Small stream report: foliage vs. Fontinalis fin

Time to go for a long walk in the woods with a stick and a string. The thin blue line was running medium high and cold. And the air temperature, which started out in the 30s, hadn’t climbed much higher by noon. I fished upstream with a bushy dry (size 14 Improved Sofa Pillow, up from a 16 to discourage hooking the younguns) and, in some of the deeper pools, dry/dropper (size 18 2x short SHBHPT). I pricked dozens, landed an honest 12 or so, and had my usual festive chuckles at their kamikaze antics.

At the turnaround point, I switched to subsurface, with the intent of running tungsten bead head micro buggers through the deeper recesses of select pools. White first. I felt a nip, then on the next cast saw what was for this brook a behemoth char follow the fly. I couldn’t get him to eat, so I switched over to black. (I like to fish black or white streamers when there are leaves in the water.) Another tug, but no commitment. Just when I had resolved to try something smaller, the fish hit for keeps. It was my best wild brookie of 2018, a handsome old buck that was no doubt the tribe elder in this sacred water.

After lunch, dessert: a JR Cuban Alternate Montecristo #2. Delicious.

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My prize refused to sit still for a formal portrait, so I had to settle for a shot in his temporary home.  Of course, it’s only my opinion, but these fins beat the pants of any peak foliage. I thought about how long this char has been alive — at nearly a foot long, a giant in this tiny brook — how many redds he’s fertilized, and how many of his progeny I’ve touched before. Then, back he went.

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Another back country brookie adventure

The cathedral was built at the end of the last ice age. As the glacier receded, it carved out the path of the stream and dotted its edges with granite boulders. Tens of thousands of years later, I came to worship at its altar.

In one of the Beatles’ Christmas records, John Lennon waxes romantic about the Elizabethan high wall. Here’s to the New England low wall. What was once farmland is now dense woods, and every once in a while you stumble across one of these gems, as if it were part of some random design plan.

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I’ve been fishing this stream for years, and in late May you can always count on a good hatch of yellow sallies. I spent 15 minutes sitting beside a pool watching the char rise in earnest to both midges and stoneflies.

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I started with a dry (Improved Sofa Pillow variant)/nymph (Frenchie variant) dropper and had interest in both. I switched out the nymph for a North Country spider, the Partridge and Orange, to which the answer was a resounding yes. White micro bugger, ICU Sculpin, Squirrel and Herl — they liked them all. Pricked dozens, landed a few less, and spent most of the morning giggling about it.

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I love how the brookies change their colors to match their environment. This guy came from a shallow, well-lit run with a light stone bottom…

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…while his cousin came from the depths of a plunge pool that may only see sunlight for a few days each year.

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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.