That’s all the time I had. But there’s a certain comfort in having a time limit. It forces you to keep moving. To spend more time with your flies in the water. And if you feels the pangs of regret over pools not covered and fish not caught, there’s always next time.
It was a lovely, sunny afternoon, albeit with a slight chill in the air. The water was perfect: dropping after the weekend’s downpours, just a tinge of color, nice and cold. There were the ubiquitous midges, BWOs sz 14-16, and some caddis. I fished with a dry/dropper and a small tungsten bead jig. Although I had a few slashes (and one landed) on the dry, the natives showed a clear preference for the jig. I had great success in deeper, darker holes, and along shaded cutbanks.
Zip it. Hush. Shaddup. Small streams and wild trout are a finite resource — and more pressure is usually a very bad thing. So for goodness’ sake, never post stream names and locations on social media. Never take photos that clearly identify your location. (Picture this scenario: you make a video and post it on YouTube. The brook is clearly identifiable. Someone sees it and comments on how beautiful the place is. Someone else comments, “I know where that is!” Someone 1 reaches out to Someone 2, and the location is revealed. Someone 2 likes to share locations with his friends, and the cascade begins. Don’t laugh — I’ve seen it happen.)
And if someone asks, you can always use my line: “I won’t even tell my mother where I fish.”
We continue “Wild Trout/Small Stream Week” on currentseams with a deep dive into the archives. Stalking Wild Trout on Connecticut’s Small Streams was one of the first articles I wrote for myself. That is, not for a specific publisher or editor, but for my own personal use. Although it’s nearly 20 years old, and some of the information is out of date, the piece remains worthy. And I’m guessing that many of you newer subscribers have yet to see it. In case you missed the link above, you can find the article here.
If you love and value wild fish — especially native fish — you have a responsibility to preserve and protect the resource. Yes, fishing is a blood sport. Yes, no matter how careful we are, some of what we catch may perish. But there are ways to dramatically minimize loss. And there are certainly ways to ensure the next angler has the opportunity to enjoy the stream as much as you.
So, I’m declaring this “Wild Trout/Small Stream Week” on currentseams.com. As you know, small stream fishing is an experience that is sacred to me. My goal this week is to educate and inform as much as possible. And this wonderful essay by a Pennsylvania angler named “Fly Tier Mike” is a good place to start. In The Responsibilites of Chasing Wild Trout, Mike outlines four best practices for those who fish for wild trout on small streams: Proper wading techniques (staying off of redds); proper fish handling; minimizing damage while taking photos/videos; and the pitfalls of social media that can lead to over-pressuring a stream.
Anyone who fishes for wild trout should read it, if only as a refresher. Thanks for your consideration.
Having not gone fishing for weeks, I sought the cure for my ills in a small stream outing this past Wednesday. I was going to visit an old favorite, but instead I decided check out a new section of stream that I’d never fished before. So, armed with my camera and pack and rod and cigar, I had at it. While the fishing was great, the catching was non-existent. So thought you might be interested in how I approached some of the water.
Let’s start here. Why was the fishing so poor? It could have been any or all of these: a cold front approaching; far cooler temperatures than the previous week; trout not yet spread out in the system; complete lack of hatch activity or visible feeding; low, clear, spooky water; or just nobody home. (Sometimes when I ‘m fishing new water for the first time, I’ll stand up and make dramatic movements in an attempt to spook fish I might have missed. In two hours, I rousted only one 3″ char.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Mid-to-late September is traditionally the time I like to revisit my favorite thin blue lines to reacquaint myself with the wild things that live there. But not this year. Connecticut is in drought conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme. Many brooks have been reduced to a trickle; in some cases, entire sections have gone dry.
While I’m fond of the expression, “nature finds a way” — and it always does — now is not the time to be fishing small streams. Hopefully the fish have survived the heat and dry of summer by hunkering down under a cut bank or in a deep slot or a spring house. It’s been harsh conditions for months now, and the last thing they need is to have the life sucked out of them by doing battle with us. (And the spawn is coming, as if that weren’t stressful enough.) Don’t be fooled by cooler air and water temperatures or one rainstorm — these fish are in survival mode.
So please — if you really love small streams and the trout and char that live in them — put the small stream rods and the bushy flies away until flows get back to normal. Thank you.
It’s all bad news. This is already a week old. And the statewide streamflow table is even worse.