Small Stream Color, or: A little something to get us through today’s gray

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. 

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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.

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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.

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“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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Notes from a small stream

Forget the calendar or the current warm spell — we are already in summer mode. That means low water, very spooky fish, and, I suspect, a large number of residents unwilling to show themselves. The water is still at mid-spring temperatures.

The canopy is full in, and does an exceptional job of keeping things cool.

Pricked close to ten fish, with none landed. All my risers were found in deeper and/or faster water, with an emphasis on “faster.”

Observed three nursery pools — shallow and slow — that held numerous young-of-year brookies. Looks like a strong Class of 2015 if they avoid the birds and survive the summer extremes.

The diversity of bug life never ceases to amaze me: midges, from tiny to size 12; golden stones (about a 16); caddis (size 18); and a few unIDed mayflies (about a 10).

Found a new brook on the way home and lost a pig (for a small stream) on my first cast. He was so twitterpated that he leapt twice after he spit the hook. I’ll see you again, pal, since I know where you live.

Let them be. Ugh. After the mild winter, it’s going to be a disaster season for poison ivy.

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See if you can find Señor Frog. (It’s not that hard.)

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An hour on a small stream

April is always a good time to visit a small stream. You can see how Mother Nature wrecked certain pools and improved others over the winter. And of course, you knock on some doors to see if anyone’s home.

Water was on the low side of medium, cool, and distilled spirits clear. Hatches: big Blue Quills, some smaller BWOs, and a few stray caddis and midges. I saw three fish rising to feed, which is rare for these conditions (mid-day, low water). I didn’t even try to catch them.

I have decided that one hour in the woods on a sunny spring day is an absolute good for the soul.

I cannot think of a jauntier, I-don’t-give-a-damn plant name than skunk cabbage. 

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Pricked four, landed one. Two were small, and one got off when the leader tangled on a submerged branch. This handsome specimen sat still long enough for a portrait.

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