It seems this year I have fished more rivers and streams that have been extremely high or flooded than I care to admit. It started in February with a trip to Pennsylvania with Rowan Lytle ( Connecticut Fly Angler ) and has continued all season since PA has had the wettest summer on record at least in the State College area – and further east.
Our summer in Connecticut has been pretty wet, too, especially August. I guess this is a good thing since our past three fall seasons have been warmer and drier than normal. This year has been hot as well but the added water no doubt has helped keep trout alive. This year’s spawn should be a good one. Eastern Connecticut streams definitely needs a cool and wet fall.
As you might guess, this article has some pointers on fishing flooded river and streams. The fly rod has some unique advantages as well as disadvantages. Let me explain some of them to you.
First off, stay out of the water for safety reasons. That riffle that you normally wade and know by heart might now have a submerged tree limb, branch or log, that can trip you up. Also, floating debris might knock you off-balance, too. Finally, the main channel or thalweg will most likely be running extremely fast and deep. Fish that normally would be located there most likely have hunkered down on the stream bed , in the deepest depressions, or moved towards the bank or back eddies for shelter from the currents. When a river becomes so flooded that stream bed reconstruction occurs, the currents are too turbulent and fish will move to the flooded banks, back eddies, and backwaters for shelter.
Stay on the bank and look for softer water(s), undercut banks, and side channels. Although spinning gear might get you deeper with a heavy lure or bait rig set-up, the fly rod could do the same these days with heavy streamers and nymphing. It offers the advantage of being able to lift out and over a river’s bank much like ” the old days ” of dappling with long cane poles.
As mentioned earlier, banks and undercuts offer a lot of soft water, velocity changes, and shelter from the currents. Trout are not the only ones that look to find these shelters. Fallfish, sun-fish, bass, and all species of dace, minnows, and chubs will be competing for these areas.
Here is one example: A small bass took a Stroup River Mini fished slow and occasionally twitched and bounced along the bottom as it drifted down a slower current seam.
Another example: This slightly larger fallfish took the same Stroup River Mini the same way. Stroup’s River Mini is a great ” minnow ” imitation !
When fishing flooded rivers, you generally want to slow down and fish slower and deeper. The currents are tremendously fast and a fast stripped streamer might be a big turnoff. Also, a streamer stripped fast or even moderately fast might not give the fish time enough to see it. Don’t forget, their noses will be tucked right to the bottom in most cases unless you are within the slower water of a flooded tree line or ” dead ” backwater. A subtle difference of a few cubic feet per second makes all the difference to a fish and their survival !
This is a prime area to target ! It is a large back eddy made even bigger and deeper by a flooding river. These kinds of areas offer a tremendous amount of food and shelter from the main current(s). A fly rod gives you an edge because you can fish from top to bottom. Yesterday, I saw small fallfish rise to insects in this crazy stuff so don’t dismiss using dry flies or top water flies. However, I would suggest using larger patterns. Humpies, Stimulators, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and ants, could be afloat in the foam lines as well as along the bank(s). Small rodents like mice could get washed in by a torrential downpour, too. Flashy, colorful, and larger wet flies could be very successful as they swing into the softer water. Finally, larger nymphs could be drifted along the current seam(s) and then swung as a wet as well. There are many ways to fish a piece of water like this. A long fly rod would give you the reach you require to hold your line over the bank’s edge, a log or downed tree, etc.
It is extremely difficult to see my fly line in this picture but if you look closely, I’m doing several things that I’ve mentioned already. First, I’m using a 9 foot rod. Yes, a short 6 or 7 foot rod might give me more casting room but not the reach or line control ! Second, I’m fishing a velocity change near the bank. Third, I’m fishing slow and deep. Streamers can be fished like a nymph, too !
Ok, so here is another advantage of a fly rod but, I wouldn’t recommend you try this with your heirloom bamboo rod ! I have a long leader on with a weighted streamer and several additional split shot on as well. I was still not getting deep and slow enough so I stuck my rod tip down into the water. I didn’t pick up any fish on the drift this time but I was able to get as deep and slow as possible and fish the undercut bank that I was standing on. I’ve done this on many occasions and been pleasantly rewarded.
Yesterday completed another day of my Orvis ” 20 Days in September ” Challenge. It has been fun thus far but, I don’t really need another excuse to fish more. As you can tell, I fish in all kinds of conditions, all the time ! However, I do fish safely and you should too !
Finally, it wouldn’t be an article by me without a plug for conservation. This picture says it all. Land development and loss of our wetlands and buffer zones along rivers, streams, and brooks, remain a major conservation issue to this day. Please get involved with your local conservation group or Trout Unlimited. It doesn’t take much time, money, or effort to make a huge impact. I know for a fact that Thames Valley TU ( Chapter 282 ) as well as other TU chapters are in need of more active members. We will always welcome more people ! As always, I hope to see you out there some time and please come to this month’s TVTU presentation by my friend and fellow guide, Steve Babbitt. It will be an informative presentation on the Willimantic River.
Thames Valley TU Presentation & Meeting :
” An Inside Look at the Willimantic River TMA ” by Steve Babbitt.
115 Fitchville Rd
Bozrah, CT., 06334
Fly Tying and socializing starts at 6 PM. Meetings generally start at 7 PM.
Get out there and fish,
If your primarily a trout fisherman, you do not need to let your skills become rusty while we have been experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. Eastern Connecticut has many different size rivers and streams to hone your fly fishing skills on. A case in point is the Willimantic River which will be a topic of discussion at this month’s Thames Valley TU Meeting by my friend and fellow guide, Steve Babbitt.
I have said this a number of times before in other Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts, as well as this blog, that I use the Willimantic and other marginal trout streams as training grounds to keep my skills up when I am not able to get to the Farmington or some other cool water trout stream during the summer.
First, let me digress for a moment and gripe a bit on how the weather channels use the term ” 90 degree days . ” I could be off here- I’m not a meteorologist – but, I feel that their claims of a 90 degree day whenever the temperature reaches 90 degrees is a little overrated . Let me explain:
I make a definite distinction between a 90 day that hits 90 at 9 or 10 am vs. a 90 degree day that reaches 90 at 4 pm, but by 4:30 it is back below 90 again. The day that it is 90 at 9 or 10 am is a much ” hotter ” day and more troubling for a trout fisherman than the one that peaks 90 at the height of the day but starts cooling immediately afterwards. Unfortunately this summer we have had a number of days that reached 90 degrees or better early in the day. Thankfully, we also have had a wet summer, too, which has helped keep streams flowing ! Hopefully after this next round of heat ends, we will start to see our days and nights start to cool off so fall trout stocking can begin.
Now back to the main topic. As I mentioned above, I use the Willy as my training ground when I can not get somewhere else. It is a river that is roughly 25 miles long and starts in Stafford at the confluence of Furnace Brook and Middle River. It is a relatively fast flowing river with your typical New England riffle to pools configuration. It has some deep pools but for the most part it is fairly shallow and easy wading. Plus, it has numerous bridge access and ” open lands ” for the public to gain entry in addition to a year-round Trout Management Area.
It also has undercut banks, overhanging brush and limbs, and plenty of space to practice your skills like: casting under brush or fishing around structure, honing your tuck cast or slack leader cast, and mending techniques – just to name a few.
Although it has a small population of holdover and wild trout within the TMA, it mostly receives trout stockings from DEEP . Other organizations like Thames Valley TU and Connecticut Fly Fisher’s Association provide occasional float stocking as well but, for the most part, much of your summer season is spent fishing for other species. As you can see, the ” Willy ” has a diverse population. Of particular importance is the fallfish !
Fallfish are one of Connecticut’s native species. They can grow to be rather large, too. Connecticut’s state record is 2.4 lbs.. My friend, Rowan Lytle, caught two in Pennsylvania recently that would have beaten our state’s record. They are a fun fish to catch on a fly rod and definitely keep your skills sharp ! From my experience as well as some other fisherman that I have talked to, I feel that fallfish are less picky than trout in terms of what flies to use but are just as finicky and demanding as to how they are presented, and are even faster than trout at striking and/or rejecting them . They are not the ” garbage ” or nuisance fish that you might think….and stop calling them dace !
As you can see from a teaching perspective, the Willimantic (and other Eastern Connecticut rivers and streams) can offer you a very good lesson that is most likely a few minutes drive from your residents. At the same time, you probably will be on the river by yourself to boot !
While your fishing, the Willy or another Eastern Connecticut river or stream will probably have similar flora and be very picturesque, too.
Get out there wherever you live and find a local river or stream and just fish ! Work on the all important fundamentals ! Catch fish ! Be happy fly fishing on some quiet stretch of water in your backyard !
Don’t forget to come to this month’s presentation on the Willimantic by Steve. It will be much more informative.
As always, I hope to see you out there some time and don’t hesitate to contact me for a lesson or guide. Also, please join your local conservation group or Trout Unlimited- help is always needed. Thames Valley TU will always welcome you !
What constitutes an exceptional brook trout stream or rather, what criteria is needed to make an exceptional brook trout stream ? I have an idea of some that are present and necessary in all of the streams that I would consider exceptional brookie streams. They are not absolute but from my experience, the more of them that are present, the greater the fishery whether we are talking brookies or other species like brown trout. Also, by no means does my list encompass all of them… So lets discuss some of them. First I need to give you a back story.
Pennsylvania is blessed with an unbelievable amount of quality trout water. It is largely due to its geology and vast parts of the state that remain forested and undeveloped. It has more trout water than any other state except Alaska. I believe Alaska only beats Pennsylvania because of its shear size. Someday I feel Pennsylvania will be distinguished as being number 1. There are literally too many blue lines and listed waters to possibly fish in a life time but I’m gonna try my best !
My friend Rowan of Connecticut Fly Angler Blog and I went to PA for a few days to meet another friend of mine and fish Spring Creek and some other water as well. Our intentions were to fish the Tricos on Spring but as luck would have it, Spring Creek as well as everywhere else was running high and off-color from the historic amounts of rain Central and most of Eastern Pennsylvania received this summer. We were unfortunate in February as well with high water and flooding conditions. Neither of us were complaining about it since that is what they need on a steady basis to keep the aquifers full. To give you an idea as how well they will be for fall conditions and spawning, Penns Creek was a cool 62-64 degrees in August. I don’t think the trout in Penns felt that kind of water temp in the summer for a long time !
Anyway, back to the story. We passed this blue line in February while traveling to State College. Rowan was passing the time while I drove by looking on google maps for information on it. There wasn’t much but it looked like it ran for a long distance. I have past this stream many times before but never stopped to look or bother with it. It peaked out curiosity this past February but at that time, we weren’t in the mood for exploring after fishing in flooding water and being rained on all trip. However, this trip we had great weather and the time to check it out on our way home. Boy are we glad we did because it turned out to be a highlight of the trip ! For one, Rowan caught another species on his bucket list and we discovered an exceptional brook trout fishery.
This leads me to what I consider as some of the necessary criteria needed to create and maintain an exceptional brookie stream.
First, you need old growth as pictured below.
Older forests provide stable soils for streams and are less likely to be eroded and silted out from high water or floods. Also, they provide coolness to the forest and keep the brook shaded so that it doesn’t warm up too much. If the brook is spring fed then it will remain in the 50’s like the one we fished ( 58 degrees ). If the stream is marginal, then older forest growth and shade will help minimize rapid temperature spikes and hopefully keep the temps in a trout friendly range during the summer months. Older forest are largely undisturbed which means that they are in areas not populated by people so man’s encroachment with development is at a minimum. Paved roads and sub developments are killers to any waterway regardless of type or how many ” barriers ” are placed to offset developed lands- you simply can not replace mother nature’s ability to care for fragile ecosystems !
Second, you generally need a stream or brook that runs for great distances.
This particular stream runs for a long distance ! I don’t want to give up anything too revealing even though it is out-of-state. Myself and other blue line fishermen go to great lengths to avoid showing revealing pictures or give up too many identifying features. Anyway, streams that run for a significant length offers brookies many opportunities to find suitable habitat for feeding, safety and spawning. In addition, streams or brooks that run for long distance have to ability to disperse the fishes genetics enough so that they are able survive and thrive. Long flowing brooks means they are probably undisturbed so they won’t have drainage culverts and other development features that impose on the fishery, too. If there happens to be other species in the brook, i.e. brown or rainbow trout, then a long flowing brook helps brookies survive the added pressure and dangers. Long flowing brooks have a greater potential at picking up cooled ground water and springs to keep it at brookie friendly temperatures as well.
Third, exceptional brookie streams have a good population of old and mature fish.
This is an exceptional brookie. I didn’t measure it but you can tell that it is a big mature fish. Only exceptional brookie streams that remain exceptional have these kinds of brookies in them. Rowan and I caught several in a very short period of time and in a very short section that we explored. Older mature fish pass on the needed genetics that are necessary for the species to survive. Older mature fish are better at spawning and passing on the genetic strain. In addition, finding large and mature brookies probably means that man has not disturbed the fishery that much ( over fishing, harvesting and poaching ).
Fourth, exceptional brookie streams do not have missing classes of fish.
Not missing any classes of fish means that the stream ecology is stable enough to provide the necessary habitat for a success spawn year after year. You can see that this is a smaller and younger brookie. Rowan and I caught and released several year classes in just a few hours.
Fifth, exceptional brookie streams have fish in them that live a long time.
This brookie still has par markings and is rather chunky and good length. The brookies in this stream most definitely has a strong and stable population. I personally haven’t seen a brookie of this size in Connecticut still with par marking and be that large. Again, a great testament to the fact that in this particular fishery, the brookies generally live out their full expectancy life span.
Sixth, exceptional brookie streams offer a tremendous amount of added protection in-stream and on the banks.
Here Rowan is faced with trying to fish a deep pool that has cover and concealment on the banks from all sides as well as in-stream wood debris for added cover. Exceptional brookie streams have plenty of in-stream structures and deep enough pools to survive cold winters, shelf ice, and protection from woodland creatures like raccoons, bears, birds, snakes, mink, muskrat, not to mention crazed blue line fly fishers !
Finally, should the stream experience some fishing pressure, exceptional brookie streams make it very difficult to fish.
Exceptional brookie streams don’t make it easy for just anyone to fish them ! I have found that most brookie streams that are rated as good to exceptional are also the most difficult to fish, particularly with a fly rod . I like to think that they also deter the vast majority of fisherman from them as a result. Besides, most are in areas that require lots of walking, wearing bug spray, sweating, and expending a great amount of time and energy to fish and explore properly.
This is an ultimate test to one’s ability to cast a fly rod in tight brush. First, you can’t get too close or you will possibly spook every brookie in the pool. Second, you have to approach it from below so you have a lip to overcome and a narrow chute. Third, you have little to no casting freedom from either side and overhanging cover, too. Finally, what is not shown in the picture is that you also don’t have any casting freedom behind you and you can not false cast either. I think most fly fishers would shy away from this stuff ! Good, I’m glad. I am just as greedy and secretive as any other blue line affection ado !
So…the brook trout is threatened in many places throughout its native range but not this particular stream!
Connecticut does have a few streams that are close to exceptional and remain very secret and guarded. However, most are poor to decent with some good ones mixed in terms of brook trout populations. Hopefully with continued conservation and reestablishment efforts, I and other blue line nuts will be able to continue to fish for our beloved brookies for a long time to come and perhaps even gain some more ” exceptional brookie streams ” in our own state ! But, I will still try my best to fish all of Pennsylvania too !
As always, I hope to see some of you out there at some point and be a good steward of the environment and pick up trash, release fish quickly and safely, monitor water temperatures and inform the DEEP should you find something wrong. And, join your local Trout Unlimited chapter or local conservation group. We at Thames Valley TU ( Chapter 282 – my chapter ) will gladly welcome more members.
Thank God for the Farmington River this summer and particularly during these hot and humid days. I sought some relief today by venturing to my home waters that I grew up fishing on. I specifically went above Riverton where the water is the coolest. It is still running in the mid to upper 50’s. Today I got a reading of 58 degrees in some riffled, pocket water.
It’s hard for me to be a minimalist when fishing. I don’t know if it is because of all my years in EMS and being a paramedic, where I have to carry lots of heavy gear for every conceivable situation and have been conditioned to carry everything and be prepared for anything, or is it because I do like to fish several different ways throughout the day and need to carry more stuff ? Perhaps my buddy Joe, who has influenced me the most in fly fishing, has reinforced my natural tendency to be prepared for everything ? Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above ?
That being said, it is hard on days like today to get ” geared up ” with everything because even though the river is cool and refreshing, it still is hot as hell out there ! Today, I tried to more ” Huck Finn ” it to stay cooler. I chose to fish only one fly but use it in several different ways.
My choice was a Light Cahill wet. Fished as a nymph with split shot in the riffles and runs, it represents the nymphal stage hatching from the bottom or a drowned adult of the Cahill’s, Sulphur’s, or even a tan/cream caddis. The wet with it’s light colored body and wooduck wing and hackle is very buggy looking regardless. As a traditional wet, it is a good search pattern swinging through the riffles and pockets. Finally, as a dry…yes a DRY FLY, it can be used as an emerger or crippled fly. All I did was take my shot off when I wanted to swing it in the surface film as a traditional wet.
I would occasionally see a rise in the seams and velocity changes or a patch of flat water along the edge of the bank. I used an ” old school ” tactic and dubbed some Mucilin on it and used it as a dry after adjusting my leader. It is quite fun to see a trout rise to a ruffled mess of a fly on the surface- you don’t need to have a perfectly constructed dry fly all the time. In fact, most of the time the simple flies catch the most fish !
So, it was quite ironic when I got home and read in this month’s American Angler that David Klausmeyer wrote an article called ” Simple Terrestrials for Hot Summer Action. ” In it he highlighted Ed Shenk’s famous Letort Hopper, Letort Cricket, and Harvey’s Inch Worm. All of them are simple flies to tie and not very intricate. These particular patterns have been catching fish in some of America’s most heavily and pressured trout streams of Central Pennsylvania for over 50 years !
Although he was specifically talking about terrestrials, he was making a point about the effectiveness of ” simple flies “. What I’m trying to point out is that a simple fly coupled with basic and fundamental techniques can still catch fish, too ! I guess I even taught myself a lesson today as well… I don’t always need to carry everything to have a fun , rewarding, and productive day. I certainly didn’t sweat as much as I normally would have !
All bows today in the fast water. No monsters. But, they were all in the teens and very feisty !
Get up to the Farmington and wet wade it while it is still summer. You’ll have lots of fun and be refreshed, too !
The past two days were wonderful; temperatures at or near what they should be and sunny skies ! What that means for your local avid fly fisherman is that our local waters warmed to the magic number of 50 degrees or greater-prime temps to start all of the hatches.
Yesterday I traveled to one of my favorite rivers to fish in Eastern Connecticut. It is normally heavily stocked and has a fair amount of fishing pressure too, although nothing compares to the Farmington. One of the reasons why I love to fish locally beside saving time and money ( on gas ), is the fact that our local(s) streams do not see a quarter of the pressure that the Farmington gets even on a weekday ( it’s quite ridiculous ). Does anyone work anymore ?
This particular river does see a lot of DEEP stocking and I caught a few rainbows and browns in the usual stocking areas. They were of average size stock but what surprised me was how the bows fought. They seemed to have more spunk than your typical stocked fish so if you hooked into one slightly larger than 9-12 inches, then you had a decent fight for this time or the year. I’m not saying that I got into any reel screamers, just that it was surprising to feel a good tug on the end with water temps not making it above 50 degrees until Monday.
This time of the year you still do not need to get out too early unless your itching to beat the crowd. So on a typical weekday this time of the year, I don’t reach the river until well after the kids are on the bus and I have sufficiently caffeinated myself. At the spot I chose to start, I saw evidence of some midge activity in cobwebs, some in flight , and some small caddis but no surface activity. Also, I saw a few early stones in fight as well. Around 1 PM this all changed, sort of…
The river met the magic mark of 50 degrees. Actually, it ended up getting to 52 degrees. I finally saw MY first evidence of the ” spring ” hatches starting to run their course. I couldn’t quite catch one to completely verify but I believed them to be Red Quills and female Hendricksons. I did not see a Quill Gordon though.
I will be the first to admit that I’m not a guru of ” bugology ” so I had to confirm later on with a friend of mine and another local guide, Steve Babbitt. He is far more well versed in this sort of thing and is a true authority on the subject. He was out on the local waters yesterday, too, and confirmed that I did see Red Quills and female Hendricksons. It completely made sense since the water temps hit that ” 50 degree ” mark.
The dry-fly aficionados will start to get excited here but hold up for a second ! From what I could interpret yesterday is that this hatch is probably just starting and the trout are not dialed in at looking up for their food except for the ” stockers”. Steve and Jimmy said where they were fishing , they only saw a scant few ( trout ) break the surface. So…for now continue nymphing or using wets. As the hatches strengthen, more trout will start to rise and the dries will be more productive ! Stockers don’t always follow that rule so you might be able to entice them to the surface by skating some high riding Catskill type dries or your typical elk hair caddis patterns.
As you can see, the ” egg ” hatch works too, especially on fresh stockers right out of tank # 6. Oh I can hear it now….junk flies…cheating…blah…blah…blah. Think about this though: You actually have to nymph a ” junk ” fly like the egg more perfectly than an impressionistic mayfly, caddis or stonefly nymph because an actual ” bug ” has inherent motion to them and subtle drag in your presentation might not be a deal breaker, whereas there is NO live movement with an egg so you have to drift them naturally in the current. Again, stockers violate the rules sometimes and a dragging fly in front of them will trigger a strike sometimes but you will be far more productive if you drift is more natural.
Where do you draw the line between development and progress and protection of a fragile resource or ecosystem ? Where do you draw the line on publicizing a fishery and showing wonderful trout specimens from it ? For me, it is when the potential for the degradation of a trout stream outweighs what potential extra fishing pressure may ensue. Normally I would never post a picture like this one and name where it was caught but, in this case I must.
This brown was caught and released in Roaring Brook, a tributary of the Willimantic, in Willington, Connecticut. I tell you this and show you this because the next hurdle for Love’s Travel Stop is coming.
I was made aware of this next step by Kathy Demers yesterday of the Willington Conservation Commission. She informed me of the following which is summarized as below via her :
Love’s Travel Stop proposed to the Town of Willington to construct a Travel/Truck Stop and Restaurant off of exit 71 on Rt 84 on Polster Rd, in Willington. The property is 40 acres and contains portions of Roaring Brook, two wetlands that drain directly into it and several other wetlands that act as vernal pools.
Roaring Brook is a Class 3 WTMA and is habitat for brook trout as well as brown trout- both stocked and naturally reproducing.
Love’s did receive approval from Willington’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission ( IWWC ) in 2012. It also received approval from Willington’s Planning and Zoning Commission ( PZC ) in 2013 but with some conditions to in order to minimize risks to Roaring Brook and the wetlands.
At that time, their plans were not complete for a septic system and are now applying to CT DEEP for a permit to install and operate a subsurface waste water absorption system. This would be a commercial size that would handle 6,000 to 9,000 gallons per day.
I’m not going to go into great detail here but the leaching field system is located approximately 120 feet from what is named Wetland ” H ” which functions as a tributary to Roaring Brook. In 2013, the cold waters of this particular wetland was documented by Brian Murphy, a DEEP fisheries staff , to contain native brook trout fry !
What is particularly alarming from what I understand is that the site disturbance and clearing needed to construct and maintain the leaching field would come within 20 feet of Wetland ” H ” and from that edge of ” H “, it is less than 300 feet to where it runs into Roaring Brook.
Now, I’m not very savvy at embedding links but if you Google or look on DEEP’s website, you should find Brian’s 2013 report as well as DEEP’s Public Hearing Process and Schedule. Please take the time to look them up. In the meantime, Kathy provided me some important dates- which I will be attending !
1.) There is a public site walk on Monday April 23rd beginning at 10:00 am. It is about 0.2 miles from 3 Polster Rd in Willington ( left side ).
2.) There is a public hearing on Tuesday April 24th at the Willington Public Library at 6:00 pm. HOWEVER, the community room opens up at 5:30 pm for the public to view exhibits and talk with DEEP and Love’s Travel Stop representatives.
3.) The public can also send letters directly to DEEP’s Hearing Officer with their comments, concerns, and questions. The deadline for that is May 4th.
Here is one link I am able to embed:
Roaring Brook is an established fishery and worth protecting. I hope you will read this and share and I hope to see some of you at one of these meetings.
Spring is almost here but you wouldn’t know that by looking out my backyard or yours for that matter. March’s saying, ” In like a lion ” is definitely true this year. Hopefully it goes ” Out like a lamb.” At least we have plenty of snowpack. A friend of mine who has an excellent blog, Rowan Lytle of Connecticut Fly Angler, recently wrote about all the benefits of having snowpack melt for spring time. I would tend to agree. It melts more slowly and allows for seepage into our underground supplies, fills sink holes, and overall contributes to the water table in all the right ways, which is extremely important for Eastern Connecticut.
Just prior to our second and third nor’easter in 2 weeks, I was able to get some quality fish. Some were wild browns and one was a beefy holdover bow- a real testament to trout management areas, catch and release, and stricter fishing regulations on what type of tackle can be used.
Although I caught this guy nymphing a streamer, the rest were caught using wet flies that imitate the early stone fly.
I love using wets for this particular insect, more so than dries because I feel it is both effective and enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, I love skating a dry version of it, too, and seeing trout bust the surface for them. But in order to cover water and really work some ground, I think a cast of wets works the best. Since these stones are active and lively, a pair of wets actively worked over fish just makes a lot of sense and a ton of fun. too !
I sometimes will have a weighted nymph as my point fly and then tie in two other wet flies as my droppers . I will often put an attractor as my top fly. If conditions are right, I can see the attractor as my top dropper and judge what the rest are doing ( Connecticut allows for three flies maximum ). However, most of the time I just use two wets as a cast and work them over any likely fish holding water.
It is rewarding when you see the flash of a fish, or feel them hit the dropper, or see the ” curve ” of your line ” take up ” and then feel the weight and fight of a fish. Also, it is a great way to explore water you are not familiar with and find where fish are. I don’t hunt but a friend of mine equates blindly fishing wets to hunting rabbits….you are covering ground and all of a sudden…bam !
A variety of flies can mimic these guys. I like to have them in sizes 16, 14, 12. I will tie them in a variety of ways and colors. Currently they are a blackish, reddish, gray body with black to dun’ish colored legs and mottled wing, depending on where you are in the state and which river you are fishing. Anything that is dark in color with a traditional feather or quill wing will probably suffice since the trout will be looking up and keying in on active, moving flies. Here are some of the flies I recently tied and will use as soon as I can get out again.
Notice that they have a turkey or duck quill wing to them and/or are heavily hackled ? That is so they provide extra motion and movement. Admittedly, I am not the greatest tier so some of my proportions are off a bit…. fish zoned in on the active stones aren’t nearly as picky with proportions, especially when you are actively moving them- they don’t have the time to scrutinize them. In addition, the higher and faster water of spring ( definitely this year ) flows means that you can often get away with slightly larger sizes of flies and heavier hackled ones, too.
One final thought: Nymphing wets can be deadly at times as well. My buddy Joe will put shot on and nymph a pair of wets facing upstream and as they drift below him, he will let the current uplift them and then start to work them actively up through the water column with a hand and twist retrieve and/or bounce of the rod tip.
Good luck out there. Hopefully we won’t get a fourth nor’easter next week. Three in two weeks is unprecedented and is ENOUGH !
History does in fact repeat itself and spring marches on each year whether we feel it or not. Last year, practically to the week , I wrote a blog about how it started to feel like spring, show signs of spring, and the joy of catching some early spring, stocked fish on my favorite Eastern Connecticut streams. Then, a snow storm hit that dumped measurable and plowable amounts of snow. Well, look what’s happening again, except this time I was fishing for some wild trout.
It hardly seemed like a nor’easter is at our doorstep today. The sun was out, it was seasonably warm, and one of the first signs of spring was in the air, the smell of skunk cabbage. It is one of the first of the flora to show itself. Although spring doesn’t arrive until the 20th, it is spring in meteorological terms.
Whenever I smell and see these guys, I know things are improving.
And when I see these guys, too.
Since the state has not stocked any local TMA’s yet, I went for some wild fish.
I carefully worked a pair of wets in and around wood, undercut banks, logjams, and deeper runs and caught enough fish to be happy and content for a few days.
This particular stream doesn’t give up many fish but it does hold a decent population but, you have to work for them.
It runs cold most of the time/year and it is crystal clear so you have to be able to cast for distance in some tighter places, around cover, and be comfortable with losing some flies now and again. Because it was in the low 40’s for most of the day with water temps to match, I really had to hold my cast of flies in a particular seam for what seemed like an eternity before a few of the browns decided to strike. One didn’t though and it struck one of my flies readily. The only problem was he was well hidden under an undercut bank, under some brush debris that was pinned in by a downed tree.
You can see why it chose that place to live. Luckily I was fishing my ADG Titanium Rod and was able to play it under the undercut/ brush by sticking my rod tip under it and then coaxing it out and into the blow down and then work my rod in and around the tree limbs with both hands until I was downstream of everything and could really affect a quick land and release. The ADG’s tip is sensitive enough to feel the trout on even when your snared in debris, and it is durable and tough enough to handle jamming it into stuff like I described without breaking in an instant. It has pre-pegged titanium wire wrapped within the graphite. I have a bunch of these rods and only broke one tip since 2003.
Another reason why I was able to land that fish is because I don’t bother with fine tippets most of the time. One of the bad trends in fly fishing and is partly due to the Euro nymphing guys is that everyone thinks that they need super long and fine diameters to fish….bullshit ! If you tie your leaders right and use the right kinds of cast like a slack leader cast with dry-fly fishing or a tuck cast with nymphing, than you do not ever need to go super fine. In fact, I almost never go below 3X/4X with nymphing and 4X/5X with dry flies unless the eye of the hook is so tiny that I need 6X. I’ve fished the Farmington like this, out West, and on some of Pennsylvania’s most pressured waters and have been successful. Give the fish a fighting chance and muscle them in and release then fast !
Enough with the rant and back to the story. This was the scene last year. Winter storm Elsa is supposed to give us 5-10 inches in my area. That looks to be about right.
History does repeat itself….
Last month myself and my friend Rowan journeyed to Pennsylvania for a number of reasons. First, I had to visit Joe and his family and attend a benefit dinner by the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum where Joe was the guest of honor. Also in attendance was George Daniel and Greg Hoover. George, who is one of Joe’s students and one of the world’s best fly fisherman, gave a very touching speech about Joe. Greg, who is one of our nation’s most famous and well-respected entomologists, gave a presentation on the ” Little Blue Wing Olive “. It turned out to be an excellent event. Rowan had never met Joe and I felt he would greatly appreciate meeting a living legend and one of his fly fishing idols. Unfortunately, due to a few other circumstances, Rowan was not able to spend any time with Joe on the stream… perhaps another day though !
Another reason Rowan and I went to PA is to fish Spring Creek and possibly some other famous Limestoner’s of Central PA. Again, Rowan had never fished in Central PA and I felt that he would have a blast fishing some of the most famous and historic waters of Pennsylvania and of our nation. As it turned out, we were only able to fish at Benner Springs and Fisherman’s Paradise with the ” Paradise ” being our best hope for fish since Spring Creek and everywhere else was at flood stage.
The ” Paradise ” is a fly fishing only section with no wading allowed that has challenged even the greatest fly fisherman in history both past and present and is considered hallowed ground by many.
Well, we were gonna get a testing on our trip because Spring Creek on average runs around 99-100 c.f.s. and that weekend it was consistently in the upper 300’s, near 400 c.f.s- essentially flood stage ! And Sunday morning, our last day, we saw it rise even higher !
So, despite horrid conditions and dismal weather projections, we still had to fish NO MATTER WHAT ( it did help that we didn’t have to wade because that would have been suicidal ) !
I have been with Joe when conditions were like this and even though the river is flooded, he has said before ” they still can be caught “, hence the title of this blog. And I’ve witnessed him doing it, too !
Here are some ideas to think about and consider when you try to fish water like this: fish close, very close; fish velocity changes; fish edges between clearer water and muddier water; fish deep and fish SLOW most of the time; and fish around structure.
Look at how close, low and slow Rowan is fishing. Also, by fishing tight to the bank, he is fishing water that is a bit clearer, calmer, and slower with lots of velocity change.
This one he picked up literally on the bank in and among some debris that was pushed into a little crevice and created some break in the water and shelter. Several of our fish were caught sight fishing ON THE LAWN of the grounds if you could believe that.
The suckers are just about to start their spawning process in Central PA and I caught this one nymphing slow and deep with a ” junk ” fly, a Chartreuse Mop Fly. Yes I felt bad doing it but with flooding waters you need to use big flies, bright flies, flies that move, provide motion and have a bit of flash in them.
I also caught a few wild browns in the same kind of water and near the suckers. The water was slow and deep and slightly less ” brown ” than the main flow which was a torrent. They also took the mop fly because they could see it and perhaps some suckers were laying eggs, who knows ?
By getting into the right position, using a tuck cast, using the right leader, and using the correct amount of weight, I was able to stay on the bottom long enough to pick up fish.
But, a good portion of our fish came from fishing a Filet Mignon for the trout.
Sculpins ! Even with these guys, we had to use a lot of weight, fish them deep, and fish them right on the edges of the bank and/or SUPER tight to any kind of structure that could have given a trout some relief from the current.
Remember when I said we were fishing the lawn of the grounds ? Well, I wasn’t kidding ! We were sight fishing for the smaller browns with cress bugs. They would root and tail like a bone fish or carp in the grass for cress bugs pushed into the grass by the water. Rowan had captured some very cool pictures and a short video of it. Check his blog out on Connecticut Fly Angler. His blogs are worth reading by the way.
By being observant and figuring out where trout might be in a flood, you can often find what you are looking for. Again, this is a spot where the grounds keepers will be mowing soon….hahaha.
This creek is just loaded with wild browns around 9-10 inches with sizes much larger, too ! We really didn’t get into a hogs but Rowan caught a beautiful brown around 15-16 inches and missed one in a back channel that was much larger. All in all our numbers were very good considering what we were up against and left Rowan jonzing for another trip before we had even departed for home…I think he’s hooked on PA !
This is what makes Central PA so special. Limestone…oh how I wish you were here in Connecticut !
A Willimantic River Fallfish.
The Willy is one of many rivers and streams in Eastern CT that has abundant populations of Fallfish and on this particular river, some are large as trout.
The Willy has become my run to river when I need to get out and fish something really quick because it is so close to me. It has degraded over the years for trout but the TMA section still holds some year-round trout. I’ve even run across a few holdovers in normally stocked sections, especially this year since much of our summer was very friendly for trout with cooler temps and regular precipitation. However, it is marginal and most of it becomes a warm water fishery during the summer months and into the fall. That being said, you can still have a lot of fun catching bass, perch, and sun fish.
BUT….besides trout, its the Fallfish that keeps me coming back. It is a native species so I’m ok with catching 50 of them on an outing and they hit flies like trout but with a little less weariness. I wouldn’t say they are a pushover either, I have seen them turn away from a dragging fly just as quick as a trout. But, they seem less picky in terms of fly selection and will strike flies readily if properly presented. They are in my opinion the perfect species to hone your skills on or teach a new fly-fisher how to play and land a fish. When I want to teach my eight year old son how to fly-fish, I bring him with me and have him catch a ton of Fallfish- he’s catching and having fun while still learning rod control, line control, etc… And for me, I often nymph them ‘old school’ to really zero in on seeing and feeling ‘ the take ‘.
So whenever you feel like your skills are getting a bit rusty but can’t get to a trout river like the Housy or Farmington, fish that Eastern CT river or stream right next door to you and go have some fun with a fish that doesn’t get enough credit or recognition.