Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Spring in the Shenandoahs


Dark Hollow Falls
One of my favorite National Parks is the Shenandoah National Park.  It is within a day’s drive from home along the Skyline Drive, one of the most scenic drives anywhere in the East.  The Drive offers access to many trail heads which lead down into hollows where high gradient mountain streams offer home to a southern strain of eastern brook trout.  When I first visited the park last spring, I fell in love with this rugged Appalachian landscape.  Here the forest is filled with deciduous trees rather than the hemlock and pine of more northern forests but the brook trout native to these waters are strikingly beautiful but distinct from their northern cousins.

My daughter and I started dreaming of and planning for a camping trip together in these mountains since last fall and this spring we were able work out our schedules to make it a reality.   The plan was for me to arrive in the park for a couple days of fishing and camping on my own before joining her for a couple days of camping and hiking together.  


I arrived on my first day in the park around mid afternoon.  The day was clear and a bit on the cool side (mid 50’s) with just enough time for a quick descent on the Rose River trail to fish the plunges back up to the trail headOn the descent down the trail the air was filled with what appeared to be small olive spinners, although I didn’t notice any rises.  I chose to start with my "go-to" rig for this type of water,  a Royal Wulff/green caddis pupa dry-dropper combination.  The Royal Wulff was getting most of the attention so I removed the dropper and just fished the dry.  You better be ready and on your game if you want your hook-up rate to be north of 50% because these fish are lighting quick.  The trip back up the trail was one I won't soon forget, as the low sun light filtered down through the hollow filling the air with a golden glow while the forest floor was alive with the colors of wild geraniums, bluets, and golden ragwort.  


 
Golden ragwort



Around 4am next morning, I was awakened by the sound of a steady rain falling on the tent. The air was cool (mid 40's most of the day) and a thick fog had settled over the mountains.  Rather than cook out in the rain, I decided to have breakfast in the historic Big Meadows Lodge.  The Big Meadows Lodge is a wonderful, historic lodge that was built in 1939 from local Massanutten mountain stone and native wormy chestnut by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  After reading for a bit in the lodge’s great room, I was ready to get the rain gear on and get out and enjoy the almost dream-like landscape.


White Oak Canyon; the boulder is about 25' tall

I chose to hike down the White Oak Canyon trail and then fish back up to the trail head.  The fog was so thick that visibility out on the Skyline Drive was no more than about 50-75’.   As I hiked down the trail, I was keeping an eye on the water running parallel with the lower part of the trail looking for a stretch of water to start to fishing back up the canyon.  The trail down was wide and mostly free of slippery rocks which was a good choice considering the rain.  The stream was about 15 ft wide on average and the water up and slightly off-color.  This stream was a bit larger than some of the other Shenandoah streams I’ve fished and while I prefer to fish in hiking boots, wading would be an excellent option for this water.  I put on the dry dropper rig that I had used the previous day and ended up switching the caddis pupa for a bead-head pheasant tail soft hackle which accounted for fish as did the Royal Wulff.  This canyon is littered with massive oaks that have blown down, some of which have damned up the water creating some large pools.  A few white and pink trillium were still blooming along the trail.  I didn't fish for long but it was a pleasant few hours out in the rain and fog thanks to rain gear that kept me dry and warm.


White trillium



wild azalea
The last two days of our trip, my daughter and I devoted to hiking and taking pictures.  One our first full day together, the fog was still lingering on the Skyline Drive so we opted to hike the Rose River trail.  We thought that the air would be clear at a lower elevation and that proved to be the case.  I did fish a couple of interesting looking sections on the Rose briefly but we devoted the day to hiking.  During the afternoon the fog started to move out and by the time early evening arrived the weather was bright and clear but with enough moisture still in the air to offer the promise of a memorable the sunset over these beautiful mountains.  We packed our cameras and camp chairs in the car and set up at an overlook to watch the sun go down together and we weren't disappointed.

Rose River Falls

Our final day was clear so we hiked Upper Hawksbill in the morning, the tallest mountain in the park (elevation 4050’).  On the way up we saw some wild turkey and some deer among whom was a young buck with his velvety antlers nicely backlit by the early morning sun.  The deer didn’t seem too concerned with us and we were able to get quite close.  


View from Hawksbill
In the afternoon, we finished out our stay by hiking up Stoney Man (4010’) from which we enjoyed some nice views of the Skyline Drive stretching north across the mountains.  As we descended, we paused to listen to a rose-breasted grosbeak singing high in the trees.  We had a wonderful couple days in this gem of a national park and left thankful to have enjoyed it together.

Skyline Drive stretching north from  the summit of Stony Man

Sunset over the Shenandoah Mountains

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The 2 fly challenge

We weren't the first visitors this morning
Alan of Small Stream Reflections (check out his blog for more details around event) invited a few of the local small stream enthusiasts to get together and fish a small CT stream.  The challenge was to pick 2 flies and fish only those two flies until you lost them or until the prearranged lunch time meeting.  Trying to pick just two flies made for some interesting deliberating among the many options: should one go with two of a known productive fly or choice two different flies\that could be used in different ways.  I decided to leave to choice up anyone who wanted to leave a comment on this blog.

The violets were all along the banks of the stream

The first to comment was Brad Basehore who recommended an elk hair caddis and a partridge and orange which were the flies I fished but the others made some really good choices also.  Alan and John went with a foam ant as one of their pair, Pete and his son fished a pheasant tail soft hackle that I jokingly refer to as "Pete's fancy" (it actually resembles and Endrick's spider).  Kirk made a brilliant choice going with a mini muddler with a yellow wing since you can fish it as a big caddis or sink it and fish it as a streamer.

Some excellent choices!  From let to right
John - black foam ant and an Ausable Bomber
Alan - Jassid and a black foam ant
Mark  - green elk hair caddis and a partridge and orange
Kirk - mini muddler and a Queen of the waters

I will leave the details and observations to Alan to report but it was a magnificent day spring day following a refreshing evening of showers and the water level was perfect and an ideal 56 degrees. I've only fished this particular stream twice so I wasn't all that familiar with the water but I knew that it can produce some sizable and strong brook trout.  Over the course of the morning, I was fortunately to bring 5 gorgeous brook trout to hand on a single fly (green elk hair caddis #14).

My first brook trout of the day on the elk hair caddis

All the fish I caught and three that I briefly connected with were all holding in a gentle riffle from 1 to 3 ft in depth.  At one point I was walking along the bank and saw a very deep pool full of brook trout that I obviously spooked with a clumsy approach.  When they settled down I could see a couple  trout that were in the >12" class holding close to the bottom.  It would take something heavy to get the fly down to them in that pool provided that you could approach it without spooking them!



Runs like the one pictured above usually produced a brook trout on two.  I brought one to hand that was sitting between the main current running along the bank and a smaller flow coming in from the lower right of the picture.  A larger trout was briefly hooked at the lower end of the run just in front of the overhanging bush.


The last fish of the morning for me came from the run along the bank above.  You can see some submerged wood tight against the bank. This run is less that 12 inches deep and might easily be overlooked but on the first drift a brook trout came up and briefly took the fly.  After re-positioning myself, another drift a few inches off the bank brought  the last beautiful brook trout to hand.


Finally, thanks are in order to Alan for organizing a great morning and providing a wonderful lunch to follow.  I'm pretty sure I can speak for everyone in saying the first 2 fly event was a huge success. Maybe next time we can up the challenge a bit and fish only one fly!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Two Fly Challenge

Alan over at Small Stream Reflections is organizing a  Two Fly Challenge which I will be participating in.  If you want to suggest a pair of flies that you think I should fish please indicate in the comments section and I will fish on your behalf.  I'm thinking a dry and a wet/nymph


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Spring rains

Wild violets along the stream
It's been a week of rain here in New England and I've heard a lot of complaining.  I can remember begging my mom as a kid to let me go out in the rain.  There is something about the quietness and melancholy of the woods in the rain that I find appealing provided you are dressed to stay warm and mostly dry.

Pete, the Farm River Angler, and I made plans to meet close to home and fish for wild browns.  With the rains, the stream was up a bit and a little off color so I decided to swing a bead head pheasant tail soft hackle today.


The first of a pair of small wild browns to take the swung pheasant tail

Right off the bat, two small browns slammed the PT on a slight retrieve.  A pair of larger wild browns took the pheasant tail as it swung by the base of a tree along the edge of the stream and in a deep channel as the stream ran along an old rock wall, perhaps the remains of an old dam.

New England is full of old rock walls

These gorgeous wild browns certainly add to the pleasure of a rainy spring morning

The wildflowers are certainly taking advantage of the spring rains and the violets and garlic mustard were all blooming.  On the drive home I passed a field full of wintercress (another wild flower in the mustard family) covering the field in a blanket of bright yellow under a low grey sky

Garlic mustard

Field of wintercress



Friday, April 29, 2016

Oh no!

Dutchman's breeches
I'm sure every one of you out has a story to tell about something you've forgotten on your way to the river. We'll this morning in my rush to get everything ready and in the car before work so I could leave directly from work, I forgot to pack the flies!  The river is about an hour's drive from home so there would be no driving back.  Fortunately, my rods were still strung up with three flies from the last trip, one of which was a Hendrickson soft hackle so I decided I would swing the soft hackle for bit and see what I could find.  Even if did see a hatch, I figured I would still do pretty well with it. I did manage one rainbow on the wet, which was a bit of a moral victory.

Fortunately for me, my buddy Pete was also in the area.  One of the benefits of tying flies for your friends is that when you leave your boxes at home they are likely to have an extra fly or two, maybe even a few of yours!  Pete was gracious enough to loan me a couple comparaduns, one of which connected with a nice rainbow.  I guess I'm gonna have to give Pete a few more flies since he didn't have any of my comparaduns in his box.  Thanks Pete!

A healthy 16" holdover rainbow (all the fins in good shape)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Redemption

I spent the other afternoon running around the Farmington River trying to find a location with a little space to fish.   Later in the afternoon I got a call from my friend Pete who had noticed fish rising in a location that had some room so I quickly relocated and had a wonderful couple of hours fishing comparaduns and spinners to rising fish.  The afternoon started off in frustration but thanks to Pete's tip, it ended well with lots of browns, rainbows, and one brook trout taken on the dries...Redemption.

 By request, here is a video for the egg sack spinner I've been fishing ...Enjoy

Monday, April 25, 2016

Life and death juxtaposed
Fishing smaller streams is about simplicity, just the essentials, being alert, observant, being alive and present in the moment.  It is good medicine for the soul when life gets complicated.

Walking along the unfamiliar landscape, I felt at times like I was in a valley in the Shenandoah mountains surrounded with mountain laurel and plunge pools.  The water was clear and cold yet full of life and the brook trout slammed the bomber time and time again.  After the quiet gray of winter, the forest is now coming to life as tiny lilies, wood anemone, and wake robin rise up through the decaying leaves  of last fall.



Wood anemone opening to the late morning sun

Wake robin or purple trilium
Later in the afternoon another stream was visited where wild brown and brook trout coexist.  Days like this one are not common, so we savor them with our senses and tuck them away in our memories as days of simplicity, peace, of silence, of life.




12 

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad:
Let the sea roar, and all it's fullness;
Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord    Psalm 96:10-11