Small Stream Report: Dog Day Afternoon

I noticed as I was driving through my neighborhood that every dog owner seemed to be out with rover for walkies. Same deal in the other residential areas I passed through. Who could blame them? With the sun cheerfully sharing its warmth, it felt more like early April than late February. But would the fishing be for the dogs?

My original intention was to throw streamers on the Farmington. Time and space got in the way, so a quick shot to a local brook was the new plan. The water was high, clear, and very cold — I’d guess upper 30s. Any snow and shelf ice had long since made its way to the Connecticut River or maybe even Long Island Sound. The trout were still holding in their winter lies. I fished a bushy dry/dropper and a couple micro streamers. Pricked five, landed three, and all of them came on the subsurface fare. (This tells me that while we may be dreaming of spring, the char are still in winter mode.)

A fine example of local folk art. This handsome native took an ICU Sculpin that was swung and then jigged through a deep plunge pool.

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There are two ways to look at this mess. Both are emotional: Thanks, Mother Nature, for totally cocking up this neat little section of water. Or, what a great place for brookies to hang out! I feel that come spring, the intrepid angler who can figure out how to drift a bushy dry into this wooded Gordian Knot will be richly rewarded.

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Small streams on the brain

Last week I visited three local small streams, partially because I could; partially because the weather didn’t suck; partially because I was curious to see if anyone wanted to play; but mostly because I just plain love small streams.

I began Wednesday afternoon at Stream A. The air temp was just about freezing, and there was still a solid white shelf of ice framing this woodland brook. Didn’t see any bugs, and the action was slow. No love on a bushy dry/nymph dropper, so I switched over to an ICU Sculpin. I was jigging the fly in a plunge pool when I felt some weight. The next thing I saw was an open mouth rising from the depths. And then the char was gone. That was enough to keep me smiling, though.

Remnants from the last ice age. This stuff should pretty much be gone by the middle of this week. However, I’d still expect the water temperatures to be very cold.

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Streams B and C are in more urbanized locations. They’re not for everyone, especially if you desire the unspoiled by humans angling backdrop. So while they lack the classic beauty of the high-gradient mountain brook or lilting meadow stream, they are, nonetheless, charming in a “cool, I hooked a section of heater hose” kind of way. I went Friday, and I thought that with the heavy cloud cover and late afternoon timing, I might get an offer to buy with my white mini bugger sales pitch. Nothing doing. Although I did have a rather tasty cigar.

So much depends 
upon 
 
a brown tree 
trunk
 
glazed with rain
water
 
beside the white 
insulation.

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Cold Encounters of the Small Stream Kind

I went for a walk in the woods yesterday. The thin blue line had turned mostly white, as had the forest floor. Here are a few photos from the outing.

Stuff like this beats the tar out of any store-bought Christmas tree — real or plastic.

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The story on the brook was very little fishable water. Somewhere below ice and froth there are brook trout. Sadly, I couldn’t find any that wanted to play.

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With temperatures in the teens, line and leader and fly froze the moment they hit the air. A hike through the snow pack and a Nestor Miranda Habano corona Gorda (and many layers and hand warmers) kept me nice and cozy.

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“Upstream, Downstream, Small Stream” by Steve Culton from American Angler

“Upstream, Downstream, Small Stream” first appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of American Angler. The article’s subhead sums it up nicely: “What’s the best tactical approach on a high-gradient mountain stream? Let the brookies be your guide.” I wrote this piece after I became fascinated with how receptive — or unreceptive — wild brook trout were to my offerings, depending on how I was fishing. Many thanks to American Angler for allowing me to share it on currentseams. I’m trying something different this time: Instead of the article text and photos, it’s a pdf link.

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Is there a best way to catch fish like this? Yes. No. Maybe. Read the article and you’ll see what I mean.

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Small Stream Report: We’ve got bugs

Yesterday seemed like far too fine a day to spend shackled to my laptop. Priorities in order, I headed for a thin blue line in the northwest hills.

Glory, what a good decision. The sun was warm, the water cool, and the smoke from my Rocky Patel Special Reserve Sun Grown Maduro robusto danced around the budding branches. Lots of bug activity: the rocks were coated with little black stones (16-18), and I saw caddis (16), midges (tiny) and two large un-IDed mayflies (Blue Quill?) locked in a fervent mating embrace. Water was an excellent height and running clear.

You can still find snow in the woods, albeit in isolated patches.

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Inclement weather has a tendency to place branches and even entire trees in rather inconvenient locations. So I spent a few minutes doing some in-stream flora removal where needed. Here are my rules-of-thumb: if it’s living, it doesn’t get touched, no matter how badly it cocks up a pool. If it’s dead and in the water, and provides cover or generates seams and oxygenation, it doesn’t get touched. Anything else is fair game.

Pricked a bunch, mostly on the 2x short size 18 nymph dropper, and landed a half-dozen. I did see one fish rising to something small in a long, flat pool. I couldn’t hook him, even on a size 20 Bivisible. Due to the bright sun, most of the fish were holding deep or near structure. This lean, mean fighting machine grabbed the nymph.

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Finally, a reminder that any small stream that’s not a Class 1 WTMA is now closed until 6:00am second Saturday in April. I know, it doesn’t make any sense, but we’re stuck with it.

Pre-storm small stream and thanks, EJTU

Busy day yesterday at currentseams. We started at 10:30am on a small stream. In terms of snow and ice, the northwest part of the state is very different from the central, particularly in the woods and the ravines carved out by small streams. I was truly surprised by the amount of white stuff.

Intricately laced ice shelves lined the edge of the stream. I took this photo first thing before I started fishing. As I was packing up the camera, I happened to look down into the shallow riffle you see here. Not six feet away, a good sized brookie was taking nymphs and emergers, maneuvering laterally in the current to pick off each tasty morsel. Wild trout are usually super-spooky, but obviously the feeding instinct overcame the flight reflex.

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Water temp was low 30s, air temp 40s and climbing. That made for an ethereal sunlit fog effect. There were some decent sized (16-18) midges, and the trout were eager to feed despite the near-freezing water that was entering the system. I saw several brookies hanging out in sunlit shallows, where the water was no doubt warmer. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The fishing was good, and surprisingly, so was the catching. (The cigar was swell, too, a Nat Sherman Explorer maduro gifted to me last month at the TVTU meeting.) I presented a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow dry with a 2x short size 18 Frenchie variant dropped off the hook bend. I pricked a dozen or so and probably landed 2/3 of them. They were fairly split among the two flies. This one liked the nymph.

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All good things must end. Or should I say, end one good thing, then begin another?  Off I went to New Jersey for my Farmington River presentation to the EJTU chapter. We had a sizable crowd, a good energy, and some excellent post-presentation questions. Thanks so much for having me.

And a final shout out to Zinburger. Spicy green chili fries, an El Diablo burger, and a yummy glass of zin made for a most excellent pre-game meal. We need a Zinburger in the Hartford area!

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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