The drive here was a long one, and awfully long one. There could be no clearer demonstration of distance traveled than doing it all in one day. I woke up in my dad's house in Connecticut and fell asleep in my grandparent's house in Florida 23 hours later. I could physically feel how far we had just gone. But I mentally couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that it wasn't 10 degrees outside and that that much of the fish I was about to catch would be strange and very new to me. Waking up and watching sand hill cranes right outside the window was a hell of thing.
The first place we fished was the pond behind my grandparents house. We weren't really sure what to expect other than Florida strain black bass. I started fishing small nymph just to increase my odds of catching something interesting. Within a few casts I caught a bluegill. But it wasn't the run of the mill bluegill. These were coppernose bluegill, a southern strain.
The largemouth bass here are a different fish from our Northern bass too. They aren't tolerable of cold water, they grow faster, and they seem to fish harder too. After the bite died at the pond and we said goodbye to my grandparents we headed further south, to a large canal where we would find some new species of sunfish.
After sorting through some bluegills both Noah and I caught spotted sunfish, which are very hard to find outside of Florida.
We were primarily fishing places where small cuts intersected the main canal. That's where most of the baitfish were, and predator fish were around to eat those baitfish. Eventually we found a cut that had a lot of life. Baitfish were periodically leaving a culvert, and when they did bass were there to eat them. Short lasting blitzes erupted in the grass and at the mouth of the culvert. A tarpon or two would roll occasional as well, all juveniles, and the were hard to fool. I hooked one eventually but he spat the hook and made a good little air show right after.
Eventually the sun was setting and we had to make our way to West Palm Beach where we would stay with my friend Sonny, who would show us some good peacock bass fishing the next day.
Friday, December 29, 2017
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Right now I'm at a rest area somewhere in the middle of Virginia. That means we're almost, but not quite, half way to our destination. And the reality that I could catch a snook, a jack crevalle, or a barracuda tomorrow hasn't yet set in.
Sunday, December 24, 2017
My home river isn't my home river isn't my home river because it's the closest river to home. It never was. It's my home river because it's where I learned how to fly fish. It is my fly fishing roots. It's the river I know best. I've fished it a lot in 6 years. I've gotten to know her and know her well. I know the patterns; I know what conditions are best; and I know what will hatch, how the fish will react to that hatch, and when that hatch will happen. There are always little mysteries, but rivers are ever changing so that's never going to go away. But I have my finger on the pulse of my home river. I know her moods. I knew going into my outing yesterday that there was going to be a good bite. But what I got wasn't remotely what I expected.
The first hour was slow. I caught one fish in the first pool than went an sixth of a mile without a touch. The water was still warming up though, the sun had just hit the bottom of the valley, so I pushed on despite not getting takes where I knew there were fish. Eventually the temperature increased enough and fish began to feed. Picking through a long stretch of pocket water I took a handful of small fish. Beautiful, parr marked, healthy brown trout.
Where the stretch of pocket water turned into a lower gradient set of runs and pools, I fished a run I had never fished before. How can I fish a river regularly for six years and have a run that I never fished? It didn't exist just three months ago. These small mountain streams are dynamic. Trees fall, rocks move, log jams for or wash away. It's a constantly changing environment. Fish take advantage of new holding water. I dropped my Ausable Ugly in the seem and it made it only two feet before the line paused, I set the hook, and a substantial fish angrily took off downstream. I got it into a calm backwater and was soon holding the first good fish of the trip.
A bit further upstream I took an 8 inch brown in a short riffle that refused to be photographed. I then went a fair distance, once again, without a take. Clearly fish were still getting their wits about them. Then, in a run in front of a big boulder that I just knew held a trout, my line came tight, I lifted the rod, and a commanding pull signified I had hooked a larger fish. A lot of small stream fish don't give a fight to remember. They come to the surface, splash around, and are at hand in seconds. This fish was not so easy, and for a tense few moments he was in charge. I eventually gained control and brought the fish home. He was a big colored up male, all of 13 inches, not a fish I could have expected to encounter. Mumbling under my breath about how gorgeous he was, I took a few photos, removed the fly, and watched him swim home.
From that point one the bite was more consistent. I picked up fish in most good holding water, and though most were small a few were in the 5 to 7 inch range.
The next surprise I got came in a deep hole that I know fish like to winter over in. The first fish it produced was not a brown, but a colorful and healthy rainbow! Whether it is a holdover fish or wild I am not certain.
The same pool that gave up the two smaller browns above.
Then an 11.5 incher.
And a 10 incher. This pool usually does hold more than one fish. I've often caught two or three out of it. But never five. That was a bit of a surprise.
Further upriver I went, continuing to catch smaller browns here and there. In a turbulent run I hooked and lost another nice fish that gave me a little tease by jumping just after the fly popped out. She was probably 12 inches.
The craziness continued as I fished another quarter mile of water, catching a few good fish. I got the only salmon smolt I'd get all day as well. Then in the short section of water I knew would have to be my last, I caught two more big, colored up, kype jawed males in consecutive pools. In the last 3 years, when I'm coming here, I'm looking for just one or two of these big small stream fish in a trip, and I know they're not easy to come by. I've come to terms with the fact that this stream will never be what it was when I was 14 or 15. Things have changed a great deal since then, but this day gave me hope that maybe it can still be something special. Because this is the best day I've had there in 3 or 4 years, and it took me by surprise.