“Fly Fishing CT’s Small Streams” at the CFFA Expo, this Saturday Feb 4 at 12:45pm

The best little fly fishing show in New England is back! The CFFA Fly Fishing Expo returns this Saturday, February 4 from 9am-3pm. Same town (South Windsor), new venue (Nomads, 100 Bidwell Avenue). I’ll be tying flies on Tyers Row for a few hours, and then I’m doing a seminar, Fly Fishing Connecticut’s Small Streams, at 12:45pm. The seminar is included in your admission price of $3. Please come say hello, and let’s support this very cool little show.

Connecticut’s small streams are a wonderful resource. I’m going to talk about fishing them, and perhaps more importantly, preserving and protecting them.
Another weekend, another show. I just got back from Edison, which was fantastic, and I’ll tell you all about it in a future post.

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 anglers, take care: the spawn has begun

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.

Every small stream angler should know how to identify a redd, or spawning bed. Here’s a classic, can’t-miss-it redd: A dramatically lighter patch of gravelly stream bottom surrounded by darker substrate. There were a few fish milling about, but they scattered when I stood up to take this photo.

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.

Small Stream Report 10/6/22: Nature finds a way (and then some!)

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.

This was typical of the size of fish I was landing. I also had dozens of smaller char attack the fly, the vast majority of which did not result in a hookup. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll repeat: please try to limit the number of fish you photograph. The less time they spend out of the water, the better their chances for survival. It goes without saying that you’re wetting your hands and using barbless hooks, right? What precious gems, our beloved Fontinalis.
Life is mighty good when you’re taking a shot like this one. Another word of caution: we’re getting close to the spawn, so be on the lookout for redds. They’re fairly easy to spot, usually a lighter patch of gravel beside darker surroundings. If you notice a redd, make it your policy to stay out of the water, period. And of course, be a good sport and leave any fish on or near a redd alone to do their thing. Remember, the stocking truck isn’t coming back to replace what gets wiped out. Thank you for your consideration. 🙂

Small Stream Report: Nature finds a way, Part MMXXII

This is a very late report from last week. After a hot, dry, droughty summer like the one we experienced in 2022, I like to head to a few small streams to get a handle on how the natives fared. This trip was last Friday, well before this week’s much-needed soaking. As I suspected, the water level on this brook was on the low side of low. Much of it was unfishable. But there was plenty of good news.

The water temperature was bracing and cold, certainly colder than it ever was this summer, but this brook has many places for the char to go to escape the summer heat, even in low water. I saw dozens and dozens of fish, many of which looked to be young of year. I also found a few pods of bigger brook trout — nothing really huge, but in the 7-8″+ class. On an outing like this, I do get to do some fishing, but a lot of it is more inspection-oriented, with the intent of spooking fish. Often, with the water so low, the natives want nothing to do with the sight of you or your rod waving around. I got no interest of the dry fly, and pricked two with a weighted jig-type fly.

Then, yesterday after the rains, I visited a different stream. What a bounty! But you’ll have to wait a couple days for that report…

At a normal level, the flow should be covering the rocks you see center photo. This pool is usually good for a couple of hungry swipes; on this day it was a barren brookie wastleland. A reminder as we get near spawning time: be on the lookout for redds. Consider not wading into brooks at all. Redds are pretty easy to spot; usually a lighter area a foot or two in diameter against a darker gravel bed.

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.

New Seminar “Finding Small Stream Nirvana” debuts this Saturday at the Edison Fly Fishing Show

Small stream aficionados, rejoice! Have I got a seminar for you. Finding Small Stream Nirvana — Paradise on a Thin Blue Line doubles as a primer and an exploration into the nuances of small stream fly fishing. It’s loaded with real cool video, much of which I’m excited to share for the first time.

“Finding Small Stream Nirvana” makes its debut at the Edison Fly Fishing Show this Saturday, January 29, 9:45am in the Strike Room. We’ll save a seat for you.

Here are some more details: Fly fishing a small stream is possibly the closest an angler can get to touching fly fishing’s soul. Small streams are everywhere, from remote woodlands to hiding in plain sight in urban areas. In addition to gear, flies, tactics and strategies, I’ll also discuss how to discover your own small stream paradise. Finding Small Stream Nirvana will be eastern brook trout-centric, but will also cover non-natives like wild browns.

Here’s a little taste of the action. Don’t forget my Friday 1/28 seminar at 4:30pm Modern Wet Fly Strategies (also new!), my Featured Fly Tier demo (Spiders, Winged and Wingless Wets) Saturday at 12:30pm, and my class on Saturday at 2:00pm: Tying and Fishing Wet Flies with Steve Culton: Learn to tie and fish classic North Country spiders and other wet flies that trout can’t resist. The course also covers basics like leader construction, fly selection, where to fish wet flies, and how to fish them. Intermediate. The demo and Seminars are included in the price of your admission, but you need to register for the class. Click HERE for details and to register.

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.