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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I really felt that I should go to the Farmington River and throw streamers. There was snow on the ground, courtesy of the previous night’s cold front dusting, and it was just around freezing. The trout would be holding deep, but they might not mind moving for the right protein payoff. What’s more, in my mind I could feel the dull thud of streamer hook point meeting kype, and the thought was gaining traction.
But, no. I’d also been picturing this lovely snow-covered woodland with a thin almost-black line snaking its way through. Here the char would also likely be deep, but I might find a player who wanted to come up for a dry. Cigar smoke drifting though the bare tree limbs, not another person in sight, gentle murmur of water flowing over rock…yes. This was where I was meant to be.
I’ve been focusing on small streams this month, partly to scratch an itch and partly to shoot video content for the new small stream presentation I’m building. Small streams are cool because they’re like any bigger river or ocean: weather changes, water levels (or tides) rise and fall, water clarity and temperatures fluctuate — you never know what you’re going to get until you get there. Here are few photos along with some things I’ve noticed that might help you on your next small stream adventure.
A bit of a busman’s holiday for me yesterday as I had a busy day shooting video on a small stream. This is one of those places where there’s no easy way to get there (both driving and walking). Plus it sucks to spend so much time setting up shots that end up being unusable. But whoa! Listen to me kvetch. What a lucky man I am to have such an office. There’s a certain beauty on display in the deep woods after a rain, hills shrouded in fog, water droplets collecting on leaves, rivulets rushing down hillsides. The water was up a tad from the rain, but running clear and cold and the char were open for business. I did well with bushy dries and mini tungsten head buggers. (I’m still a little bitter that they were indifferent to my micro Wigglies.) The better fish came on streamers — no surprises there. I guess I’ll have to go back next week to get all those shots I missed…
I’m currently building a new small stream presentation. That requires photos and video, and there’s only one way to get those. So off I went to Ye Olde Brook Trout emporium. The stream was running medium-low, crystal clear, and there were some leaves, but not enough to keep the char from slashing and crashing a bushy dry. I was happy with the footage I shot, but — darn — I need some more. God, I really love my job.
Just a quick report on a lovely small stream. I fished from noon to 2:30pm, not the best time of day, but since there was canopy and cloud cover I didn’t sweat it. That is, until I began hiking thought the woods. It wasn’t a particularly hot day, but I was drenched by the time I reached my starting point, and it wasn’t from rain. The brook was lower than I’d anticipated, but that just meant that most of the players were going to be found in the plunges and darker, moving-water sections. I committed to the dry fly cause, and I had more action than I did the last time I fished this stream back in the spring. The final tally was 10 pricked, 1 landed, and most of the fish were in the sub-4″ class. (I will purposely fish a larger dry so the little fish don’t get hooked or stressed. I’m all about the joy of fooling them.)
My newest article, “Everything You Need To Know About Fly Fishing in Small Streams” is now live in the Fishing section of the Field & Stream website. This primer will help you get geared up, review basic flies, tell you how to find viable water (no spot burning!) and cover fundamental small stream tactics. I’ll ask you all to do me (and the resource) a favor: Please go barbless, keep photos to a minimum, and keep those precious wild fish wet. Thank you, and thanks for reading.