The Return of the New Year’s Eve Brookie Adventure

There was a time when I’d visit a small stream every New Year’s Eve. That fell apart when Gordo started going to hockey tournaments within the same time frame. But there’s no hockey right now, and no better time to re-start the tradition. So on December 31st, off I went to ye olde char emporium. I wasn’t sure what I’d find, what with this year’s severe drought (another thing to thank you for, 2020!). This stream has also fallen on hard times in the last ten years — improved public access and corresponding overfishing have robbed it of its off-the-beaten-path charm, if not its previous viability. Still, nature finds a way. On the hike in, I spooked two brookies that were holding in current at the head of a smooth glide. One was certainly of breeding size, and even though the spawn is over, I decided to leave them alone.

Today I was more interested in census taking than hooking up. I used an oversized bushy dry in the hopes that anything smaller wouldn’t be able to get its mouth around it. Besides the two I observed earlier, I hooked another two at various points along the brook. No pictures were taken, as I wanted to make their ordeal as seamless as possible. Picture parr-marked jewels with impressionistic Van Gogh dots and the vibrant contrast of the fontinalis fin, and you have the proper image. I’m sure there were other residents holding deep in some of the classic winter lies I encountered, but I didn’t bother trying to jig them up.

I’ll see you in the spring, old friend.

This run wasn’t always a labyrinth. The trees came down during one of the big storms a few years back, creating a tantalizing series of pools and hidey-holes that surely house multiple brook trout. The puzzle is, how do you get the fly to them without spooking the entire run? Traditional casting is of course out of the question. (Landing them will also be a challenge. We’ll deal with that when it happens.) I’ve been working on the answers for a couple years now. No one home today, but I’ll be ready April.

Alone in the woods, contemplating my next move between cigar puffs. An E.P. Carrillio La Historia E-III was the final cigar of 2020. Not a bad way to go.

You are Cleared for Small Stream Takeoff

A few months ago I asked that you suspend fishing on Connecticut’s small streams until the drought was remedied and the spawn was complete. Check on both boxes. With a favorable amount of water for two months, the locals that survived the harsh summer conditions have had a chance to recover, fool around, and now prepare to hunker down for the winter. I have two requests (I know, I ask a lot) if you must fish small streams. First, try to stay out of the water as much as possible. The thought behind this is that you don’t want to walk over a redd and destroy the next generation before they’ve had a chance to hatch. Two, consider using a bushy dry with the hook point removed, or an over-sized dry that the little guys can’t get their mouth around. It’s nice to hold a small wild char in your hands and release it, but truly, isn’t the fun really derived just from fooling a fish? I appreciate your consideration. Tight lines, be safe, and be well.

The stark beauty of a small stream in winter. Please respect the brook and its residents. We all thank you.

If you love fishing small streams, now’s the time to prove it.

Mid-to-late September is traditionally the time I like to revisit my favorite thin blue lines to reacquaint myself with the wild things that live there. But not this year. Connecticut is in drought conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme. Many brooks have been reduced to a trickle; in some cases, entire sections have gone dry.

While I’m fond of the expression, “nature finds a way” — and it always does — now is not the time to be fishing small streams. Hopefully the fish have survived the heat and dry of summer by hunkering down under a cut bank or in a deep slot or a spring house. It’s been harsh conditions for months now, and the last thing they need is to have the life sucked out of them by doing battle with us. (And the spawn is coming, as if that weren’t stressful enough.) Don’t be fooled by cooler air and water temperatures or one rainstorm — these fish are in survival mode.

So please — if you really love small streams and the trout and char that live in them — put the small stream rods and the bushy flies away until flows get back to normal. Thank you.

It’s all bad news. This is already a week old. And the statewide streamflow table is even worse.

Small Stream Report 6/4/20: the natives aren’t restless

I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon knocking on the doors of two favorite brooks. Conditions were similar on both thin blue lines: low water, clear water (thankfully still cold) and bright mid-day sunshine that kept the bite off. Still, a dozen-plus were pricked and a handful landed. All the bite activity came in the deeper plunges, runs, and cutbanks. Given the low water, I decided a downstream approach was best.  (For more on small stream approaches, please read my article “Upstream, Downstream, Small Stream.”)

Bugs were bountiful. One of these streams sees a good number of yellow sallies this time of year, so I fished a size 16 Partridge and Yellow dropped off my bushy dry. It definitely got the attention of the char. Also seen: caddis, midges all sizes, sulphurs, and a few large spinners (March Browns?). 

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I love how nature makes something out of nothing. No soil? No problem. We’ll just make a fertile bed on this boulder out of leaf compost and moss and lichens and let the ferns do their thing.

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It was no surprise that the best char of the day came from one of the deeper pools, and took a subsurface fly, in this case a black micro-bugger. Given the size of the brook, this buck could be considered a giant.

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Small Stream Report: Social distancing at its finest

I’m busy. Like, in the weeds busy. Writing, garden/yard projects, filling fly orders, content for this site, planning Zoom events…the list goes on. But every once in a while, you have to say screw responsibility. Yesterday was that day. So I loaded up the Jeep and drove many, many miles, far, far away, and enjoyed a thin blue line all by myself. Water was clear, cold, and high. Fished a dry/dropper to start, and it was all dropper. Once the sun came out and warmed things up, I had a few swipes at the dry. Micro streamers produced in the deeper plunges, as did heavily weighted wets. Non-biting midges were out in force. A couple of cigars took care of them. Pricked dozens, landed a bunch, drove home tired and happy.

(With apologies to Julie Andrews): Fiberglass blanks that flex down right to the grip. Silica powder that floats flies like a ship. Honduran puros gauged 52 ring. These are a few of my favorite things.

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Small Stream Report: The natives aren’t restless

Thursday was small stream fishing day. March isn’t exactly the wheelhouse for a small stream — there’s no canopy, the water is typically up and cold, and the wild brookies haven’t moved out of their winter lies — but Cam and I went for no other reason than to enjoy the woods and pretend we were many miles from civilization.

As I suspected, the action was painfully slow. We rose and landed one char all day. Yet, what better way to feel alive than to be out on a thin blue line and be so warm you’ve got to start removing layers?

Given the conditions, we decided stealth was in order. Here’s Cam doing a little commando fishing. We started off with bushy size 14 dries; after those went unmolested, I added a tiny nymph dropper to my rig. Still no love, so tied on an ICU Sculpin for Cam to jig in some deeper plunges. That’s what he’s doing here. 

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We saw a decent number of bugs: omnipresent midges, and a few small (size 18) tan caddis. But the brookies remained hunkered down. Finally, as we were bushwhacking out, I invoked the “One More Cast” Rule. The slashing strike came out of nowhere. After a few more rises on a waking presentation, I decided a size 14 Stimulator was too big. On went a size 16 Humpy, and the next cast produced this fine buck.

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Thanks to the Gov for opening the season early!

A civilized outing at the private fishing club

Being an internationally famous fly fishing personality (or not — but let’s go with the former for the sake of the story) gets me all kinds of cool invites. Yesterday I took advantage of the opportunity to fish some private club-owned waters.

It’s a challenging stream at this time of year, with no canopy, low flows, clear water, and brilliant sunshine. The stream wanders through the woods, mostly longer flat runs and shallows, but pockmarked with intriguing bends, riffles, deep dark holes, and plunges. It’s on the large side of small, or the small side of medium, depending on your point-of-view.

The fishing today was tough. I fished a dry/dropper and streamers. One bump on an olive Squirrel and Herl, and one nose bump on the dry, but I was finally able to connect with a hefty rainbow on spider dropper. My host, John R, managed three. Many thanks for a glorious day on this gorgeous piece of water.

My catch has a great fish story. See that pile of rocks to the right? I had made a cast into the center of the pool from the back side of the pile, and was crawling forward a few feet to get into a better position to manage my drift. When I looked up, my dry fly was gone. So I set the hook, and to my delight found a fat rainbow attached to the North Country spider dropper. Painfully slow currents and mirror-like surfaces made the fishing a triple black diamond challenge.

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Here’s my host John doing battle in the same spot. Many thanks for the invite, kind sir. And if you, dear reader, have issued a similar invitation, I plan to take you up on it — this is simply the one that worked best for me on this day. I appreciate all the offers!

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They’re called classics for a reason. Once again, Our Lady of the Blessed Snipe and Purple did not fail me. Funny thing! On a day where hatches were at a bare-bones minimum, I saw a little black stone, size 18, crawling on my waders moments after I took this photo.

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Small Stream Report: This never gets old

Our time together was all too brief. Really, I’ve got to do a better job of planning. Because a mountain brook loaded with native char is not a place to rush one’s self.

The day was overcast and cool — like so many others this spring. Bug activity was minimal. But the brookies were open for business. They ate my bushy dry, North Country spider, and micro streamers with equal fervor. The cigar was a Rocky Patel The Edge corona gorda, and it was a good as the fishing. I made the promise of “three more casts” three times. Depressingly, I followed through on the final declaration.

Sometimes being responsible sucks.

Even brook trout like the fontinalis fin. The old timers used to cut the fins off and use them for bait. This one remained on the fish, and he’s swimming around in the same pool I caught him in as you read this.

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I found a long run that held a few occasionally rising fish. I couldn’t see what was coming off, but I tied on a size 14 Winter Brown North Country spider and swung it along the length of the pool. I took several brookies, then prospected some deep plunges with weighted mini buggers and ICU Sculpins. This was my last char of the day. A perfect fish.

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Farmy Photo Shoot and a Mini Small Stream Outing

Out to the Farmington today to take some scenics for my upcoming feature in Eastern Fly Fishing. As you might have imagined, the warm weather brought out anglers in force; it seemed like every major pool or run had a rod probing its depths. Didn’t see any fish hooked. Wished I was fishing. But I had decided to visit a small stream after my photography work was done.

Not surprisingly, much of it was unfishable. Part of this brook flows through a hollow, and the sun had yet to work its melting magic.

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I did find some relatively open water. Not a touch for me today; again, no surprise, probably due to snow melt which tends to drop that water temp. Here’s a helpful small stream hint: sometimes I purposefully cast my line or leader over a rock to hang up the fly in the current. The waking fly is particularly attractive to kamikaze wild trout. I try to make sure the fly is holding over a likely lie. In this case, I was fishing a dry/dropper — this is a great tactic for a submerged soft hackle. You can see the leader going over the left third of the rock; the fly is at 10 o’clock.

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Best of 2018 #7: Every small stream outing

I’m a count-your-blessings kind of guy, and to be able to fish for wild native char on a secluded woodland stream is certainly at the top of the tally sheet. There’s something both poetic and romantic about catching a fish whose direct ancestors lived in the same waters for tens of thousands of years.

Even in winter. A dark horse from February.

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200 years ago this was a farmer’s property line.

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Biggest small stream brookie of the year, taken on a micro bugger in deep plunge pool. An old fish who made it through flood, drought, and bitter cold, I didn’t even take him out of the net for a beauty shot.

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