Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fishing Roots

One of my favorite early fishing memories is from years ago on the first day of fishing season. When I was really young, my dad would take me to some heavily stocked water with heavy fishing pressure. It's where my friends were going, so I begged him to take me there. I'm sure it was the last place he wanted to spend a day fishing, but if it would get me to go, he obliged.

As I got older, gradually we started fishing more technical water. I was still too young to fool difficult trout, so we made a visit to a small stocked stream. The fishing was slow and by early afternoon, my kiddish attention span had run its course. We decided to call it a day.

As we were headed home from a chilly, unproductive morning, traversing the mazes of dirt roads we have up this way, I peered out the window of the truck and shouted "Dad! I just saw a fish!" Thinking back on it, I can just picture the eye roll a kid would get for saying something like that. A trout? In a stream barely the size of a ditch? Luckily for us, my dad pulled over - probably just to keep me happy. Wouldn't you know it, we caught a handful of brook trout that day. And not just small little parr, genuine nine to ten inch Pennsylvania trophies.

From a young age, I understood the high regard for natives. "That's real fishing," is what most of my fishing family would say. Now, back in those days in rural PA, "native" was a term that applied to even the technically non-native brown trout. Even so, brook trout had an exalted status.

In the past year, my dad and I haven't fished as much as we used to. We've both had full work schedules, he's been pretty occupied with Alpaca stuff, and I've been cruising to all corners of the state to fish with buddies. Finally, we had a day to get out on the water. On a recent trip to a small stream we had a very slow start to the day. "Can you believe there aren't hungry fish here?" We fished good water and just weren't getting the response we were looking for. But when it happened, it happened in a big way.

On our way home, driving down the dirt road, he was looking out the windows peering through the woods. As we approached a culvert, he said "There's a trout!" I spiked the brakes and screeched to a halt, threw the car in park in the middle of the road, and hopped out to investigate. Sure enough, there was a little brookie in the middle of a tiny drainage finning over a silty mud bottom just under some willow brush. I checked the upstream side and sure enough, I saw the wakes of fleeing fontinalis fry. As we got back in the car, we both chuckled. We each knew what the other was reminded of.

Whether or not I did or didn't actually see a brook trout all those years ago is something neither of us can agree on. I do wonder how things could have been different if he hadn't pulled over to appease a kid with a wild imagination. Perhaps that was the day that an obsession began?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Marginal Water

When I was in college in Philadelphia, I used to fish a lot of heavily pressured water because it was all I had easy access to. When I would return to middle of nowhere (home) on weekends, I soaked in every bit of fly fishing un-pressured, under-appreciated water that I could. I'd beg and pester my dad to ignore his adult responsibilities and go check out such and such creek.

How small is too small? There's a creek in there somewhere.
Now that I call the middle of nowhere home again, I under-appreciate the "marginal water." It's easy to focus on fishing the best water now that I, too, have adult(ish) responsibilities and have limited time to spend on the water. A day re-acquainting yourself with water you haven't fished in a while is pretty damn fun.

It seems like today, all of fly fishing media is telling us we need to catch big fish or an outing is a bust. Sure, who doesn't like big fish? NO ONE goes out and says, "man, I hope I catch some really small fish today." Just don't forget that there's more to a good day than fish. The best water is whatever you can get to and the best days are those shared with your fishing buddies.

It's not all about the fish, but it never hurts to put a good one in the net.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Mission Accomplished

So, in my last post, I mentioned a lost fish that was clearly going to haunt me; a strong fight with violent head shakes, followed by slack line. I never saw the fish - I think that's what bothered me most.

It might just be me, but every now and then as I'm dozing off to sleep, I get these stark visions of working a streamer off some heavy structure and I'm jolted awake by the shocking surprise of big trout rolling on the fly. (Pretty dorky, I know. This legitimately happens at least a couple times a month.) Lately, I've had the trouble of not being able to sleep. Thinking, "where will that fish be next time?" With changing temperatures, conditions, flows, and oncoming hatch season, will he relocate?

I've been taking mental notes on when we're losing daylight on work days and trying to find an hour or two to sneak off to the river on the weekend to get another crack at the small stream beast. No such luck and it's going to be a long time before I can get to this fish's lair on a week day during daylight hours.

Finally, I had a break in the work/social/TU/other fishing schedule. I had absent-mindedly forgotten to reserve my spot for a conservation conference downstate (Doh!) and we had a fundraiser dinner to get to that evening, leaving a few hours blocked off. I snuck out to a nearly brimming blueline stream.

With weather patterns switching from winter weather advisories to sixty degrees and back every few days, we have an overabundance of water right now, but thankfully our water clarity has stayed good. I struggled up the middle of the gushing stream and plied the softer water along the edges with a mix of streamers and nymphs until I got to the spot I'd been losing sleep over.

I worked this spot thoroughly again. When the water is high like this, the fish can really be anywhere. Typically, we look for them in softer zones where they don't have to work as hard and can have easy meals delivered to them. After covering the eddies, I put a cast into the deep, heavy water. POW! Bruiser on!

Similar to our first encounter, there was no question when this fish hit. As soon as he felt tension coming from his devoured meal, his displeasure was pretty evident. From the depths he came up almost immediately and broke the surface this time, splashing in his ornery brown trout rage. Instantly, as I caught the first glimpse of his stylish gold to auburn fade, I began uncontrollably grinning like a dang fool.

Not too long after, the police scanners were muttering reports of an odd, bearded guy in fancy overalls in the middle of overgrown pasture bisected by an old creek fist bumping himself and hollering. Not to worry. He'd reportedly found what he was after, taken a few photos and left the alleged scene as he'd found it. Since no one else was around, he won't be charged with disturbing the peace.

Brown Trout
Mission Accomplished

Monday, February 22, 2016

Unfinished Business

I thrive when my boots are not confined to a boat. When covering miles means working upstream, instead of down. I love rowing, but there's nothing like fishing with your feet and wearing out shoe leather in search of spooky fish who have never experienced the sting of a hook.

A few weeks ago, I visited a creek I was exploring early last year. See: Trout Guardians. I'm not sure why this little gem fell off my radar? Probably because the population seems so small and the likelihood of a skunk is an all too realistic outcome. The chance at big fish is unlike any other small stream I've explored. If you get a fish, it's probably going to be at least in the teens. That's pretty special in this part of the world.

It seems like every time I visit this water, it's under high sun, high water, and below freezing air temperatures. Oh well, fish when you can, right? In past outings here, I've carried two rods; one for tightlining nymphs and one with a sink tip and streamer. Carrying two rods kind of sucks, but I was always ready for fish whatever water was in front of me. I've had the pleasure to compare notes with the Troutbitten guys and their mono leader rig shines for me when I'm on water where I can't entirely commit to either nymphing or throwing streamers.

It has never been so useful as my recent trip. I had come upon a DEEP bucket that always looks too good to not have fish in it, yet I've never seen one. I covered it about as well as I could with streamers. I took my time and broke it all down. I covered the structure, stepped it down the drop off, and dredged the depths. Nada.

I planned to switch methods just above this spot, so I figured "why not run some nymphs through?" A quick snip, pulled out a pre-tied setup on the Loon Rigging Foam - loop, swoop, and pull and I'm back in action. First cast, Bam! Into a really heavy fish. It was a solid fight and he was really digging and surging to the brush hanging into the creek. I put a little extra pressure on him to keep him out of there when... the rod recoiled. Ahhh... the hook popped. I never so much as caught a glimpse of that fish.

I've been trying like hell to get back there ever since. It has yet to happen. Brown Trout beware - I'm coming back for you.

A few of these guys were my consolation prizes. Works for me!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

New Year's Day Expedition

In most years, the autumnal changing and falling of the leaves signifies the final opportunities to pursue native Appalachian trout. Once redds start showing up, I do my best to avoid disturbing these fish and the stream bottom. Let them do their thing!

The norm is that these thin topographic blue lines are choked with ice this time of year. When trout are, more or less, fishsicles trying to survive instead of thriving like they do when insect life is booming. This year, with the much warmer than average temperatures, I decided checking out some new water might not be a bad idea.

Fish Passage Barrier - Candidate for Replacement?
I much prefer zinging dries on the 3 wt for brookies, but the 4 wt nymphing rig has been begging to get used. So be it. I took the camera for a walk - more hopeful of good scenery than eager char. I was pleasantly surprised to be rewarded with both.

Back the Brookie

After spending a bit of time on bigger water, it's easy to forget how sticky hemlock boughs are to 5x - like a magnet for errant casts. A necessary annoyance for the refuge they provide the trout and the angler. I have no doubt I will make a return trip to this little gem, off the beaten path, when the green of springs abounds. Can't wait.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Icons of Wilderness

Brown Trout

I have yet to figure out a way, verbally or visually, to capture what it is exactly that keeps up going back into the cold to capture these golden ghosts only to let them go, as if part of some freaky alien science experiment. Yet we stay mobilized. Ready to roll at any opportunity.  The river is where we, addicted fish chasers, flock to, to set everything else aside and are forced to play by the rules of these primitive icons of wilderness.

They take us from our civilized comfortable lives and make us adapt to the elements. Every day presents a new playing field. Flow, temperature, light, and the availability of food, among countless other things, set the tone. We get rained on, snowed on, sun burned, and wind burned, yet somehow being on a river can make even a shitty cup of coffee taste like opportunity.

Maybe it's wilderness we truly desire and the fish are the symbols we need to motivate us to feed the insatiable hunger. Who knows. Trout sure are beautiful though.

When speaking about why we need to protect wilderness, Ed Abbey said, "Every man needs a place where he can go, to go crazy in peace!"

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Tunes to set the mood?

So, it has been quite a while since my last post. It's not without reason. Over the last few years, the obsession of guys trying to make a name for the themselves via social media has become overwhelming. I'm not here to throw stones, simply to say that it's not my intent and it's hard to not get sucked into that way of thinking when you're surrounded by it on Facebook, Instagram, and the blog-o-sphere, etc.

It's been extremely refreshing lately to see guys put as much emphasis on their young kids out enjoying our fisheries as themselves with grip and grin hero shots. Sure, I love seeing piggy trout as much as the next guy but that can get stale. I much prefer seeing a kid with their first fly-caught trout or a guy holding up a sucker and laughing like a hyena and knowing his buddies are rolling with laughter in the background. Shared joy and grief, memories and stories are what it's all about.

Man, if this little skiff could talk, the stories it could tell...      Photo by  Pat Burke
The goal of these collections of posts is meant to celebrate the fun of exploring water with your buddies,  yearning to see the unseen, and enjoying every 6" brook trout. I need to do a better job of that. I think time away from it all, focusing on fishing with good friends new and old, working, and good clean livin' has been just what I needed. I intend to get back to sharing stories here very soon.

Not even six years ago - seems like a lifetime.
When I lived in Philadelphia, I had never caught what I would consider now a big wild trout. I could only dream of it. Remember to try to look at water and appreciate it like you used to.