When I plan out a day of fishing that doesn't involve any other anglers I try to do something that accomplishes two things: some personal fishing goal, and results in an interesting and enjoyable blog post. I am usually pretty good about sticking to that plan unless something obviously better presents itself. Today was such a situation. My plan at the start of the day was to visit 9 brook trout streams that are within fairly close proximity, fish each for less half an hour, and see how many I could catch fish out of. I was going to title it "The 9 Stream Challenge". But when I got to the third stream I realized I was not going to be making it any further. It was popping off... midges were hatching and fish were rising. This was the same stream I visited once last spring and again with Mark a few weeks ago. I was glad to see as many fish as I did on those visits, considering it is a particularly tiny stream. But today what I saw was hard to believe. It seemed like there were five or more brook trout in every run and pool. And most of them were rising. Granted, it was not easy to get into a good position to present my fly, particularly in the upper stretches. I found myself doing this:
If the fish can't see you, they can be caught. Belly crawling has resulted in some of my favorite small stream catches and some good photos of fish in the water. It has also resulted in cuts, scrapes, bruises, punctures, and Lyme disease....
Here are the first few fish I successfully stalked and fooled using the "stay low and go slow" tactics.
Any time I didn't move carefully I spooked fish. And I was spooking a lot of fish. But eventually, I got lucky. Very, very lucky. There is a light patch of gravel just past and to the right of the large boulder in the photo below, though it can't be seen at that angle.
As I carefully crept up on the pool I could see a dark shape sitting over the light colored gravel. At first I assumed it was some clump of organic junk, it seemed way too big to be a fish. But it was moving interestingly so I continued watching it. Eventually the reality set in. This moving shape was a large brookie. The previous two trips to this stream hadn't produced even an 8 inch fish, and given the streams size and surroundings I didn't believe it could sustain anything that large anyway. But here I was, looking at an honest 10 inches of wild brook trout, sitting on that light patch of gravel.
I had on a size 14 Partridge and Peacock soft hackle with a red hot spot. I figured it would do the trick. From my crouched position I mad a careful bow and arrow cast that placed the fly almost directly in front of the fish and no more than six inches away from it. I watched it's tail waving shudder and pick up speed as it noticed the fly. It then moved forward and up in the water column, then almost imperceptibly opened and closed its mouth. I set the hook and the pool erupted. I jumped up and began fighting the fish. This was not a fish to be messed around with. Fortune was on my side and I was soon holding a truly magnificent specimen and having a minor heart attack. I sincerely could not believe I had caught a fish this size in that stream.
When I catch a particularly special fish from a small stream. I don't really celebrate like I do with big river fish, warm water species, and saltwater species. I tend to whisper to myself and then sit and think about the unlikelihood of what just happened. This fish was special and I felt privileged just to see it, especially knowing it is almost definitely the largest fish in the stream. I can only say that about a handful of small stream fish I have caught.
I continued to fish, and a lot of the fish I ended up catching would have made my day had it been an ordinary February trip.
As I wandered my way back upstream, past the point where I had started fishing, I was surprised by the number of fish I was spooking. None came even close to 8 inches, but there were hundreds of them. The first time I visited this stream I wandered a good distance upstream but did not see nearly this many fish. It was just unreal to see so much life in a stream that averages two feet across. I stopped seeing fish only when the bottom became entirely mud and sand. Every other inch of the stream had brook trout of some size or another.
I really could not have imagined this day turning out better. I'm glad I didn't just catch one fish in that stream and move on to the next.