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.
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.
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.
Snuck out for a couple hours the other day on Ye Olde Brook Trout Emporium. The catching was a bit on the slow side, but the fishing was tremendous. At last! Freedom! I took them on the dry (size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow) and the wet (size 20 Snipe and Purple) dropper. Water was 56 degrees and medium low. Bugs everywhere: midges, some large dark un-IDed mayfly spinners (mahogany duns?), caddis, and my first confirmed sulphur sightings of 2017.
Sky of blue, sea of green. The canopy is filling in, and the wooded wetlands are in their glory.
While I was disappointed in the number of fish that wanted to play, I did see more actively feeding char on this stream — especially in slower, deeper water — than ever before. Those that were coming up for the naturals were also quite willing to inspect my dry, even though it was substantially larger than what was hatching. This fellow pounced when the opportunity presented itself. You can see the beginnings of a kype.
Ray Bergman, you magnificent bastard, I read your book! This brookie was quietly sipping, forming delicate rise rings in some glassy water. I approached from upstream, made a long cast, and got him on the wet dropper by raising the rod tip and doing a hand-twist retrieve. By far the hardest hit of the day.
The original plan was to throw streamers in the murky waters of the Farmington. But the river wasn’t high or dirty enough for my liking. Still, needs must fish. What better option than the outgoing tide on a small stream? None, as it turns out.
Conditions were perfect: 68 degree air temperature, water at a medium-high level after the rains and running clear and cool (58 degrees). Oh, the bugs! Yes, indeed. There were the usual suspects, like caddis and midges and mosquitoes. But how about size 16 sulphurs? Size 14-16 golden stones? Heck, let’s throw in some mongo golden stones (size 4-6?) into the mix — I’ve never seen those on this stream. And some egg-laden mahogany dun spinners, size 16.
The brook fished very well. I pricked dozens of fish, many of them in pools where I haven’t caught anything in years. Mostly brookies, but three wild browns in the mix. All on the upstream dry (elk hair caddis and Stimulators).
After the draconian winter of 2014-2015, how comforting it is to have nature reaffirm that she will always find a way.
Intriguing markings on this hen.
Another hen, this one of the Salmo trutta persuasion. Best hit of the day. She all but slaughtered the fly. You’ll have to bear with me on the substandard photography. I lost my good camera, and my backup had issues today. I hope to have the situation rectified in a few weeks.
Last night I presented The Eastern Brook Trout: New England’s Wild Native to the Hammonasset Chapter of TU. The group really came though in the clutch, locating an extension cord and power strip (must get those for future gigs) for me, and then — this is where it gets good — serving up some delicious pulled pork sandwiches. I really enjoyed meeting everyone and talking fishing and fly tying.
That reminds me: Time for a wild brook trout outing.
Gordon: How much farther is the river?
Me: Not too far. It’s not really a river. It’s small, so we call it a stream or a brook.
Me: Stop for a minute. What do you hear?
Gordon: The brook?
Me: The brook.
Gordon: It’s coming from down there.
Gordon: The water is cold.
Me: Yes. Do you know why?
Gordon: I don’t know.
Me: Well, is the brook in the open sun?
Gordon: No, it’s in the dark woods.
Gordon: I don’t think I can jump over to that rock.
Me: I think you can. It’s OK if you get your feet a little wet.
Gordon: It was shallow. I only got a little wet.
Me: Look how flat and glassy that water is in that pool up there.
Gordon: Can we go up there?
Me: Do you remember what “the cafeteria line” is?
Gordon: Where that white stuff is on top of the water.
Me: The foam.
Me: Where did we hook all our fish today? In fast water or in the slow water?
Gordon: In the fast water.
Me: Are you hungry”
Me: I think we should get a burger at Five Guys. What do you think?
Gordon: I think that’s a good idea, daddy.
Gordon (no relation to Theodore) patiently presenting his dry fly over a pool. We didn’t bring any brookies to net today, but we pricked five. Not bad for one hour in the middle of a sunny day in July.
I picked a cool, grey day last week to visit a stream in another state nearly three hours from my house. The water appeared to be on the low side of medium, and the brookies were looking up. While the subsurface downstream wet was effective — particularly in deeper pools and runs — the dry was eagerly and wantonly attacked by the local natives. I started off with a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow, then switched over to a size 14 Ginger Elk Hair Caddis. On the way down, I used a black mini bugger and an ICU Sculpin. The cigar of the day was a Sancho Panza Belicoso. Delicious! Here are a few mementos from my adventure.
Contrary to popular belief, sometimes it is easy being green.
This was a highly productive set of pools. I am always intrigued by the number of fish that can occupy any given area. Population density here was impressive.
I often get to the point where I wonder,”how many photos of wild brook trout do I really need to take?” So I’ll try to ruthlessly edit my potential subject material. It needs to be a fish that stands out from the crowd in some way, whether its size, color, spirit, etc. What caught my eye on this particular fish was the clarity of its lateral line.
More of those “nature finds a way” plants that insist on proving that a boulder is a fine place to work and live.
The point of release. Playing around here with a slower shutter speed. I like the static distortion of the water near head and tail. Big pectoral fins for a char that size.
A bit of a late start this morning. At 10:15am I was making haste into the woods through a phalanx of poison ivy. It was already sweltering, even below the canopy. Midges swarmed me. But I only had one cigar, a short robusto, and it would have to wait. The game plan was upstream dry, then downstream wet. In addition to the aforementioned midges, there were little black stones, some creamy mayflies, and (always) regrettably, mosquitos. Summer can’t be far off, for the sulphus had also made an appearance; I saw two spinners captured in spider webs. While the air was steamy, the brook was cool 61 degrees and running at an ideal height.
Never eat anything bigger than your head. This little guy made seven attempts at the fly before succeeding on the eighth.
Today’s dry was a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow, and after a slow start, the brookies began to show themselves in earnest. Pricked far more than I landed, but that was just fine with me. Mostly smaller fish in the mix, although I did land a titan of a wild brown. As usual, there were a few runs were I had no takes on the dry that left me scratching my head. I made note of those pools for the return trip. Halfway up the stream, I decided my patience with the nuisance gnats was at an end. Wonderful thing, a cigar. You introduce its tip to flame, and the entire universe of winged insects ignores you.
Why a small piece of fluorescent green chenille tied to a hook works so well on a small stream. Dozens of these dangling from trees everywhere.
On the way back downstream, I didn’t do as well subsurface as I thought I would. But I still managed to get into plenty of char. Three hours was about all I had in my tank (today’s word should have been “hydration”) so I called it at 1:15pm. A shower beckoned. Besides, I needed to try out that poison ivy soap my wife put in my stocking last Christmas.
This breathtaking wild brown absolutely hammered the dry. She was so powerful she momentarily put herself on the reel, peeling off a foot of line into the bargain.
The sulphur hatch has started. This spinner was still squirming in the web when I walked by.
I spent a good chunk of time yesterday planting hydrangeas, amending the soil, taking out all manner of rocks and pebbles so my shrubs would have a nice home. What a kick in the groin to find plants growing green and strong on top of boulders. This gives new meaning to the phrase “rock garden.” Once again, nature finds a way.
No shaky hands. (Last year there were so many people at my wet fly demo — I had never tied before such a crowd — that my hands were shaking for the first couple hours. I am pleased to report that we’re past that.) But plenty of hand shaking. Thanks to everyone who came out to watch, ask questions, and chat. And thanks the Compleat Angler for hosting me. If you’re anywhere near Fairfield County, the Compleat Angler is a terrific fly shop. Lots of good stuff.
Two of the flies I tied, the bead head Grey Hackle Peacock and the Improved Sofa Pillow.
I have not disappeared (like this brown is about to).
I’ve been on a little vacation. Even starving writers occasionally get to go somewhere warm and breezy in the middle of winter. Yes, I managed a little fishing. Yes, there will be a story. But for now, these three items:
On Wednesday night, February 26, I will be presenting “Wet Flies 101” to the Narragansett Trout Unlimited chapter. You can get directions from their website (tu225.org).
Saturday, March 1, I will be at The Compleat Angler in Darien, CT, from 10am-2pm to present a tying demo, “Flies for Small Streams.” I will be covering wets, nymphs, dries, and streamers, along with tactics and presentations. Directions at compleatangleronline.com.
Last but not least, I just finished an article for American Angler on matching the hatch with wet flies. It will be in the spring trout issue.
As always, thanks for reading.