let’s assume for a moment that I’m not talking about you. You’ve visited keepfishwet.org. You know the drill for ensuring more favorable catch and release outcomes. I applaud you. And now, I’d like to ask you a small favor.
Stop taking so many pictures of wild trout.
We all agree: wild trout are beautiful. The delicate parr marks, breathtaking halos, and butter-yellow hues of wild browns. The intricate, Faberge Egg-like designs and vivid colors on wild char. They’re all a wonder, and a marvel to look at. But do we need to see a photo of 2…4….6…and more… wild fish from your most recent small stream outing? The answer, I believe, is no.
So next time you’re on your favorite brook, take the Wild Trout One Photo Challenge: You photograph one fish, and one fish only. That’s it. All the others go quickly back into the stream, and you get bonus points if those non-photo subjects never leave the water. Think of how many wild fish you’re not subjecting to additional stress. It’s a win for you. It’s a win for the next angler. And most of all, it’s a win for the fish. Remember, the stocking truck isn’t coming back to replace what wild fish we kill, accidental or not.
If you love and value wild fish — especially native fish — you have a responsibility to preserve and protect the resource. Yes, fishing is a blood sport. Yes, no matter how careful we are, some of what we catch may perish. But there are ways to dramatically minimize loss. And there are certainly ways to ensure the next angler has the opportunity to enjoy the stream as much as you.
So, I’m declaring this “Wild Trout/Small Stream Week” on currentseams.com. As you know, small stream fishing is an experience that is sacred to me. My goal this week is to educate and inform as much as possible. And this wonderful essay by a Pennsylvania angler named “Fly Tier Mike” is a good place to start. In The Responsibilites of Chasing Wild Trout, Mike outlines four best practices for those who fish for wild trout on small streams: Proper wading techniques (staying off of redds); proper fish handling; minimizing damage while taking photos/videos; and the pitfalls of social media that can lead to over-pressuring a stream.
Anyone who fishes for wild trout should read it, if only as a refresher. Thanks for your consideration.
Having not gone fishing for weeks, I sought the cure for my ills in a small stream outing this past Wednesday. I was going to visit an old favorite, but instead I decided check out a new section of stream that I’d never fished before. So, armed with my camera and pack and rod and cigar, I had at it. While the fishing was great, the catching was non-existent. So thought you might be interested in how I approached some of the water.
Let’s start here. Why was the fishing so poor? It could have been any or all of these: a cold front approaching; far cooler temperatures than the previous week; trout not yet spread out in the system; complete lack of hatch activity or visible feeding; low, clear, spooky water; or just nobody home. (Sometimes when I ‘m fishing new water for the first time, I’ll stand up and make dramatic movements in an attempt to spook fish I might have missed. In two hours, I rousted only one 3″ char.)
As a creature of habit, I lovingly cling to my routines. So I was as surprised as anyone when I decided to not go small stream fishing on New Year’s Eve. Logic trumped tradition; by delaying a few days, the water would be a little warmer and hopefully any residual ice would be long gone. On the drive up, we did see some sheltered woodland streams where mini-glaciers abounded. But when we (myself and surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski) arrived at the stream we were relieved to see that frozen water was almost non-existent.
The water was barely into the high side of medium, which is just about right for winter fishing, and the brook was running clear and cold. Overcast skies didn’t hurt, nor did temperatures in the low 40s. Toby started out bottom bouncing and jigging, while I went the dry/dropper route. The action far exceeded our expectations. As you can imagine, going deep won the day, but I had enough action on both the dry and dropper that I kept them on for hours. (If reading this is getting you fired up for small streams, I have a presentation tonight in Danbury, The Eastern Brook Trout; later this month, you can see me present Finding Small Stream Nirvana at the Marlborough Fly Fishing Show, and a week later in Edison.)
The spawn is taking place on some northeastern wild brook trout streams. I recently fished a brook on consecutive Thursdays, and the changes over the course of a week were dramatic. Seven days ago, there were only a few leaves in the water and no visible signs of spawning activity. A week later, the brook was congested with foliage and several redds were apparent. I spotted a large hen on one, and a few active fish on another.
In case you don’t know, a redd is a spawning bed. The fish select an area with enough water and current and the right size gravel, then clear the area of debris and other sediment before depositing eggs and spreading milt. (This is why spawning and post-spawn fish often present with scraped bellies and frayed fins.) Redds are fairly easy to spot; they look like light colored patches contrasting against much darker substrate. On a small stream, redds may be anywhere from a couple of square feet in area to significantly larger. A distinct light colored patch with fish darting about on the bottom nearby is a sure sign that you’ve discovered a redd.
Maintaining the integrity of redds and protecting spawning fish is vital to the future of any wild trout stream. The stocking truck is not coming to replenish what humans destroy! Here’s what to do if you see a redd: First, leave it and the fish that are near it alone. Don’t try to catch spawning fish. Let nature take its course. Next, make a mental note of the location. Chances are that the fish have been using the general area to spawn for dozens or hundreds or thousands of generations. Finally, stay out of the water near the redd for the remainder of the fall, winter, and early spring. If you crush the eggs or the developing fry, that would be bad.
Besides, it’s pretty cool to simply sit on a rock and watch the beginnings of the next generation of Salvelinus fontinalis.
I hit a hidden gem last week that takes about 2 1/2 hours to get to. That may seem like a lot of effort — you’ll get no argument from me — but it’s usually worth it. And on this day, it was.
Over the years, this brook has seen its ups and downs. I’ve been moderately disappointed by it my last few outings, especially by the size and number of the fish. But you get what you get, and the fact that it still has native char, like it has for thousands of years, is a true blessing. So: I won the weather lottery. A warm, sunny, gorgeous, Indian summer day. After the rains, the water level was spot-on perfect, running cold and clear. In terms of numbers, the fishing was off the charts. I landed dozens (despite my best attempts not to, in order to reduce stress) and pricked dozens more. No beasties in the mix — you like to get a couple in the 9″+ class — but I did dredge up a few 7-8-inchers in the deeper pools. The brookies were everywhere. I started with a dry/dropper, which was moderately successful, but when I switched to subsurface (a tungsten bead head nymph/worm thingy) I couldn’t keep the char off the fly. What a wonderful day to be out in the woods.