Monday, October 30, 2017

Wild ones

A tiny tributary in healthy shape after
some recent rain
One of the many joys of small stream fishing is the fact that most fish in these small streams are wild fish.  While small headwater streams don’t hold large fish, the ability to observe the stunning beauty of these wild fish is the reason some of us are drawn to this endeavor.   This is especially true in the fall when the brook and brown trout begin to take on their characteristic pre-spawn coloration and the New England woodlands echos these changes with the distinctive yellows, oranges and reds of a hardwood forest in seasonal transition.

Recent rains were reminding me of the simple pleasure of small stream fishing in the fall and had me looking for an opportunity to get out again.  Visiting a favorite small stream, I was pleased to see that it was full and flowing at a level that reminded me more of spring than fall and I wondered if fishing a dry fly was the right choice.  Despite my doubts, I was content to fish a dry fly all morning long along the riffles and glides.  Several small yearling brook trout were interested in the elk hair caddis but nothing larger.

Approaching a stump along the stream's edge, I drifted the dry in a small seam just alongside the stump's edge and saw a nice brook trout rise to inspect the fly.  I generally don't see small stream brook trout refuse a fly, so I tried again trying to get more natural drift and again the fish rose, put's it's nose right under the fly, and then descended, disappearing once again into the cover that the stream bottom provided.  At this point I was convinced that a fly change was in order.  Looking through my box, I pulled out a small parachute Adams that I often fish in the fall and drifted it through the same seam.  The first drift failed to produce a response but the second brought the trout up from it's hiding spot and it took the Adams. After a brief battle, I was soon admiring the bright orange belly and dark throat of a gorgeous native brook trout.  

I continued to fish the Adams and found a few willing to take the dry fly, most however were willing to only take a swipe or two.  In the last run fished this particular morning, I also found a beautiful little wild brown.  I rarely find a wild brown as far upstream as I was, but it was a very fitting end to a fall morning out chasing wild trout and enjoying all the sights, sounds, and smells of a fall morning in New England. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

A couple mornings on the Yellow Breeches

I was back in PA the end of last week and early this week and had the opportunity to spend a couple hours on two mornings on the Yellow Breeches.  Last week, the recent rains had brought the river up a touch and it was off-color but not muddy.  The morning I was out there was a light rain but nothing too heavy.  I started out nymphing a soft-hackled pheasant tail that had worked well a couple of weeks earlier when the river was low and clear.  This particular morning the PT was not attracting any fish, I suspect because of the lower clarity of the river.  I figure something with a bright hot spot might be a better choice so I switched to a frenchie of about the same size with a pink ice-dub collar and stuck with that the rest of the morning. 

The first fish of the day was a gorgeous wild brown with beautiful golden belly and well defined red spots, red flair on the adipose fin and bright red rays in the tail, all indicative of a stream-born brown.  Unfortunately in my desire to keep the fish in the water, it managed to take off before I could get a picture.  I found another downstream but it slipped the hook right before the net.  While I stuck with the frenchie as the point fly of the two nymph rig I like to use, I did experiment with various droppers.  I was convinced that a caddis puppa in the right size and color would interest a fish or two but regardless of the dropper, all the fish took the frenchie.  The odd thing with the Breeches is that I can't remember ever catching anything on a dropper where at home in NE I catch almost half of the fish brought to the net on the smaller dropper.
Look at all the spots on the lower jaw and belly

For a couple hours the browns seemed to be the most active but I did catch a couple of colorful rainbows similar to those I found on the last trip.  In fact, I am certain that the first rainbow of the day was one I had caught back in mid-September.  It was sitting in the exactly where I found it previously, right up against a sycamore tree. 

I was a little concerned whether I would be able to stay dry since I had left my rain jacket at home but the rain was fairly light and the gray overcast drizzly morning was delightful in the way the gray drizzly mornings often are.

Then this week, I explored another section of the Yellow Breeches.  The river was clearer than I was expecting.  The frenchie was not working in the greater water clarity so switched on a more natural caddis and zebra midge.  I did manage a couple of stocked browns and one beast of a fall fish.  There were sporadic rises all around me making me wonder how I would have done fishing a small olive dry fly.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Indian Summer days

I spent a recent afternoon out enjoying the Indian summer weather we've been experiencing.  It's been a pretty dry fall so far and the rivers are low but remaining cool. With the lower water, I took the opportunity to explore some sections of the river that are normally not accessible to wading under normal conditions thinking that fish might have moved into runs with a decent flow and some depth.  Approaching the first promising run, it took about three drifts before the first brown was in the net.

Somebody is watching
As I was bring the fish to the net, I noticed that I was being watched.  Not wanted to be tangling with hungry heron, I quickly released the brown into some deeper water nearby and moved on.  I spent the rest of the afternoon picking my way among the boulder strewn stream bed with only a couple of taps to show for my efforts.  After working my way back, I decided to move to a run/pool that I haven't fished since last fall to see what the evening would bring.

Late in the afternoon, I noticed some subtle rises in the tail of a long riffle.  I had seen some olives appearing as the clouds began to dominate the sky.  After experimenting with the best position in which to get a decent drift among the conflicting currents, the #22 olive CDC emerger drew the first strike but I only managed to briefly hook the fish.  This pattern repeated itself twice more before the subtle dimpled rises ceased.  Then what I believe were little yellow quill spinners (Leucrocuta hebe) started appearing in number over the water surface and fish began rising again.  As I've seen before the fish were actually taking the spinners in the air rather than off the water's surface and it can be a very frustrating experience and this evening was no different.  I did managed to fool one brown with a small comparadun but that was it.  I tried every pale spinner, parachute and comparadun I had with me but nothing drew any interest. So I've spent the last couple days doing a little research to figure out what I was seeing and collecting some ideas to go back to the tying bench.

The one brown that was willing to take a comparadun

Monday, October 2, 2017

September on the Yellow Breeches

I was visiting my youngest at college a couple weeks ago and had a couple hours in the afternoon to fish a little bit along the Yellow Breeches.  Having fished mostly New England freestone streams it's always an interesting experience to fish a limestone stream in PA. While I grew up in PA and started fishing there as a young boy, I don't recall fishing any limestone streams as a boy.  My first limestone experience was last fall visiting my daughter in her first year at college.  One of the first things I noticed on the few limestone streams I've fished is the stream bottom which is mostly very fine gravel and what appears to be ground up shells.  The boulders and pocket water typical of a freestone stream are replaced with a gentle but steady current bank to bank with little pocket water to speak of.  Sometimes the fish will be holding in the gentlest of depressions in the bottom often in the gravel channels between weed growth.  With each visit, new observations are made and experience grows.

Yellow Breeches wild brown
For whatever reason, the fish I catch in the Yellow Breeches take a bead head pheasant tail soft hackle even though this stream is loaded with caddis.  Last spring I was amazed at the number of caddis cases I was finding along the river bottom.  One particular spot where a nice current runs up along the roots of an old sycamore tree I've managed to find a fish or two each time I've fished this particular section.  This afternoon it seemed no one was home until I put the pheasant tail on point and used a zebra midge as the dropper and ran the flies a little closer to the roots.  I was pleased to find a pretty little wild brown.  I love finding these wild browns wherever I fish as they signal healthy rivers able sustain trout.  I was reasonably sure there was a large fish around those roots somewhere soI tried to put the flies as close tree as I could and I saw a nice rainbow take the pheasant tail inches from the where the tree met the water.

I messed around with various droppers over the course of a couple hours but it really didn't matter as all the fish took the pheasant tail.  Once I re-familiarized myself with paying closer attention to the smaller depressions I was able to bring to net a handful of nice rainbows.  One couldn't but notice how red their flanks had gotten and how dark these fish were across the back.  Have a look for yourself and feel free to comment if you think this is a strain of rainbows common to PA or whether these fish might be unique to the Yellow Breeches.  I will say that all the fish had well developed, rose colored fins that isn't typical of the stocked fish I usually see.

Notice the dark wide red stripe and how the red continues all the way down to the belly of this rainbow

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

September in the Adriondacks

Signs of fall are all around
A couple weeks ago we had the chance to spend a couple days up in the Adirondacks.  The mountains were starting to show signs of the approaching fall and despite the wet spring and summer this past fall has been reasonably dry in the mountains.

The mountains are especially quiet and beautiful in September which seems to heighten the sense of remoteness that one feels in the less traveled parts of the Adirondack Park.  The families that vacation in the mountains in the summer are back to their regular routines and those who like to observe the fall foliage are still planning their travels.  My wife and I enjoyed some fantastic weather for hiking and I fished a familiar small stream and did a little prospecting on a new stream.

So clear that you can see the High Peaks in the distance (looking NE)
A typically colored brook trout from a tanin-stained
Adirondack brook
I have always wondered whether a particular small stream held brook trout but finally got a chance check it out. The stream had a nice flow of tanin-stained water with some deeper runs and pools that looked very promising.  I found one deep, long pool with a nice flow of water at the head which probably would hold fish in the spring but on a clear September day the fish were likely tucked under a bank somewhere.  I didn't spend a long time exploring but after drifting the Royal Wulff through a couple of promising areas, I did confirm that the stream is worth exploring further.  It is always nice to see another stream where these native fish are still holding strong.

Adirondack Reflections

The next day, I fished a familiar stream and found fish willing to chase a foam ant, Royal Wulff, or Ausable Bomber.  The fly didn't really matter much.  The fish seemed to be hiding under the rocks along the banks.  Most of the brook trout that were willing to show themselves were of the smaller variety but I did see more than a  few dark shadows scurrying for cover in the low, clear water of early fall.  It was fun to watch the brook trout dart from under a rock or bank to intercept a fly working it's way along the current.

Even though our visit was brief I was so thankful to have the opportunity to enjoy the mountains at this wonderful time of year.  Our final day in the mountains we decided to hike early and enjoy the view below before heading home.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Back to fishing

The first brown of the evening
I have been out a couple times in the last few weeks taking advantage of the pre-fall like weather in both the Adirondacks and in southern New England.  This is one of my favorite times of year for both fishing and hiking.  So for a change of pace, I decided to head up to the Houstatonic river and see how it was fishing. I arrived late afternoon with hopes of casting dry flies large and small to rising fish.  It took a while to get going but fish started rising as the afternoon turned toward evening.  I did manage to observe one fish that was rising in the same general location so I settled in to figure out what this particular fish was feeding on.  After drifting the isonychia emerger several times right over where I had observed the rises, I downsized to small olive dries and wets and went down in tippet size to 6x but still failed to attract any interest.  At this point in the evening there were a good number of summer steno spinners hovering over the water.  This is a scenerio I had seen before so I switched to a #16 pale parachute and got a decent drift and the fish was on it!  It turned out to be a very healthy brown in excellent condition with all the fins intact, possibly a hold-over.  I stuck with the parachute but didn't see any more rises but I did have a fish slam the parachute as I was pulling it back in to make another cast.  It felt like a decent sized fish and it hit the fly so hard that it broke the fly off.

I rested for a while and observed, searching for other fish rising in the area.  Upstream a bit there was a father and daughter fishing over a group of steadily rising fish so I moved below them to watch and see if there were any fish that were outside of the area they were working, not wanting to crowd them.  Both he and his daughter had caught a few fish, and I think the young lady may have caught here first trout on a dry fly, judging from her Dad's excitement while she was bringing it to the net.  I just love seeing Dad's out with their children!  The rises had become more subtle which sometimes indicates that the fish are taking spinners so I switched to a #16 pale spinner and picked up a few more nice browns and a couple of rainbows.

The highlight of the evening was when I overheard the father say to his daughter, "one more fly change and I'm done".  He was clearly getting frustrated trying to figure out what the fish were sipping.  I asked him if he had any #16 pale spinners and offered him one if he didn't.  He said he had some spinners and within a few casts he had a beast of a brown on the line.  He was able to get it to net with the help of his daughter and it was a pleasure to watch them take a few pictures, release the fish, and then head back to there car satisfied to have had a nice evening on the river together.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thanks to the Farmington River Anglers Association

Just a quick thank you to the Farmington River Anglers Association and Grady Allen for the invitation to speak last night about the Adirondacks and it's brook trout.

It was great meeting some new folks and I enjoyed the good discussion that followed.  If you are interested in me speaking to your group you can reach out to me via email.