Month: September 2018

Fishing A Flooded River

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 !

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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. 20180912_211625

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 !

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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.

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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.

Moose Lodge

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,

Mike

Don’t Let Your Skills Become Rusty

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.

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This is within the Merrow Park section

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 !

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Pete, a new client of mine, wanted me to critique his skills and help him improve them.

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 !

 

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Thin Leaf Sunflowers dot the river banks of the Willimantic

 

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 !

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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 !