“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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A Back-Country Brookie Adventure

Due to the prolonged drought, I have been keeping my distance from my precious small streams. But, my patience extends only so far. So with the recent cooler weather, I decided to head out. As expected, the water was low, clear, and cold. I find that in lower flows, topwater flies are the best producers. Of course, you can find subsurface action in the deeper plunge pools, but the vast majority of my action came on dries: Elk Hair Caddis, Improved Sofa Pillow, Ausable Bombers, etc.

I pricked dozens and landed quite a few. Most of the fish were smaller (<5″) but there were a few more substantial char in the mix. Even though the summer was dry and hot, nature finds a way. In one small, glassy pool I call “The Incubator,” I witnessed a burgeoning population of young-of-year brook trout. My guess is that thousands of generations have come of age there — something wondrous to ponder while you’re sitting streamside blowing smoke rings from your Aging Room corona gorda.

Some days I’m in full camera geek mode, actively seeking out shots. Other days, like this one, I’m far less motivated. Still, when incidental magic occurs, you take advantage. I had just squatted down into position at the head of a run when I looked down at the rock at my feet. From the chaos of falling leaves comes order. Have a nice day.

Have a nice day

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One of the best fish of the day, probably 7″-8″, about to make a dash for the depths. He took an Ausable Bomber.

Brookie on the bottom

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Dark char. I am fascinated by how brookies change colors to match their surroundings. On one limestone stream I fish, the fish have a lighter background cast to their flanks. This guy came from a deeply shaded pool. His head is almost black.

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Paul was out hiking and shooting, and asked if I wouldn’t mind posing for him. I found fish on the dry from the head of the plunge to the submerged rock halfway down the run. Surprisingly nothing subsurface. It’s a gorgeous shot, even if the model doesn’t quite reach the level of the beauty of his surroundings.

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Skunk cabbage, brookies, and…snow?

Just when you you thought it was OK to go outside without a jacket, Mother Nature throws a day like today at you. Well, I had my heavy fleece on when I stepped into the woods and headed toward yon brook trout stream. But snow? Geez, I knew it was cold (41 degree air temp at 9:30am). I guess I was emotionally unprepared for frozen water to be falling from the sky.

The stream was up, running clear, and warmer than the air. No hatch activity save for one lonely caddis witnessed on the hike out. I don’t know what to make of this stream. In two hours, I pricked ten, landed one. I fished dry upstream and wet downstream. The significance of that is that I drew only two strikes subsurface. I would have expected more action below.

This leads me to several possible conclusions:

1) This stream is continuing the downward trend it has exhibited over the last few years.

2) That cold front last night sucked the life out of the bite.

3) I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.

I can say with certainty that are are far worse ways to spend a morning than wandering along a thin blue line with a fly rod in your hand.

Amidst the dreary browns and greys of winter, wondrous chlorophyl makes a statement.

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Holding the first native of the year in your hands — then releasing her — is always a special occasion. She took the dry, a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow.

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