Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hit it right on the head

This spring we have been very fortunate to have moderate temps and plenty of rain so the rivers here in North East Connecticut are in great shape. I had a few hours yesterday morning to get away before a few dad chores, a birthday party and a graduation celebration. So I was up before 5 am and in the fish mobile headed for the Willimantic River TMA by 5:30. I decided after reading a few old posts in my journals I would park at the rest area and work from that bank. In the last few years I have found that my journals, which I have kept since the mid-80’s have become invaluable with the information they hold. When I started them it was more to remember the fish numbers and kinds, now I look back for river, weather and hatch conditions.

 I got to the rest area about 10 minutes later, put on my waders and put my rod together. I did not rig up as I wanted to see how the river looked like before I tied on a leader and flies. When I got to the river it was running fairly high for this time of year and just a bit stained. I decided I was going to do some Czech nymphing so I tied on one of my custom tied leaders, it is 13’ long tapered from 25 pound test amnesia in either fluorescent red or green down to 6X, to my 10 foot 4 weight rod. Today I used the green butt section because it shows up better in the low light. I tied on a size 14 caddis pupa in tan with the point fly being a size 10 Czech nymph with a tungsten bead head; it is a mix of golden brown SLF and tan antron.  Looking at the flow I decided to drop in midway thru the pool and fish from there to the tail out. I made a few drift but did not feel the bottom so I tied a small dropper off the bend of my point fly and put a small split shot to add just the needed weight to get it down. Third cast I felt a bump and tightened up to feel a head shake. After a good fight I landed my first fish of the morning a solid rainbow of about 13” a few casts later a bit farther down the current seam, I hooked it’s identical twin. Over the next hour I hooked another 4 fish losing two and landing two.  One was a rainbow the other was a thick brown about 14” that put on a real nice fight up on the surface with a couple of big runs. All of these fish came on the Czech nymph.

I decided to head down stream to try another run that hold fish well in this type of flow. I am not usually prone to walking away from fish that are feeding but it was a quiet morning and I had not seen another fly fisherman in the hour or so I was there. I moved down to the spot I wanted to try just as the fog started to burn off and it started to get brighter. I could start to see there was a bunch of fish feeding in the lower end of this run. I move into a good spot to fish to these active feeders, I  made  about 50 cast and did not even get so much as bump. I decided to try a bit different approach when I saw a few small tan caddis hatching. I took off the Czech nymph and the dropper and replaced them with a veiled caddis and a soft hackle. I cast this pair upstream at about 45 degrees so they sink and then dead drift them high sticking once they reached my position I lowered the rod tip and let them swing thru the lower section of the run. First cast a felt a good bump, next cast I was fast into another nice rainbow. A few casts later the flies stopped mid-way thru the dead drift I tightened up figuring to feel the bottom but instead I felt a strong head shake, I set the hook and the fish went crazy. After a real good fight with what I thought was a fish of about 17 or 18 inches I landed a beautiful 13” tiger trout. This was the second in a week to come from this part of the river. I had a guide client catch one last Saturday about a ¼ mile upstream from where I was fishing. I let him go and sat on the back retying my flies as the teeth on that bugger had frayed the 6x a bit too much. I made a few more casts and got one more cookie cutter rainbow.

I looked at my watch and decided to go back to my first spot and see what was happening before heading home.  I left the same two flies on and dropped into the same spot I started in, first cast I hooked and lost a fish in the tail out. I stripped a bit of line off my reel to give myself some slack to play with and recast. Bam I was into another good fish this one turned out to be a bit larger rainbow about 16” and solid muscle from back to belly. Over the next half hour I hooked 5 more fish landing only two of them , I was a bit slow on the hook set today. All in all not a bad day 16 fished hooked with 10 landed and only a brook trout away from slam. These are the kinds of days that I remember the clearest, conditions were good and fish cooperative. I could use a few more of these as they have been far and few between the last 5 years. The rest of the day was filled with family fun and celebration. Funny thing was my nephew who just started fly fishing knew even before I told him I had a good morning by the smile on my face.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Having flexibility is important

My mantra in fly fishing is be flexible and let the trout tell you what to tie on the end of your line. There are good fisherman who only fish dries and others who only fish nymphs, streamers or wets. But the best fisherman I have fished with could fish all of them good and were flexible in there approach to fishing.
            A guide trip I did last weekend once again reinforced the need to be flexible in your approach to fly fishing. Friday I stopped by the river to check it out as Saturday morning I had early guide trip. The river was just right for some decent early caddis dries and maybe an olive hatch in the morning with it predicted to be overcast. Well mother nature thru some heavy showers into the mix overnight Friday. When we got to the river the water was much higher and more than a bit off colored. My first thought was crap this day just got tough. I changed a few flies I had set up in my pack and we head to the river. We fished the first section with only a couple of tugs on the line.
        After about 2 hours I decided we needed to change sections of the river.  From keeping a journal for the last 20+ years I know of a few sections of this river that will start to clear faster than the rest of the river. We headed to one of the spots and the water was still running high but much clearer. They rigged up with a nymph and indicators and started to fish the seams of the current. I put myself right between them so I could coach them thru this kind of fishing. They both picked it up fast and were getting good drag free drifts but no fish, then on a quick pickup to recast one of them hooked up, after a minute and a half the fish came off. The light went on the fish were holding on the outside of the seam and picking off emergers. I had them both take off the indicator and showed them how to do a Leisenring lift. This is where you cast above suspected fish holding water or were you know fish are holding. You dead drift the fly until just before it reaches the fish, you then quickly raise the rod tip so the fly swims toward the surface. The fish will rise up and take the swimming nymph. After a few minutes he hooked and landed another fish this time it stayed on and we landed a nice rainbow of about 15”. A few more missed fish his brother hooks up with a fish that missed the fly twice. After a good fight he landed a tiger trout about 14” long it was a one of the best tigers I have seen come from this river.  If we had not changed tactics it would have ended up a fish less day.
         So keep your eyes and mind open it just might tune you in to help keep a day from being a bust.
       I was then out Sunday evening with an old friend who i have not fished with in far too long. We almost decided to not head out but after checking flows we headed to a class 3 wild trout stream about 20 minutes from my place. when we got there the water was high but clear enough that the fish would be feeding. We dropped into the first pool and fished nymphs for a while with only a few hard takes that were missed to show. we moved down to a sweet run that always gives up a few trout. it did not disappoint as we took a few 9-10" wild browns from this stretch. We fished down thru the rest of the area we planned to try with out any more action.
       We then moved up to the area above were we started, this is a deep pool just below a road culvert. I had a couple of takes and broke a fish off as did my buddy. He then noticed that there were a bunch of fish at his feet that were feeding.He had just broke off and did not want to retie, so I moved up into his spot and found several fish flashing just below were I was standing. I put a sulphur emerger on and covered it with some mud to sink it. on the first drift a fish took and the fun was on. After a few good runs and head shakes I landed a beautiful 16" rainbow that was solid muscle. This fish was a great way to finish off the evening we packed it up and completed the night over a club sandwich and chicken tips at a local pizza place. All in all a good weekend made better by flexibility.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why fly fish?

This past winter some friends and I went up to Brunswick Maine for the fly fishing film tour show. There was an intermission and while waiting in line there was a father and son behind me, the son was about 13 years old. He asked his dad the question why do you fly fish. The dad gave the standard answer of the challenge, artistry and grace that is part of fly fishing. The dad must have noticed my hat or my t-shirt and asked you fly fish don’t you, I said yes I do. He then asked my why, I about repeated what he had said but I added what I think is my biggest reason for loving fly fishing so much.  I said it is the places fly fishing takes me and the people I have met and become friends with because if it.  There is an author I cannot recall that has a quote “trout don’t live in ugly places” and he is right. For the most part the places I have traveled to fish for trout or salmon have been beautiful.  One place that I have pictures of in my tying room and my office and have fallen in love with is the area around Quarryville New Brunswick Canada. It is on the Maramichi river where the Renous river enters it. There is a large broad pool about 200 yards wide by about 400 yards long, just above that is a short riffle that leads to a run that holds some of the best Atlantic Salmon in North America.  Another is one much closer to home it is on my home water and always brings a smile to my face no matter what time of year or day I come off the trail to see the old abutments, they are from a road that went thru the area in the 30’s and 40’s this area hold many nice trout. I have taken my 3 largest fish from this river here, While not wild or really all that different  than most of the rivers in the area the memories made here have made it special. Over the years I have met so many people that I have the addiction of fly fishing  in common with it would take a few days to remember them all an even then I would forget  someone. There are a few that stand out. My buddy Jeff who I first met salmon fishing on the Shetucket river in the mid 90’s and we remain good friends to this day. We don’t get to fish as often as we did but we still make a point to get out a few times and we spend several days steelheading each November. Jeff is the best wader I have ever seen. He can safely wade almost any place as long as he is not over his waders. He has a super human sense of balance and can remain centered in the heaviest flows.  Another is a man I met many years ago and just reconnected with in the last 4 years. He is a long time member of the local TU chapter and spends many hours volunteering doing cleanups and teaching. He knows some of the most secret spots on otherwise crowded rivers. He can tell a story better than anyone I know, even if you have heard it before it will hold your attention.  So while I like the grace and challenge of fly fishing it is the places I have been and people I have met that has not only made it fun but also part of my life.

                                             big water on Miramichi - I love this place

the legend of scuba steve

The legend of scuba Steve

The following is all true some of it is memory and other parts come from what I was told after it happened.

In 2008 we were on our 5th trip to the Salmon River in New York to fish for steelhead.  We go up the first week in November this way we avoid the salmon season crowds and the cold weather that can blow in later in November. It also seems to be a good time for the steelhead and large browns that swim up the river to feed on salmon eggs and then spawn at their designated times. This year was about like most first day was a rush to get there and get on the water and figure out what they were on. That first day I took a couple of nice browns in the 8 pound range and hooked and missed a couple of steelhead on was in the net but decided to tail walk back out of it. The next three days were about the same with a few more browns of good size and some steelhead landed. As a group we were all having a good trip with many of the guys getting there first steelhead or landing a personal best.

                 Saturday dawned gray and cool unlike the previous days that were fairly warm for that time of year. When we got to the lower fly zone in Altimar we were the first one there so we had our pick of spots. I chose the same place I had ended the day before and waited for first light. I had been fishing for about 30 minutes when Jt yells fish on and promptly lands a beautiful double digit steelhead. Then Jeff hooks up and beaks off.  I flipped my fly back up into the seam in the heavy current and it stopped about 8 feet down the drift I lifted and the drag starts screaming. After about a 10 minute fight I landed a nice 6 or 7 pound steelhead. The rest of the morning went about the same with the whole group taking turns hooking up. About noon the fish seemed to go off the bite. We ate lunch right in the parking lot and were fast back on the water. About 1:30 a good rain shower came thru and actually dropped the air temps down another 5 or 8 degrees. I hooked up with two more decent steelhead and landed both of them. I decided to take a break as my rod hand was cramping up with arthritis I made one more cast in the seam and damn if I don’t hook up right away. This was a much larger fish and a male that jumped about 4 feet out of the water then proceeded to run about 50 or 60 yards downstream. At this point for some reason the fish decided to make a 180 degree turn and head directly back up stream. At this point my rod hand is screaming from a cramp and my ring and pinky finger have locked up and will not move. I tried to reel as fast as I could to gain back the line that was out about the time I got back about 40 or 50 feet of the belly the fish decides to jump , now it is directly across from me I the river and hanging about 6 feet out of the water so I reach out and drop the rod tip. Well the fish jumping and pressure on the rod exerted by the belly in my line pull the rod right out of my hand. The next several minutes all happened in slow motion and that is how I will forever remember them. The rod and reel (worth about $800 and only months old) is lying in the river a foot away from me in about 4 inches of water. The fish runs some more, with the reel handle toward the bottom the reel starts to creep out a bit. I stepped forward to put my foot on it and the rod jerks forward about a foot and even deeper. So I kneel down to reach for the rod, just as I am about to touch it the rod jerks another foot out and into the current. At this point it is starting to float down stream. I said to my hell go for it so I dove arms first and grabbed the handle, at this point I relies I am now floating down stream as well. I tried to keep the rod up and pressure on the fish as I floated, but it was hard with head going under ever so often. After floating about 50 feet down stream I saw and arm and grabbed onto it. It was my buddy Steve and he pulled me to shallow water and onto my knees. At this point I felt a tugging on the rod and thought someone was grabbing the tip, but someone yelled the fish is still on. As I was getting to my feet on of our group reached over and grabbed the rod just as the steelhead jumped again, pop the tippet broke. I was angry I lost the fish but also thankful that my little dive had turned out ok. Amazingly with my wading belt tight and my wading jacket cinched up at the waist the only thing that had gotten wet was my arms and head. I had even kept my glasses on. As I stood leaning on the bank a guy who was on the other side of the river came across the bridge and shook my hand saying” that was the coolest thing I have ever seen” one of our group, I think Billy yelled yep that is scuba Steve.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

going back to my home water

they say you can't go back to a place and it will be the same, that is especailly true of a river. This past weekend kind of blew that theory out the window, kind of. The family and I spent the long weekend at Charlie Brown Campground right at the head water of the Natchaug river with group of our friends. This was a coming home of sorts for me, as a teenager and young adult I spent a great deal of time here and learned most of the foundations of fly fishing on the Natchaug and her two feeders, the Still river and Bigelow brook. My mom was a teacher and we had a seasonal camp site at the here,so as soon as school was out we would pack up a head there for the summer. We started camping there the spring of 1977 at this point I had been fly fishing for about 3 years, mostly on small streams for small fish. But the campground opened up a whole new world for me. I spent from that first summer until I went off to college in 1981 fishing almost every day from mid June to late August. I learned a lot mostly by doing it wrong the first time but those mistakes have made me a much better fly fishermen over the years since. The 80's I saw much less time there but I would still sneek away when I could for hour or so here or there. Most of my fly fishing by then was to far off places for adventures. The whole time my dad kept the seasonal site even after my mom passed away in 86. In the late 80's my younger sister and her husband had a site there as well so most weekends I would wind up there. By this time I was more than happy to just get a chance to fish some quite water. In the late 90's my dad stopped coming north for the whole summer and stopped camping. I had not fished there since.
          So this past Saturday morning I took my sisters son who is 19 and just getting into fly fishing to fish the stretch of the Still River that lies just above the campgound. we had a great time and he got his second trout a beautiful brook trout on only his second trip. I managed a bunch of brookies on wet flies, but the wild rainbow I got was the crown jewel of the day. Sunday I woke up early and fished the better pools in the campground. I only managed one take but it was a brute that took a bugger from an undercut bank. I never did see the fish as it broke my 5x tippet when it ran around the opposite side of a rock. Monday I headed of with one of my good buds to a special section of the river that holds some real monsters. The spot did not disapoint us, we saw a couple of very large trout taking caddis emergers from the surface. I managed a couple of rainbows both about 13" Carl got a nice fat 16" bow skating a Elk hair caddis. Then my cell phone rang it was my wifes ring so I picked it up knowing she would only call if it was a real need. She said come back now there is a bad thunderstorm headed our way. we quickly packed it in and headed back. We managed to get everything packed before the rains and lightning started. It was a wonderful weekend only made better by the memories it brought back and the new ones it gave me.


" throw a mend damn it "

Monday, May 16, 2011

A quick report from sunday after the rain

Decided to head out to one of my favorite local waters the Natchaug River today. I had a guide trip there two Fridays ago and then took my 3 girls there the following Sunday. The two guys I guided did very well as did my 3 daughters. Met my Buddy Carl at 10:30 head through the hollow over to Eastford, closer to the river we got the harder it rained. When we got to the spot we were going to fish it was raining like mad and thunder and lightning was close by. We put waders and rain gear on and the rain slowed enough and the T&L stopped so we rigged up and headed in to the first deep run, water was clear but there was a lot of leave litter and buds floating just under the surface. so my idea of a dry and dropper was out. I rigged up a couple of nymphs and started to drift the outside seam and let Carl fish the inside seam. It took all of 3 casts to hook a big rock and break off both nymphs. I had on 6x as this spot if one of the now infamous state of Connecticut trout parks, they stock once a week thru Memorial Day. It gets stocked on Wednesday or Thursday most weeks so by the weekend the fish have been pounded. It also has a decent amount of larger holdover fish but they seem to be more than a bit tippet shy. Well the next hour and a half was a repeat of this, a few casts hung up on something pull it free. Half the time I would have to retie one or both flies on. I kept moving down the run but still the same thing. Then I noticed as I was lifting to make a roll cast a trout followed the nymphs right up to the surface. I moved to the head of the run above Carl and started to swing a yellow caddis pupa and a sparkle pupa. On about my 4 or 5 swing I hooked a small rainbow and landed it quikly. That was the only fish for almost two hours, so we moved a few pools down river to a deep pool with a good side channel and back eddy with a back wash flowing into it. I fished the same two flies for a while with not fish, then I noticed a flash about 20 feet across from me just above the tail out. I changed my bottom fly to a Tung Head green rock worm, third cast line stops I set the hook into a good fish after a good showing I landed a beautiful holdover Bow of about 16" it's body width all but filled my hand. I release this fish and watched the spot again saw another flash a little farther upstream. Made bad cast but was able to throw a couple of big mends into it and hooked another Bow this one was only about 12" but it had tons of spots on it's back and really big fins just a pretty fish. I got one more small bow from this spot and noticed fish were still flashing. So I put Carl in there because he only had a little while longer to fish. He tried for about 20 minutes and hooked two but they came unbuttoned right away. He had to go so I decided to work my way into the next pool . Saw some olives hatching but no fish rising so I put on a beatis biot emerger and a bead head pheasant tail below it. I fished into the deeper most part of the pool and as it was starting to come up off the bottom a fish took. It was another bow about 12" ,over the next hour and a half I hooked another 7 fish landed 4 of them.I  lost two with bad hook sets and one took me into some brush. all of the trout were bows except the last one it was fat 13" brown trout. It started slow but ended up to be a good day, some fish and great company.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

A good start

Last week I had a guide trip with a couple of new fly fishermen. We went to an area that the state stocks regularly just so they could get a few fish, after all that is what it is about. One of them is getting back into fly fishing after a 10 year absensce and the other guy is a raw newbie. First thing I did as we were rigging up was go over what they wanted out of the day. They both wanted to learn as much as they could and if they caught trout that was gravy. So we discussed the ways trout feed and what was good holding water. This strech of river is great for teaching as it has all of the classic types of holding water. We started out at a long deep run, from the high bank we could see a bunch of fish working the bottom for nymphs. I put on a couple of nymphs and a thingamabober for each of them and we started at the top of the run. As we approached the water, I explained to them why it is important to try and were drab colored clothes when fishing an area like this. With the water being fairly flat and about 3 or so feet deep the trout have a good window to see above the surface and can detect movement at a good distance. That is why I have wondered about the bright red or salmon colored wading jackets and vest edges some companies have been marketing.  They may be good for large western rivers but small eastern streams I think they might be a bit out of place. We worked our way down this run and a couple of fish were caught which caused some smiling pictures to be taken. As we reached the lower end I notice the big pool below us was now empty and there were trout rising in a few spots. we move to the bank walked down to this pool and watched the rises for a bit. I explained to them about the different rise forms and what they ment. These were plashy caddis rises so I took of the nymphs and indicators and we move just upstream front the upper most rising fish. I tied on a yellow bodies soft hackle and explianed how to best drift it to the fish. second drift the trout takes but the youg guy instantly grabbed the reel handle and the fish came off. I told him to let the fish go a bit crazy at first just keep in contact with it, if you try to reel or keep the line too tight they will come unhooked. we worked our way down thru this pool and they hooked a few more fish, at the tail there were 3 nice fish all rising to what looked to be spinners. I set them up so they could each make a short accurate cast to one fo the fish. I then took my net and ran it thru the water below the fish. they turned out to be taking sz 14 rusty spinners, probably the last of the Hendrickson hatch. They took some time to get the cast and drift right but the fish seemed patient on this day. Thye each got a rise and hook up. one was a nice rainbow the other a snall brown. By this time they had to leave so we walked back up to the trucks to leave they both had a good day and I hope they learned a few things. With the end of the hendrickson hatch it reminds me of a few pointers I want to pass along.
             When the Hendricksons have started keep an eye out for the first of the beatis hatches to start. They will be size 16-18 olive brown duns with dark grey wings and legs. You will know you have one when you pick it up or see it sitting still and it actually wags it’s tail up and down almost like it is nervous and wants to dart the heck out of there.  They like to hatch in good numbers on overcast / misty days. When it is cool out and they take more time to dry their wings a parachute or CDC winged, blue winged olive pattern is tops. If it is warm try a regular Catskill style dune or thorax dun. Always have a few rusty spinners in the same sizes as the spinner fall will come right near the end of the hatch. These little gems must taste good because trout seem to take them with a little more gusto than other mayflies this time of year. Near the end of this hatch you may also see some of the paraleps ( blue quills) mixed in with them they are a size 18 with a mahogany brown body. The traditional blue quills and blue duns work ok but in the last 5 or so years I have been tying a red quill pattern in size 18 and the fish seem to like it, I don’t know if it get more fish than the other patterns but I have confidence in it and that is the actual magic in fly fishing, having confidence in what is tied to your tippet.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

welcome to the highlands

So I have come over to the dark side as my buddy JT said. I started this blog because my 13 year old daughter taunted me into it. I am a fly fishermen and that is what this blog will be about. I named it fishing Connecticut highlands because that is what I do and that is what my guide service is named. No the blog will not be me trying to drum up busniess as i have all of that I want. I want to pass on timely info to others who can use it to better their fishing.
                 So just a little about me.  grew up in Eastern Connecticut and have spent most all of my life here. I began fly fishing at about the age of 12 or 13 and have been fly fishing ever since. I have done other types of fishing (bass fishing with all the fancy gear) but always seemed to pick up the fly rod when I needed to clear my mind. I became a fisherman early in life, I have a picture my mom took when I was in about 1st grade of me with a brown bullhead on a stick with a string at the end. From what my dad says I caught it in the store drain up the road from the house and took several more (mom love to eat them) over that spring. I remember my first trout I was about 9 or 10 and was fishing behind my aunts house with my cousin Mickey and I got a nice rainbow on a fly and bubble ( they were all confirmed fly fishermen) the rest as they say is history. In the last 13 years I have guided other fly fishermen, it started out as a favor for a friend who owned a shop and had a customer who wanted to go out to learn to fly fish. I found I like to get others into fish and teach about fly fishing and casting. So I did a few more "trips" that spring and have been doing them ever since. Four years ago a good friend opened a fly shop in our town and I have been "helping" with guiding though his shop as well. It is just a part time deal as I need to work 40 hours to feed the family.
        I have also been tying flies for a long time. It started not long after I began fly fishing, seems flies were a bit expensive so I got a basic book and some hooks, thread and the lot, began tying. At first I used a pair of vice grips taped to a table as a vice but eventually I got a thompson AA and started tying using what I could shoot with my 22 rifle and I mowed lawns and baled hay for extra cash for hooks and other supplies. when I was about 16 I had gotten ok at it and would get guys I meet who wanted some of my creations. One summer in high school I actually sold some at the campgound we were seasonal at. In the mid 90's The same friend with the sport shop needed some streamers tied up so I did it for them, then a few weeks later it was some thing else and then another until it was to the point people wanted my flies. I have been tying for a few shops and guides who I know in New Hampshire, Maine and New Brunswick Canada. I tie about about 5 or 6 hundred dozen a year now. Many of those are for friends who want a specific pattern for a trip or hatch.
                 Over the last 35 years a lot has changed in my fly fishing and in fly fishing in general. I was talking to my dad and aksed what it was like to fish in the golden age he said " what, your in the golden age" the equipment is better, less expensive stuff is better than the most expensive stuff was 25 years ago" the states are managing the resources better and the internet makes it easy to learn new places and make new buddies. the more I thought about it the mnore he is right. I have one philosphy about fly fishing I never try to force fish to take what I want to use, I let them tell me what to use. That is to say if I go out and the fish are holding on the bottom feeding on the behavioral drift of nymphs, I am not going to put on an adams dry and try to force a fish to come up and take it. I will put on a nymph and fish it. conversely I will not put on a streamer or nymph when every fish in the river is looking up and rising to a hatch. I will put on the closest fly I have and cast to the risers. To be a good fly fishermen you need to be flexible. That is not to say you can't fish dry flies to rising trout with your left hand only on Wednesdays but don't preach to others that is the "only" real fly fishing. If it is done using a fly rod and reel and a fly on the end of the line it is fly fishing. Look for more blod posts in the future and I pormise to pass along as much good info as I can and not try to sell you anything.