Friday, May 27, 2016

The King's Whiskey

A few weeks ago, I hooked, fought in an epic battle with, and lost at the last moment the most beautiful trout I've ever seen. Not the largest, but color-wise and spot pattern, second to none. I only got a few glimpses of him, but I saw enough to know this was a special fish. A whiskey drinker without a doubt. (A phrase coined by the Troutbitten boys, see Traditions.)

After a few weeks had passed, I still couldn't take a step in a river without thinking about that fish. Wondering if he was still ruling his same domain. It's interesting, where this fish was, there are probably three or four nice looking runs in either direction from which I have never seen or caught another trout. The King had claimed his territory, Brownlandia, and any other trespassing trout probably became lunch.

Pursuing trophy trout can be extremely rewarding, but it takes time and dedication. It's not for the impatient or short-sighted. The highs are high and the lows can be oh so low. There is certainly a bit of luck involved and there's nothing more important than being able to take it on the chin when luck isn't on your side. However, upon my return quest to Brownlandia, luck was on my side and the day was mine.

 After being dragged up and down the creek by this fish for a second time, it was extra sweet winning the battle this time. For a trout to achieve that size on its own in the wild is nothing short of incredible. From egg to Emperor. It took the better part of ten years for that miracle to happen. Seriously, take a minute to think about that. Think about every morning you've slept in, called in sick, or just been lazy over the last ten years. If this fish had done any of that and not been on top his game, he'd have been a merganser's breakfast, a raccoon's midnight snack, or getting freezer burned in some bait-slinger's freezer. The river never sleeps. Through sub-zero temps, flooding rains and droughts, wild fish endure it all. Survival is the only game a trophy trout plays. Please release your wild and native trout. Seriously.

It was an honor to shake hands with the King and a privilege to watch him swim away. Back to survival mode for him.

I generally try to travel pretty light. I don't carry my own flask of whiskey. I have to admit, it's not as regular of an occurrence for me to catch whiskey drinkers as it is for the Troutbitten guys. As payback for releasing the fish, the river gave me a nod. At the tailout of the pool, perfectly unearthed by rising flows was a small bottle of the King's whiskey. Cheers to the King... Let them swim.

Long live the King.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fishing Among Giants

I'm fortunate to have someone to carpool to work with. I'm also fortunate that he's a good friend. However, like I mentioned when he was on Vacation last year, riding solo gives me "so much more room for activities!"

I've been wanting to check out a particular stream for a while and this was the perfect opportunity. As I descended into the shady canyon I could hear the roar of the water splashing over plunges. I zigzagged my way in around massive boulders and treaded through throngs of emerging fiddleheads still too small for picking. When I finally reached the water I just had to nod. "Damn," I thought to myself as I took it in.

There was a decent hatch of sulphurs popping but no trout interested in rising. I pressed on hoping to find some hungry brook trout. I have to admit, I was perfectly happy exploring this water with no finned response. I was reaching for my camera as much as fishing.

I thought to myself, "what self respecting brook trout would let these mayflies escape the surface film unharmed?" Finally it happened, a small subtle nose poked out of the drink and snatched my No. 14 Parachute. I was excited to get my first glimpse of one of the shy char... or not.

Brown trout... that explained a lot. Even in infertile streams with minimal food sources brown trout can be tough customers when conditions aren't favorable for them. I continued casting and photgraphing my way upstream. Trout were becoming more abundant and I was noticing fish sitting farther down in pools toward the tailout waiting for bugs. I picked up several more little browns in the 4"-6" range - no brook trout.

With the sun sinking in the sky, I decided I'd jump to another stream I'd been curious about. There wasn't much daylight left, but it was worth a shot. In the short section I fished no trout wanted to rise. I'll certainly have to check it out again, but it was time to get to the Inn and grab a beer and a burger.

I was pretty happy to spend the evening on such great looking water, catching tiny trout among giant stones placed by glaciers. It's interesting to me that, up this way, these small streams tend to hold either brook trout OR brown trout. Rarely both. With another free night after work, I wanted to make sure I was going to get into brookies. I knew just the spot. I went back to a stream I'd only fished once, but was full of hungry speckled trout. That's exactly what I found this time.

The search for wild and native trout continues to take me to new places and meet new people. Sometimes, things don't go as planned, but getting lost is not a waste of time. Make time to go check out someplace new and be open to whatever you find. You never know what's waiting around the next bend.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Quest

Native Brook Trout are, in my mind, the most beautiful freshwater fish on the planet. Not only are they gorgeous, they are a symbol of remaining wilderness in the Eastern United States. As much as we've thrown at them through logging, mining, development, acidification, invasive species, and rising temperatures, they continue to thrive in nooks and crannies in dense, uninhabitable forests and wetlands.

Over the past few years, I've been lucky enough to chase these prehistoric fish from Tennessee to Maine. It's my goal going forward to catch a brook trout in every state within their native range. I have a decent start, but I've got a lot of ground to cover.

Green =  Complete     Red = Incomplete     Yellow = Non-native Brook Trout Caught
I'll be headed to Vermont this summer to turn another spot on the map from red to green. From there, we'll see where we end up next. If anyone has any tips on where I can shake hands with a few natives in the Rutland area or any other red areas on the map, feel free to drop a line.

Back the Brookie.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

State Forests, Blue Wing Olives, and IPA's

I generally like to wait a little later in the year to start exploring Native Brook Trout water until rising fish are just about a guarantee. I respect the art of nymphing, but to me, this is dry fly country. This year, I couldn't wait any longer.

The weather was cool, damp, and overcast - just like the magical Blue Wing Olive days we've all dreamed about after reading Gierach's memoirs. Sure enough, when I reached the water I was audibly greeted by the slurpy chorus of brookies munching on duns. Nothing like rise rings and hop soup to set the mood.

I have to say, it turned out to be my most enjoyable day on the water in a long time. A quick hike out through the hemlock stands and on to the car. It's time to keep those gazetteers at the ready. Cheers to a fresh season of Dirt Roads and Blue Lines.

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