Small stream report: hiding in plain sight

I had the pleasure of fishing with Toby Lapinski earlier this week and even though it’s that time of year, our quarry was not striped bass, but rather small wild trout and char. This brook was new to me, so I was stoked to be on undiscovered waters. The stream is overgrown with briars and saplings, to say nothing of the broken limbs and downed trees that seemed to be everywhere. It had riffles, glides, plunges — a nifty combination for a brook that is in some places small enough to jump across. (That’s, of course, if I could get a running start. And not be wearing waders. And be 20 years younger.) Funny thing! I’ve driven past this brook hundreds of times and never knew it was there.

I was hoping these schools of fry in the sunlit shallows were YOY browns or brookies. But no. They’re black nosed dace YOY, maybe a couple centimeters long. Did you know that some scientists think that the eastern BND spread after the last ice age from a single colony in present-day Connecticut?
Not a bad bit of camo. You get the sense of the wildness of the place. I’d estimate the water to have been medium-high — remember, this was my first time here — which is a good spring flow, but we had bright sunshine and no canopy working against us. We saw midges, and there was also a decent hatch of small (16-18) tan caddis. Some of the sexiest runs and holes were surprising blanks, like this one. There’s always next time. Photo by Toby Lapinski.
Toby captured the largest fish of the outing, this vibrant char. We both fished a dry/dropper, and while Toby had some takes on the dry, all of my action came on the dropper, which was 2x short size 18 BHPT. I also tried some micro streamers, but had no takers. I highly recommend a dry/dropper setup on a new stream. It’s the fastest way to find out what the fish want. Photo by Toby Lapinski.
Small stream wild browns like this are fearsome fighters. It’s almost like playing a minute smallmouth bass. I pricked several more little browns on the tiny dropper nymph.

Me and Cam and a couple of brookies

Three hours in the woods is good for the soul, especially if it involves a thin blue line and fishing with one of your sons. In early spring the woods hold so much promise. The buds look ready to burst, the skunk cabbage pips are poking through the swampy sections of forest floor, and if you’re lucky you can be fishing in shirt sleeves. I prefer these tiny woodland wonders when there’s canopy, but I’m always curious about what the day will bring regardless of conditions. We both fished bushy dries, save for a few exploratory plunges with an ICU Sculpin. We didn’t find many players, but those we did attacked the fly with fervor. (All photos by Cam Culton save for the one of him fishing.)

We paid a lot of attention to the white water and its borders around the plunge pools, but what was lurking beneath didn’t feel like coming up. Areas like this one are usually money once the warmer weather arrives.
Contemplating my best approach to this logjam of a pool over an Olive Serie V Melanio.
We saw a fish rising in the tailout of pool. Turns out the brookie was holding a few feet upstream near a submerged tree limb and opportunistically falling back to feed. She took my fly on the first drift. To be able to cradle such a treasure and then release her…this just never gets old. Our outing was a mid-to-late afternoon jaunt, and while there was no significant bug activity we did witness sz 14 caddis, midges and what I can only guess were some tiny olives. We pricked about a half dozen fish; this was the only one brought to hand.
Young man at work. We found a player in a small run who slashed at the fly maybe a dozen times over the course of 15 minutes. (Part of that time was spend sitting stream side, resting the pool. Not a bad way to spend five minutes.) We switched out the big bushy dry for a smaller Yellow Humpy, but even thought the char was a decent size for this brook, we couldn’t get the hook to stick. We tried a Snipe and Purple, and finally the ICU Sculpin, then tipped our hat to the fish and began the long hike out of the woods.

Late February notes from a small stream

Last week I made the decision to fish a small stream. My logic was sound. First, I had no interest in dealing with what would surely be a crowded Farmington River. Second, due to some arcane fishing regulations, I wouldn’t be able to fish this brook until early April. Finally, and perhaps most of all, I wanted to see what was going on. Here’s what I found out.

Up solitude! Not another angler for miles. My introvert shone through.

What a workout — no need to do a treadmill cardio session later. I had not planned (foolish on my part) for shin deep virgin snow. I was perspiring gallons after a hundred yards of snow/bushwhacking.

On days like this one (upper 30s, bright sun) you never know what you’re going to get. With all the snowpack, there was certainly going to be a significant melting event. Would that influx of cold water kill the bite? It’s happened before. On this day, sunshine held the trump card. I saw midges and small stoneflies everywhere, and even witnessed char taking emergers in the film.

Lesson re-learned: be careful where you walk. Shelf ice, of course, is never to be trusted. But also be wary of snow pack that hides dangers like this. A step on solid footing, then one through the snow and into the void. Thankfully, no damage, but (if you’ll pardon the expression) you get my drift.

In 90 minutes, I pricked six fish. A few of them were repeat offenders who could not get their mouth around the hook. After a couple of attempts, I let them be. For me, it’s all about fooling the fish.

Since my goal was searching (rather than catching), I stayed with a bushy dry the entire time. I was very surprised at the number of customers. The fish have started to wander from their winter lies, and I did my best business in shallower glides and riffles. Of course, that makes sense given the method — you wouldn’t expect to draw dry fly strikes from fish hanging on the bottom of deeper pools. But 60 days ago those fish were not even present in the shallower water.

Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom, Feb. 9, 8pm: Small Stream Fly Fishing

Small streams and wild trout are a passion, so tomorrow night I’ll be talking about thin blue lines and the exquisite gems that live in them. If you haven’t been getting the Zoom links — I send them out Tuesday late afternoon — please check your spam box. See you Tuesday night!

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.

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 B Comes Through; Big Stripers Continue Their No-Show

I wrote about my first springtime small stream outing last week. It was at a brook that has been on a bit of a slide in terms of numbers, and this disappointing trend continued. Small Stream B, however, continues to go great guns. I fished it for 75 minutes, first time this spring, and I pricked dozens. Fished a bushy dry on top and a size 14 Stewart’s Black Spider dropper for most of the trip, and the char went nuts for the dry despite the elevated water levels. Did a little micro streamer action, too, which is always fun. Bravo, Mother Nature!

Most of the action came topside, but this lovely gem fell victim to Stewart’s Black Spider.

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If you’re looking for a new way to have some fun on a small stream, try a micro Zoo Cougar. I usually tie these on size 2-6 streamer hooks, but I believe this is a 14. Chuck it or drift it (the deer hair head keeps it on the surface) down the pool, then make some drunken, frantic strips back. The fly will wake and dive and drive the brookies absolutely out of their minds. Color is probably insignificant.

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Now to the stripers. You’ve heard me say that every year is different, and with 2018 and 2019 goes the proof. Whereas last year was off-the-charts good for big bass, this year is not-so-much. I spent some time late last night greased line swinging a proven run that was dead as Julius Caesar. (Sigh.) Well, persistence will hopefully pay off.

Small stream report: (heavy sigh)

Though it may be far from the ocean, the life cycle of a woodland brook is filled with waves and troughs. Sadly, the stream I fished yesterday is in a bit of a trough.

Everything should have been in the favor of multiple dozens of pricked fish: ample water since last summer, a moderate winter, canopy coming in, and a cloudy day. I think I stuck a piddly half dozen. Fished a dry/dropper system and some micro streamers, so I had the water column pretty well covered. Many of the runs and pockets where I could always count on a player or two (or more) were curiously devoid of fish. I did my “Anyone Home?” stomp (where I tramp carelessly through the water in hopes of spooking fish so I can determine their presence) in several runs and rousted…nothing.

OK, so it was cold and there was very little hatch activity. Nonetheless, it was a disappointing outing, and this former gem has been trending downward for over a decade now. Glutton for punishment that I am, I’ll revisit it later this month.

Sea of green. I’ve decided that the smell of skunk around your house is annoying. But in the woods, it is welcome and proper and lets you know that everything is as it should be.

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