The 2021 Last Blast: Going out small

I don’t remember when I started doing it, but at some point I got into the habit of fishing a small stream on New Year’s Eve day. There’s a lot I like about it, not the least of which is tradition. But to end the fishing year on a small stream seems romantic, poetic, and just generally good for the soul. It’s arguably fly fishing at its most innocent. Not every year has worked out — youth hockey tournaments have been a primary culprit — but I’ve managed to do it quite a bit.

This year I took a fishing buddy, Toby Lapinski. We hauled out into the deep, dark woods on a day that had no right to be the last few hours of December. We did a brisk brookie business (say that three times fast!) once we figured out where they were willing to eat. Add a celebratory pre-New Year’s cigar, and we sent 2021 off in fine form. Don’t forget to get your 2022 license!

Why is Toby bottom bouncing in one of my favorite dry fly pools? Because we devised a brilliant plan to find out what the fish wanted. Toby started with a tungsten bead-head micro Squirmy Worm thingy, while I fished a bushy dry/glass bead dropper. The char voted overwhelmingly for the bottom. Toby was nearing double-digit hookups before I even got a sniff on the dry. Even my tiny midge nymph dropper went largely unscathed. I do love making them come up, but with the water on the upper side of perfect and running very cold, I switched to running deep mode. And that simple move was the difference between fishing and catching.
Me being stubborn with the dry. Alas, ’twas not to be, although I did get one to latch on in this lovely little bit of water. I made what passes for a cast, then dangled and waked the fly while making a rough figure-8 with my rod tip. There’s an awful lot of green for the day before January 1! Tightest of lines to all of you in 2022. Photo by Toby Lapinski.

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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