Fall colors

The woods were ablaze this late morning/early afternoon. A substantial leaf hatch, though, is a lot easier to deal with on a small stream. The char certainly had no problem picking out my size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow and size 16 Elk Hair Caddis.

Spooky fish today — most of them gave the fly a single whack, and that was it — no return business. Not surprising given the recent low water levels. A good number of them were hanging out in tailouts, making an upstream dry presentation challenging. Many more were locked into the whitewater plunges and deeper runs. I induced a few larger members of the tribe to strike, but most of what I raised was smaller, which I always like to see, recruitment being critical to the next few years’ outings.

Went subsurface on the way downstream, and as usual, stuck some brookies where none were forthcoming on the dry. Even after yesterday’s rains, the water was medium-low, cool, and clear. Creamy midges and size 18-20 tan caddis out today.

I am fortunate to be able to say, “I feel like going fishing today.” And then actually doing it. What a nifty little dark horse. He took the caddis in a seam just off a pocket plunge.

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Thanks TU Naugatuck/Pomperaug

Last night I presented “The Eastern Brook Trout — Connecticut’s Wild Native” to the TU Naugatuck/Pomperaug Chapter. It was my second time speaking before the group, and a splendid time was had (I think) by all. Great to re-meet and re-greet, many thanks for the all the questions and, of course, the pizza.

Wishing I was chasing him instead of being chained to my laptop.

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Many thanks to the Hammonasset Chapter of TU

Last night I presented The Eastern Brook Trout: New England’s Wild Native to the Hammonasset Chapter of TU. The group really came though in the clutch, locating an extension cord and power strip (must get those for future gigs) for me, and then — this is where it gets good — serving up some delicious pulled pork sandwiches. I really enjoyed meeting everyone and talking fishing and fly tying.

That reminds me: Time for a wild brook trout outing.

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Young-of-year brook trout

I was bushwhacking past a bathtub-sized pool deep in the northeast woods when I saw dozens of dark forms scatter. So I sat at the water’s edge for a few minutes. Then stuck the camera underwater and started rolling. This is a good-sized school of young-of-year Salvelinus fontinalis — the eastern brook trout. Class of 2013. Can’t wait for them to put on a few ounces. Stay strong through the winter, my little friends!

Somewhere out there. (Thataway.)

Middletown isn’t actually in the middle of Connecticut. It’s more like the mid-point between New York and Boston. Being centrally located has its benefits. I’m 45 minutes from Housatonic stripers. Just over an hour to Rhode Island. The Farmington River is as close as 35 minutes. But to get where I was going Thursday, I needed about two-and-a-half hours. One way.

In addition to drive time, the price of admission includes a hike that sends your heart rate soaring. (And, if you like to detour off the trail to get to those feeder streamlets that tumble down the sides of mountains as much as I do, some semi-treacherous bushwhacking.) It’s definitely not for everyone. But for the adventurous soul, rich rewards await in the form of magnificent solitude. Seductively clear water. And armies of obliging brookies.

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The day began grey with dense fog banks and light drizzle. My energy on the way into the woods was the typical I-can’t-wait-to-get-my-line wet rush. It usually takes a lot to distract me when I’m in hurry-up fishing mode. But I was captured by this splash of color against muted brown.  Sitting here at home now, I’m glad I stopped.

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We haven’t had much rain in the northeast during the last month. The brooks were way down compared to last fall. (And nice and cold at 50 degrees.) But even the feeders were teeming with char. Nature finds a way. Like this hemlock, growing hard against a rocky outcrop, roots searching for precious water, splayed out like the tentacles of a beached squid.

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I began fishing downstream, dry, with a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow. When streams are this low and clear, the bite is often better if you go subsurface. It’s easy to figure why. The fish are feeling vulnerable in the lower flows. Whereas they’re bashful about showing themselves on top, they remain undisciplined gluttons below.  Once I made the change to weighted beadhead soft-hackles, I saw an exponential increase in strikes. The nips began the moment the fly settled beneath the surface. One of the flies I used — as yet unnamed — was a soft-hackle with a hot chartreuse bead head I tied up a few weeks ago. I could easily track the fly in the water, as well as the dark forms that would materialize out of nowhere to attack the intruder.

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“Unnamed”
Hook: 2x stout, 3x long, size 14
Thread: Black
Bead: Tungsten, chartreuse
Tail: Black Krystal flash
Body: Peacock Ice dub
Hackle: Grizzly hen

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Most of the brookies I pricked and brought to hand were in the 3-6″ class. But there were a few more substantial fish in the mix, like this handsome buck, ablaze in fall spawning colors. A proper Brobdingnagian, he’s been in the brook for quite a few years.

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Turned out nice again. It’s hard to manage the thought of the coming snow and shelf ice when the mercury’s pushing 65 and the sun is dancing off the tree tops.

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Can you stand to look at one more picture of a brook trout in blazing fall technicolor? If we must. I could wax poetic about the Fontinalis fin, the haloed spots, and the vibrant belly. But the camo pattern on the dorsal fin is inspired.

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Like fishing trips, all fishing reports regrettably must end. This is the fish from the photo above just at the moment of release. Till we meet again.

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So, this guy walks into the woods carrying a fly rod…

We haven’t had rain in a while; the brook was low and the forest floor dry as tinder. Still, I found a spirited rivulet of groundwater that wended down the fall line before tumbling over a mossy ledge. When the water is this clear and low, the brookies tend to stay in the darker, deeper sections — or in the whitewater just below that miniature waterfall next to the moss-covered boulder.

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Vibrant red spots ringed by blue halos adorn an eastern brook trout. Brookies are the only trout (technically, they are char) native to much of the eastern United States.

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Fall is living up to its name. The deluge of soon-to-be-ex-flora has already begun in the hills. Fishing-wise, the leaves weren’t really an issue; I only hooked a few here and there. I was looking for photo ops when I glanced down at my feet. I was struck by contrast of these two leaves against the rock, but what really captured my fancy was how, in that swift current, did they manage to find a toehold — and how are they able to so stubbornly cling to their perch?

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A lot of people don’t know this, but Vincent Van Gogh was an avid fly fisherman. He used to jet from his estate in Holland to his cabin in the Appalachian foothills, where he could pursue his passion: fishing for Salvelinus fontinalis. The flank of the brook trout is said to have been Vincent’s inspiration for his masterwork Starry Night

Well, at least that’s what I heard.

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Fishing notes: Water was 56 degrees. Not surprisingly, most of the fish I pricked came from deeper holes, dark runs, and plunge pools. I found one abyss where there was a bona fide lunker (for this size stream) of about 11-12 inches. Pricked him twice, but couldn’t get a good enough hookset to close the deal. I tried for over a half hour, and in the end decided that that fish might be responsible for populating hundreds of yards of brook — and with spawning season so close, would be better left uncaught. I fished mostly downstream. Dry fly was a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow; wets were a cornucopia of bead head soft-hackles. Cigar was an Aroma de Cuba Reserve maduro Churchill.

Small Stream 101: Fishing the outgoing tide.

The brook was dozens of miles from the sea. Yet there I was, fishing the outgoing tide. At least that’s what I started calling it several years ago. Let me explain.

What I mean is, I’m fishing a small stream in the day or days after a heavy rain. As with an ebbing tide, the water level is dropping. It’s a great time to fish. Here’s why. The waters have gone from raging and murky to some semblance of normal. They may still have a light tea stain to them, which makes it a little harder for the fish to see you, but not your fly. Most of all, the trout have transitioned from hunker-down survival mode to dinner bell-ready. That was certainly the case today.

I would crawl on my hands and knees through a skunk cabbage-filled boggy mess to catch a wild brookie like this. Oh, wait. I did.

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The lovely woodland stream I visited today is one I haven’t fished in many months. I usually make a pilgrimage in April, but the time-space fishing continuum conspired against me. The woods are only starting to display a vague suggestion of green in April, but on May 31st they were  lush. It was already too hot and humid to be bushwhacking in waders at 8am, and non-biting midges swarmed me. Such was the price of admission for the wild troutstavaganza.

There were fish everywhere, with plenty of young-of-year brookies in the mix. This is always a good sign, as 2012’s new recruits will be 2015’s lunkers. It’s especially gratifying to see nature finding a way after last year’s terrible late summer drought and heat wave.

This blindingly beautiful wild brown hit the dry like a ton of bricks. Excuse me for a minute. I’ve got to wipe away the drool I got while gazing longingly at those parr marks.

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The fish were particularly active today. I witnessed three good-sized (for this stream — it’s small enought to jump across in more than one spot) trout feeding on the surface. Two were noisily slashing at emergers; the third was clearing the surface as he chased caddis. All of them were camera shy. Every time I tried to shoot some video, they suddenly stopped feeding. Little bastards.

Fished a new dry today, the (Improved) Sofa Pillow in a size 16, along with a bead head Grey Hackle Peacock. The dry got the lion’s share of the action, fished mostly upstream. Pricked a good couple dozen trout, and lost many of them when the hookee ran into the omnipresent underwater stick pile. These twig and branch masses were everywhere. One of the pitfalls of fishing right after a big storm.

Today’s implements of destruction: A bead head version of the classic wet, the Grey Hackle Peacock, and the (Improved) Sofa Pillow.

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I held out on the cigar for as long as possible, but eventually the midges tipped the scales. Nonetheless, I declared victory as they scattered. Thank you, Romeo & Julieta Havoc Magnum. Besides, I managed to ignore work for the entire morning while catching wild trout. Clearly, that makes me the winner.

How does a stream stay cool in piss-stinking hot weather like today’s? Canopy. This photo was taken at high noon, yet virtually the entire stream is covered in shade. Nature finds a way.

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