Thursday, February 15, 2018

Brookie Weather

This week has been pretty much tailor made for winter brook trout fishing. I not too cold, not too warm, not too wet, not too dry. Winter stoneflies in any sort of numbers are still mysteriously absent, but brook trout eat whatever they can whenever it gets near them in these cold, clean streams. 

The last couple days the only two flies I've needed for brookies have been a Sexy Walt's Worm and my favorite, the Ausable Ugly.

Yesterday I made a four hour long sea run brown trout hunt. I was quite disappointed with the amount of life where I fished. The problem with these freshwater tidal rivers I was fishing is that baitfish migration timing very much dictates when sea run trout will be here. Unlike salty estuarine zones, there are not the ever present and abundant grass shrimp, so finding sea run browns here is dependent on influxes of fish like spottail shiners, banded killifish, and river herring. Only banded killies were around today and they weren't making themselves easily available to predators. They were sitting Over dark mud in about three inches of water in one back slough. I caught one, just in case I didn't make it to the small stream I planned to end the day on.

The little stream I visited yesterday for brook trout is a not one I fish often despite the fact that it is close to home. It isn't hard to get to or anything, but there isn't much of it and I'd never really done well there. In three or four visits over the years I've caught exactly one brook trout there. This time was much better.

Today is a warm one but if I fish for brook trout it won't be for long. Tonight I'll be going after bigger fish with wide mouths and striped bodies.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Cycle and Change

There is a small stream not too far from home that holds the important distinction of being the first place I really truly studied the practices of fishing very small freestone brook trout water. The first house I ever lived in CT just so happened to be nearly atop its head waters. At that time I could certainly not be called a fisherman but I was still a outdoorsy kid, so catching frogs and snakes in that little creek was a frequent activity. The creek's name included the word "river", which struck us as odd being that it almost always went nearly dry in the summer. Of course I was used to rivers being big, slow moving things, creeks being smaller, louder, and rockier, and brooks or runs being that but smaller still. Franklin PA, where I lived my first seven years of life, has a river running not quite through it but past it. The Allegheny, it is called. It is about 250 times wider than this "river" in our backyard. I spent many days catching frogs and crayfish in Oil Creek, which is about the size of the Farmington and still much much larger than this river. In western PA, we would not even have called our backyard ditch a brook, we would have called it a spring. And even though I was catching all sorts of aquatic things in all sorts of watery places throughout my childhood I never thought such a place would be worth fishing.

Fast forward eight years... I picked up fly fishing, got an interest in small streams, and began to see some things in a new light. This little "river" that I had lived next to for a couple of years ended up being one of the first brook trout streams I really discovered. It wasn't in the Angler's Guide. There was no literature. There was no electro fishing data. The only information to be obtained was word of mouth, and that consisted mostly of phrases like "used to" and "back in the day". I was going to have to fish it to find out. And so I did. It was tricky, too tricky for my undeveloped casting skills and non-existent stalking. But on my first visit I did see wild brook trout rising to the first winter stonefly hatch I ever observed.

Between that late winter day and now I have caught a lot of wild brook trout and learned quite a bit on that stream. It was a wonderful place in that it assured complete privacy. It is almost entirely inaccessible if you are of sound mind. Most surrounding land is private and what isn't has no parking and provides you with some of the most painful bush-whacking you could ever hope for. This keeps nearly everyone out. I, however, am not of sound mind. A very powerful little magnet in my frontal lobe occasionally turns on and pulls me through the brush to the stream. This stream's fish are not particularly big. They are not particularly colorful either, with the exception of some of the males in the fall which have some of the most spectacular spawning colors I have seen on CT brook trout. This is an all together typical, small, wild brookie stream. But too me it is special. And that is why I had't been back to it since the summer of 2016. What I found on that last visit hit me in the gut like a wrecking ball. For a stream with a propensity to go dry, it was awfully dry. I have been scared to return since. But today, after I visited a stream that I have fished quite often in the last two years, rather inexplicably, the magnet turned on.

The walk/crawl/stumble/beating to get to the stream was what I knew it would be, and when I got there I saw the same clear, tiny, brushed in stream I expected. It flows through steeply sloped moraine consisting mostly of gneissose and granitic boulders. These rocks were packed in till that the stream cleared out, leaving them in place with big, odd spaces between them. Spaces perfect for brook trout to hide in. Spaces almost impossible to get a fly into. That, and the encroaching undergrowth, make this stream an exceptionally challenging one to fish. It forced me to learn how to get as close to a hole as possible without spooking its occupants, how to bow-and-arrow cast, and how to perform a wide variety of complex, difficult, and unnamed casts. One day I'll write a book about these things. One day. But at the moment something more important was afoot. I positioned myself upstream of a likely plunge, carefully cast my Walt's Worm under a fallen branch, and was electrified when this was met with a sharp pull. A few moments later I was sitting on the bank happily, probably as happy as any person has ever been. No photo. This fish had come out just for me. 

I continued on, catching brook trout here and there. Not too many. Not too big. Not too colorful. There is no doubt that there are fewer fish than there had been before 2016. But small stream populations are cyclical, and in two years if the conditions are normal it will rebound. Change has happened around this stream, the fastest being the result of man. And that is the change that will eventually end the cycle if we aren't careful. 

Right now it doesn't really seem like we are being careful enough.

After I had gotten all I needed out of that little stream I crossed the crest of the ridge it comes down from, went partway down the other side, and payed a visit to another high gradient moraine stream. This one is an oddball. The water and stream bed color is funky, kind of yellow, which is disconcerting because the water is actually about as clear as clear can be. It looks unnatural. Thick mountain laurels conceal the winding path of the creek except where beavers have come in and done their job.

 This stream as more accessible to the general public, but even harder to navigate and fish than it's cousin on the other side of the mountain. I also get a strange feeling there that intensifies the further up it I go. I feel very much like I'm being observed at a distance, every time I go. It eventually gets to a point where I feel that if I don't turn back I will look up from the water to see some disturbing inhuman apparition standing in the brush, pointing in the direction I had come from. Weird goings on are assured for those who spend an immense amount of time in the woods, eventually. Some biological and psychological phenomena occur that we just haven't quite figured out yet. Whatever the creepiness of this stream, it does have some quite nice brook trout and is a challenge to fish, so I keep coming back. Malevolent ghosts be damned. 

Changes are going on right now. The trees are looking fuller, more red. Skunk cabbages have come out of the dirt. It's the middle of February and yet the weather is very much spring-like. Winter stones are hatching but not in the numbers normally seen. What part of the cycle are we in now, exactly?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Carp Through the Ice?

I never really thought I'd get too interested in ice fishing. Honestly. But the more I do it the more I enjoy myself. It is not fly fishing and will never come close to the perfectness that fly fishing suits me, but it is giving me another angle of fish observation. It is my view that catching, observing, and studying fish by any means is what makes a good fly angler. And just by ice fishing I am unlocking some doors to things in fly fishing that I couldn't have opened had I not decided to pick up a jigging rod and break some holes in some frozen ponds and lakes.

Noah and I decided to try something a bit unusual yesterday. We decided to try to catch carp through the ice. We had done our homework, we knew where we were most likely to get it done. Armed with jigging rods, hand-lines, bolt rigs, corn, and jigs, we were fairly confident we'd at least have opportunities, and that we did.

The first bunch of fish that I caught were, unsurprisingly, not carp. They were small pale bluegills which were more than happy to eat a piece of corn on one of my handmade lead jigs. When I saw a much bigger, pale fish come into view and take in the jig and corn in with its's rubbery, wide mouth, I was a bit taken aback and completely messed up the hookset.

As I was landing the first non-bluegill, a sizable golden shiner, Noah noticed something odd. It turned out that we had missed another chance to catch a carp through the ice. His set rod with bolt rig had gone from it's propped and braced position. Not simply moved on the ice, but noiselessly vanished. Gone. No evidence it had ever been. Down the hole, in tow by what could only have been a substantial carp. Gone.

I found it very hard not to be immensely amused by such a ridiculous event. Noah found it very easy not to be amused, after all it was his gear that had basically just gotten flushed down the toilet. From there, Noah attempted with no success to recover the rod, and I continued to catch a few fish before Noah decided we should go to Cabelas to replace the lost reel, which was much more valuable than the rod.

From there we visited two last ponds, one of which held promise of carp, and indeed I watched a large one cruise by the hole and evidence suggested some had been through corn I had deposited in one hole. The other pond had no carp, but it did have very willing bluegills.

So. Carp through the ice is definitely something I will do. Corn is a good thing to tip jigs with for bluegills. And we need to get a bunch of tip-ups.

The current 15 day forecast very likely will leave much to be desired on the ice fishing front, but with more open water and warmer water I'll be employing long rods and thicker lines for the coming fishing trips.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Gravity is a Heartless SOB

I went fishing yesterday. It was one of those kinds of days that seemed enjoyable while I was out but when I got home on thought was running through my mind. Why the hell do I put up with this?

Gravity was mean to me today. More times than I can remember the ground came flying up to hit me. The bike ride out should have been faultless, I haven't had an accident on this ride in years. But today there were sneaky sheets of ice hiding all over. The first time I fell I wasn't even moving, I came to a stop to let a car pass before crossing the road and I just kind of toppled over as though a sniper took my down. Not even two minutes later a well camouflaged sheet of ice took advantage of me as I merged onto the trail and I ended up on my side again. The next one was very disappointing because by that point I should have known better, but by the time I realize the ice was there at all I was already on it and I had two options, fall down trying to stop or fall down trying to make it all the way across. I wasn't going too fast and I had a good minute and a half to prepare myself but it still didn't hurt any less. That ice was slick enough that I just kept sliding even after the dismount too. 

I should have taken the hint and turned around but dammit I was going to fish! The rest of the ride went smoothly, But I fell on my butt just walking down to the first spot I wanted to fish and there wasn't even ice.  I spent the next two hours fishing through three pools with my two-hander. I didn't get any takes but I wasn't expecting to, this was just practice. By some miracle I didn't slide into deep water and get carried away by the current. 

After getting suitably tired of fruitless casting into cold dead water I packed away the 11'6" rod and built the 6'6'". I didn't fish much of the first of the two streams I visited because there was a lot of anchor ice, but I did catch a really good brook trout right below the bridge. I was worried if I had it out of the water much it would freeze, and while I contemplated how I should photograph him he made his escape. I was a bit disappointed as it was one of the bigger brook trout I've caught there.

The second stream was almost ice free, accept the one rock I stepped on that sent me right arm first into the cold water. I got up and walked it off for five minutes and kept fishing, partly because I wanted my glove that had been in my right pocket to dry out before I got on my bike again. Before that fall my time on the stream had still been a bit off. I lost a bunch of flies and some of the nicest brook trout I'd ever seen in this watershed. One dark little fish was my consolation prize.

Here I sit, with a sore elbow and a badly bruised hip, wondering why I even bother fishing in the winter. Why do I put up with the icy stream banks and trails? The frozen guides? The cold hands? 

(January 2016)
Well, duh.