A few days ago, on a small stream…

As we bid farewell to March and say hello to April, I’d like to personally thank the CT DEEP for eliminating the closed season trout fishing rule. The old reg made it illegal to fish for wild trout in non-WTMA streams from March 1 though Opening Day. Enough with that nonsense! And let’s go fishing.

Since I had no previous experience fishing the day’s mark this time of year, I was curious about might be happening. As I mentioned in my last post, this not winter/not spring netherworld can be a tricky period. My random conditions drawing got me a low-side-of-medium, crystal clear flow; a mix of sun and clouds; and temperatures that struggle to get into the low 40s. I did see a few stray midges, but nothing that could be considered a proper hatch.

Spring must be close. Always a comforting sight, the skunk cabbage are popping everywhere, a clue that warmer days will soon be upon us.

The method was bushy dry/tiny bead head nymph dropper and the jigged micro streamer/nymph. If it was a deeper plunge, I did the latter. Everything else got the dry/dropper. I was pleased to find a wild char in a mark that has disappointed me no end. It’s really fishy, with plenty of cover and a big boulder that borders a deeper slot. The fish hit the dropper, but there was no hook set. Much farther upstream , I also had some repeated swipes at the dry, but again no hook set. Tug-tug-tug!!! Someone in a roiling plunge really wanted the jiggy thingy, and — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — there was, again, a failure to seal the deal.

I wish I could tell you that it turned on at some point, but those three touches were all I could manage. I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed. I suspect further research will need to be conducted this month.

But that’s not where the story ends.

I decided to drive to another mark, the place where I caught Alan last month. (Yes, I’m weird enough that I name fish. Sometimes I name them after real people, like Alan. Other times they’re just fictional , like Gus in this story.) I wasn’t sure if I was hoping for a Hail Mary or just didn’t want to end the session. I drifted the dry dropper through some deeper plunges and runs, then walked upstream.

And there it was. The place where I’d caught Alan. I spent a few minutes observing its wonderfulness. It’s at the head of a longer run. There’s a good, small cut bank with an overhanging tree that will one day fall into the brook. A deep cut runs parallel to the cut bank, and it’s evident why this a prime mark for an alpha fish: cover, current, and the head of the cafeteria line.

This time it took only one cast. The dry vanished from the surface, and when I raised the rod tip I could see that the nymph had been the target. It was a good brookie, and I immediately assumed it was Alan. Into the net, camera readied, shot taken, release completed.

It wasn’t until I got home and saw the photos that I realized that this wasn’t Alan. Wonderful thing, unique spotting! I’ve dubbed this guy “Alan’s Brother.” It all makes sense now. When I was taking this shot, I was thinking that I’d over-estimated Alan’s size. This was certainly an exceptional char for this size brook, but I remembered Alan being bigger. So, it’s good news all around: there’s more than one big old brookie in this town. I hope they made lots of whoopee last fall.

Small Stream Report 2/22/22: Fishing with BRK TRT

I hadn’t yet gone fishing this year, and Tuesday was going to be the day. I’d already made the decision to make it a small stream. But as I was checking emails and other social media that morning, I was shocked to learn that Alan Petrucci had passed away.

You may have known Alan from his license plate, BRK TRT. Or perhaps you’ve enjoyed his blog, Small Stream Reflections, or have seen him elsewhere online (he was a currentseams follower and made frequent comments on my small stream posts). Perhaps you were lucky enough to have fished with him. For me, there was a certain sort of symmetry in fishing a small stream; it would be the perfect way to honor Alan and work through the sorrow. Especially since I’d planned to fish a stream that we’d discussed dozens of times over the years. Yes. Today, I would go fishing with BRK TRT.

It was always easy to determine if Alan was fishing nearby. I took this photo along the Farmington River one fall many years ago.

I should make it clear that Alan and I weren’t fishing buddies. We didn’t hang out. Our common ground was a passion for small streams and wild brook trout. I first met him — albeit digitally — when he was a member of the now defunct Flyaddict Forums. We quickly established a rapport, and corresponded via email and the phone over the years to discuss all things thin blue lines. We even traded flies at one point. I still have some of his in my small stream box.

The trip started poorly. I forgot my yellow polaroid glasses, and on my walk back to my Jeep to get my spare pair, I tripped in the woods and bashed my knee against a rock. (When stuff like this happens, I’m always tempted to ask, “What else can go wrong?” But I usually don’t, mostly because I don’t want to know the answer.) There was still snow on the ground in this neck of the woods, not to mention a decent amount of ice clinging to rocks and other obstructions. The sky was overcast, about 44 degrees, and I was happy I brought my fingerless gloves.

Despite the lengthening daylight and warmer temps, winter still has a firm grasp on the brook.

I’d already decided that the outing wouldn’t be about catching fish, and not just because February is a tough month on a small stream. I figured I’d selectively use the dry/dropper (in this case the dropper was a size 18 Frenchie variant), then try jigging and bottom bouncing a small ICU Sculpin in the deeper runs and plunges. I wasn’t happy about the depth I was getting, so I added a BB shot to the leader about 10 inches from the fly. That seemed to work; as soon as I made the adjustment, I felt a sharp tug as I was drifting through a boiling plunge. Given the demonstrative hit, I was surprised there was no hook set.

I also spent some time paying attention to the the little changes the stream had gone through over the winter. Brooks like this one are constantly evolving; channels shift, trees fall in, obstructions washed into the system create natural dams, and so on. I also took the time to remove deadfall that served no purpose other than to mess up my drifts. My general rule of thumb is: If it’s alive, it doesn’t get touched. If it’s dead and is small and provides no cover/creates no significant current break/is not being used by a living creature, it can go.

And of course, I was there to fish with Alan. I’m not embarrassed to tell you I had more than one discussion with him, aloud. It felt good to be out in the woods and fishing and talking to him.

I blanked the entire length of the stream until the last pool. I’d gone back to the dry/dropper, and while it was chugging through a spirited run, the dry disappeared. The char wasn’t big, nor was it noteworthy for its colors, but I felt like this was a gift from Alan. I accepted it fully and eagerly, a proper ending to this solemn day.

But it’s funny, sometimes, how these things turn out. Because I suddenly decided to fish a stretch of the brook that I hadn’t fished in at least a decade. It was less than a five minute drive, so I kept my waders on. Since I was running out of time, I made another decision to double-time it to a section with easier access. I’m really unfamiliar with this stretch, but I thought I’d give the dry/dropper a sail through some of the deeper runs. I chose a pool with a very sexy cut bank beneath a leaning tree. It’s the kind of mark that just screams “fish here,” and yet how many times do you find no one home? The first drift was a blank. Ditto the second. On the third, the dry disappeared.

Right away I could tell it was a good fish. If it were the Farmington River I’d consider it a smaller trout, but on this stream it was a giant. I desperately wanted to land it, because I felt like this was the fish I was supposed to get, and somehow Alan was involved, and I didn’t want to let him down. Just as I’m lifting the fish toward the net, my rod tip and line got tangled in some branches. Really? The fishing gods can be so cruel. But in the end, the char was netted. Funny thing! It was the biggest brookie, by far, that I’ve ever caught on this stream.

Thank you, Alan. And so long, old friend. Tight lines on thin blue lines forever.

I didn’t measure it, but this was easily double-digit inches, a monster for a brook you can leap across. I was struck — as I often am — by the blue halos and the vibrant contrast of the spotting. What do you think, BRK TRT?

New Seminar “Finding Small Stream Nirvana” debuts this Saturday at the Edison Fly Fishing Show

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.

“Finding Small Stream Nirvana” makes its debut at the Edison Fly Fishing Show this Saturday, January 29, 9:45am in the Strike Room. We’ll save a seat for you.

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.

The 2021 Last Blast: Going out small

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!

Why is Toby bottom bouncing in one of my favorite dry fly pools? Because we devised a brilliant plan to find out what the fish wanted. Toby started with a tungsten bead-head micro Squirmy Worm thingy, while I fished a bushy dry/glass bead dropper. The char voted overwhelmingly for the bottom. Toby was nearing double-digit hookups before I even got a sniff on the dry. Even my tiny midge nymph dropper went largely unscathed. I do love making them come up, but with the water on the upper side of perfect and running very cold, I switched to running deep mode. And that simple move was the difference between fishing and catching.
Me being stubborn with the dry. Alas, ’twas not to be, although I did get one to latch on in this lovely little bit of water. I made what passes for a cast, then dangled and waked the fly while making a rough figure-8 with my rod tip. There’s an awful lot of green for the day before January 1! Tightest of lines to all of you in 2022. Photo by Toby Lapinski.

Small Stream Report 12/9/21: Speaking of wild trout…

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.

Hiking through the snowy woods will generate some body heat, but my extremities were cold for much of the outing. The scene was even prettier than I’d imagined, and although the action was slow, I knew I’d made the right decision. I was also hoping to shoot some footage for a small stream presentation I’m currently building — and I was pleased to come away with a few good shots. As I suspected, the fish have moved off the spawning beds and into their winter lies. Which brings us to this logjam hole. Now, doesn’t this mark scream ambush point? You’ve got a pooling of water, cover, current, and structure. The logjam is recent — maybe two or three years old — and although I hit it every time I’m here I’ve never caught anything. Not even a courtesy swipe. I’m trying hard not be bitter, but come on. Really?
Make ’em come up! I started out dedicated to the dry fly cause, but as the minutes ticked by, I began to suspect that deep was the way to go. I tried jigging some tungsten bead-head soft hackles in the deeper plunges and runs, but no joy. Then I decided to go with a dry/dropper setup. The dropper was a G-R Blue Bead Midge. I was drifting the rig down a slow seam when the dry simply disappeared from the surface. The take was so subtle, I was a little late on the set. I needn’t have worried — the char was a good one and the barbless hook was impaled in its upper jaw. This was my only fish of the day; I had a smaller fish twice bump the dry a few hundred yards downstream but there was no tug forthcoming.

CT DEEP’s new Wild Trout Management Plan

Last month, the Fisheries Division of the CT DEEP announced a new draft action plan for wild trout conservation. They recently held two online presentations with the opportunity for public comment, but you can still review the draft plan and tell them what you think. (For the record, I said that while I was all in favor of wild trout conservation and management, DEEP must be cautious about over-publicizing wild fish and revealing specific locations, especially those that aren’t currently “on the books.” It only takes one motivated poacher — or excess angling pressure — to irreparably damage or wipe out a stream.)

It’s no secret that wild, native char populations are under stress not only in Connecticut, but throughout the northeast. Climate change, pollution, angling pressure — the usual suspects are omnipresent. Wild trout and char need all the help they can get. Here’s to hoping that the CT DEEP does everything right.

As The Traveling Wilburys so eloquently sang, “handle me with care.”

Small stream report and observations

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.

Micro Wigglies work — here’s proof. But I’ve been very disappointed by the generally poor reception the brookies have given them. Micro Wigglies are almost useless in high water, and even in low water need to be stripped to induce a strike. If you’re committed to the dry fly cause, it’s hard to go wrong with a big, bushy dry. What’s “big?” If I’m not necessarily interested in hooking sub-4″ fish, 14 is as small as I’ll go. Of course, you de-barb your hooks, limit photos, and only handle wild fish with wet hands. It goes without saying (but I’ll do it anyway) that you should never lay a fish down on rocks or dry leaves or sand for a photo. This may be self-evident, but the better dry fly days are the ones when the water is lower rather than higher.
Using roll and bow-and-arrow casts helps you avoid annoyances like this. My rule of thumb for awkwardly-placed-by-nature streamside vegetation is: If it’s living, I never remove it. If it’s dead, it must not be visibly supporting life (spider webs, for example) or creating good natural structure/cover for the subsurface residents. So, if it’s a spindly twig that got knocked into the river last wind storm, and it keeps eating your streamer, feel free to toss that sucker.
Dry flies are a hoot on a small stream — make ’em come up! — but the bigger fish are usually taken subsurface. I marvel at how curious these char are about any intruder in their underwater world. You can feel them bumping the fly moments after it hits the water. What is it? Food? Not food? Threat? Don’t mess with those teeth! I

Small stream report 10/5/21: workin’ hard, playin’ hard

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 like the metallic look of the gill plate. I like the blue halos. I like the specificity of the lateral line. Ah, screw it. I LOVE this fish.

Small Stream 9/16/21: low, steamy, lots of small fish

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.)

A sea of green in the deep, dark, damp woods.

Farmington River Report 8/1/21: Let’s be careful with those water temps

In a normal summer, August water temps are not an issue on a tailwater like the Farmington. When you get into an extended heat/drought matrix, it’s easy to see how water temperatures can get dangerously high for trout. Less obvious is our current situation. As a result of blowing so much water out of the reservoir — July was the third wettest month on record — the lake is now less temperature stratified. What’s coming out of the bottom isn’t in the upper 50s, but rather in the mid-60s. The issue becomes one of day and night-time air temperatures, and sunshine. Lower and lesser is better. The one current saving grace is that there is still a lot of water moving through the system, and more water means it’s harder to heat up. (Yesterday was 540cfs in the Permanent TMA, and 610cfs in Unionville.)

So, please try to use common sense. Check water temps before fishing, and pick and choose your locations (closer to the dam is better) and times (morning is best, cloudy days, and after the sun goes behind the hills also works) — not to mention your tippet and landing strategies. With that in mind, I was curious about both water temperatures and trout vitality. I fished a mark below the Permanent TMA for an hour yesterday, late afternoon. The water temp was below 70. It was a fast-moving, riffly/pocket water section that was sure to be highly oxygenated. I was fishing a team of three wets with Maxima Ultragreen 4#, which is strong enough to quickly land any Farmington River trout. Finally, I resolved to strip in anything I hooked fast. I stuck four fish and landed two. The two I landed were brought to net in under 15 seconds. They both looked and behaved like very healthy fish, with no signs of stress.

This was a surprise. Given the conditions, I debated the merits of taking a photo, but I can tell you this with certainty: the char was landed in 10 seconds, kept within the net in moving, oxygenated water, then removed for 3 seconds for the photo. All we can do is our best.