Small Stream Report: First foot instead of last blast

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 first fish of any year is noteworthy, even more so when it’s a stunning display of nature’s paint box. Taken on a size 14 Improved Sofa Pillow.
When I was a kid, I ruefully wondered why tropical fish had all the cool colors. Cut to 55 years later when I now know better. Since fish like this aren’t ever getting replaced by the stocking truck, it bears repeating: barbless hooks only; keep photos to a minimum (I landed dozens and took shots of only three); make sure your hands are wet; keep fish in the water in your net until ready to shoot; never expose fish to air for more than a few seconds; and never lay a fish down on rocks/gravel/leaves/grass. Thank you. (Photo by Toby Lapinski)
Small stream fly fishing for native trout may be fly fishing in its purest form. (Photo by Toby Lapinski)
Halo, I love you (again). Besides pulchritude, this fish is noteworthy because its thinness indicates a spawned out fish — and therefore a redd may be nearby. It’s a good idea to limit walking within the stream bed from mid fall to mid spring; the last thing anyone wants to do is tread on a redd and make all those future brookies dead. (Yes, I know it.) (Photo by Toby Lapinski)

Small Stream Report 12/6/22: Very disappointing

Lest you think I’m the kind of angler who can just show up on a river and conjure up fish, let me assure you that is not the case. We all put our waders on one leg at a time, and although I managed to do that quite handily, the rest of the outing didn’t go nearly as well.

The conditions were more than swell, in the upper 40s and overcast with the brook at a fine medium height and crystal clear clarity. I had four hours to work with, so I could take my time between covering water and switching up flies and methods. My cigar, a Montecristo 1935 Anniversary torpedo, was a delight. But this is the part of the story where things begin to go south.

My casts were constantly in the trees and bushes. F-bombs were dropped, oaths spat, curses invoked. Some of it was due to a longer than normal dry/dropper leader, but mostly it was a combination of operator error, bad luck, and ill-placed flora by Mother Nature. Hatch activity was minimal, which did not help. And the char that wanted to engage were few and far between. I did dry/dropper, jigged on the bottom, streamers — blanks all around, save for one half-hearted swipe at the surface bug. Worse, I could seem to find any residents longer than 3-4″. This concerned me, as I had no action in any of the deeper plunges, which is where you’d expect the larger brookies to be hanging out this time of year. I finally found one larger fish, but it was more interested in nosing the fly than eating it.

The main source of my disappointment is this: every time I think this brook is primed to make a comeback, it fails to meet expectations. It used to be infested with brook trout. Over the last 15 years it has experienced a dramatic decline in numbers. I saw dozens of char in here in late September. Where did they all go? Did they finally succumb to the drought? Were they in such weakened state that the spawn did them in? Poachers? Environmental factors (two major droughts in three years)?

I’ll keep going back until nature can’t find a way.

Where did everybody go?

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.