Monday, December 1, 2014

Worth the trip

Despite a long lapse in posting, I have managed to get in some fishing this fall. Some, not a lot- and no single outing has really been worth writing about. That's typical of fall fishing in general for me and this year my parental duties have kept me even closer to home and off the water. Not a complaint- honestly, no fish I've ever caught can compare to the endless wonder that my son provides. I've still been reading about fishing a lot though, it's ever present in my mind. The new Nick Lyons book "Fishing Stories" has been especially resonant for me. The theme of balancing the demands of being both a parent and a fishing addict runs through almost every short story in the book. I can relate.  And his self deprecating take on the subject has made me laugh and nod to myself enough times to draw looks on the Metro North. One short story in particular is about a quick (and disastrous) stop at the East Branch of the Croton while on a rainy family road trip- one of the funniest things I've read in a long time. The fact that this anecdote took place in the 1960s is also fascinating to me. Lyons writes a lot in the book about fishing the East Branch in his youth, riding up from Brooklyn on the train for every opening day. It's made me even more enthralled by this place that is so dear to my heart. It's amazing to think about how many people have fished there, for so long, and how it's served as such a training ground for anglers over the years. I'm also thankful that the stream remains in such good shape, though I doubt the fishing is as good as it used to be. And I'm now particularly interested in the section of the stream he refers to as "Big Bend", a spot that pops up again and again in the book. I can't tell if he's referring to what's known now as Phoebe Hole or Brady's Bend downstream. If anyone knows, post a comment…

Yesterday I had a very Lyons kind of fishing session. After sweating through an afternoon social commitment, with the wife's promise of an early exit to fish, I got on the road to this same stream just after 3PM. That wasn't exactly the deal I had brokered so carefully, but I still took it. A desperate man has no leverage. Factoring in these short winter days and a bit of a drive to the East Branch,  I'd maybe get in an hour of fishing at the most. The fact that this was less than my total drive time seemed irrelevant. It was already getting dark when I got on the water, but thankfully I'd had the addict's mind foresight to rig up a streamer before I left the house. I had three precise spots in mind to fish. A quick strike mission. Fittingly, one spot was right below Big Bend. I think so, anyway. The first spot came up empty and the second was taken, so I ended up at the third destination pretty quickly. After a few casts upstream I landed a rainbow with a gorgeous magenta streak (see above) on the swing. My expectations had been even lower than usual, so this was a very welcome development. Still trying to cover some ground in the fleeting light, I moved on downstream and the streamer produced a chunky brown that hit surprisingly hard. By now it was almost completely dark and getting colder by the minute. I made my way back upstream, feeling very glad I had made the drive with such limited time. I couldn't help but think about the stream itself while I walked and how many other anglers have walked this path back to the road in the dark, also feeling the trip had been worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Early Morning at the West Branch


This is usually the time of year that I start feeling a little panicky. Almost all of the streams are about to close and it won't be long until cold weather sets in and the fishing slows to a crawl. For me anyway. The fall season never seems to work out that well, but I'm hoping to turn that around this year. It may not be fall, officially, but I think it's off to a good start. I had an early morning session on the West Branch on Sunday that may have been the best day of fishing I've had all year. The weather was absolutely perfect- cloudy, low pressure and almost windless. Just plain fishy. I got on the water just as the sun was coming up, my absolute favorite time to fish. And even better, I was the only person there. Without any surface activity in sight, I kicked things off with a double nymph rig and strike indicator. When the indicator took a sudden dive on my third drift I knew it was going to be a good morning. After landing four or five browns, all around 12 inches or so, I moved upstream and set up shop at the coveted tailout of the riffles near the top of the stream. I figured it wouldn't be long before someone else showed up and planted their flag there. The water was surprisingly cold, 58 degrees on the stream bottom. It was also very cloudy, but that didn't seem to slow the fishing at all. They were hungry and not exactly selective. After two trout clamped onto my strike indicator, I switched to the elk hair caddis and a tiny emerger dropper rig that I ended up sticking with for the next several hours. Both flies caught fish, though the size 22 nymph got the most attention. I never did catch one of the monster browns that this stream can produce, but a steady pick of brown trout is not something I get to experience that often and I'm not about to complain about it. Though, at one point I did start to wonder if I was catching some of the same fish repeatedly. I also wondered if I'd stop myself if I actually confirmed that.


I probably could have stayed put and caught fish for a while in that run, but after an hour or so I felt the usual compulsion to move on and see what else was happening. By now, a few people had walked through and I felt like I was getting close to hogging the place. I caught a few more as I fished a few likely looking spots on my way downstream. I saw a brown jump about a foot out of the water a couple times. I didn't catch him, but I barely tried really. By now I was feeling like a spoiled child, lazy and full of cake. I walked down to "frustration pool", which was fully occupied by three anglers. I fished a little further downstream at a spot I hadn't tried before, a nice little stretch between two shallow runs. A familiar looking brown took my dry fly after a couple casts and I decided that was a good way to end the day. And maybe even my season at the West Branch. There's still a week before it closes and I'm already feeling the pull to go back there before it does. But I might not. A day like this doesn't come along too often and it's a pretty good way to close down a stream for the season. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Another look at the East Branch

After years of fishing the East Branch year round, I have developed a routine. I have my favorite spots, I bring two rods, I adjust my rig and flies for each one and I pretty much know what to expect. And when it doesn't work out, I chalk it up to the fish not cooperating that day. Yesterday it dawned on me that this is not exactly an effective, or even fun, way to fish. After I had fished the usual first two spots without a bump, I considered the obvious: my favorite spots are everybody's favorite spots. This stream gets a ton of pressure. And I've only grown attached to fishing these parts of the stream because they're so familiar. I decided I'd change it up this time and look a little harder for the fish. I put aside any kind of plan and started walking.

I've often walked past a spectacular mess of fallen trees that criss-cross the stream and thought that there just had to be some big trout hiding in those logs and branches. And also how impossible it would be to get a fly in there, let alone a decent drift. This time, I decided to give it a shot. I had a short 3 wt that was made for close quarters. The worst that could happen would be some lost flies. I rigged up a large foam beetle with a tiny nymph dropper and made some casts around the logs and the bank. And in true form, I also made some casts into the overhanging trees, but nothing too messy. I was thinking of moving on while trying to see how close I could cast to a log when the water exploded and my line came tight. I put on as much side pressure as I could to keep the trout from getting back under that log, while avoiding the tree above me. Somehow I managed to get it to the net without much drama. A nice fourteen inch brown had the beetle firmly lodged in its jaw. Even though this was exactly what I had hoped would happen it still shocked the hell out of me.

I fished on downstream until I hit my usual last stop (old habits die hard) because it's a fairly reliable place to find rising fish. But not today. I tried a few prospecting casts with different flies, but nothing was happening and the memory of that brown, and that log, loomed large in my mind. So I went back. I tried swinging the nymph and beetle rig along the far bank and past the branches of the downed trees that formed a brushy little pen. I figured I'd lose some flies doing this and sure enough my third drift stopped right next to the branches. I was about to give the line a tug when it started to move. I was still recovering from the surprise when I got the trout in the net. It was a beautiful wild brown with red spots and brightly edged fins. 

Maybe I had an unusually lucky day, when everything seems to click, but I can't help but gather something from this outing. I don't really know this stream that well at all. And I'd settled on the path of least resistance by passing up tight spots that looked like more trouble than they were worth. I had just been reminded that pressured fish have to hide somewhere and it takes effort to find them- especially at the end of the summer months when they've seen thousands of flies. On the walk back upstream I passed a chute of water that's about two feet wide, right under a tight canopy of trees. I've considered this spot before too, but passed on the cramped quarters, in a hurry to get to one of my comfort zones. I figured I'd try a couple casts in there before calling it a day. I'd just leave if I got hung up or lost my rig. I had to crouch way down to even get close enough for a short cast- but as the second drift swung through the tail of the tiny run I felt that tug I was hoping for. And it wasn't a branch this time either. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Summer on the Farmington

I really try not to get my hopes up when I go to the Farmington. I've had some epic days there. And some thorough skunkings. Not exactly the result you're looking for after driving almost 200 miles in a day to fish.  Not to mention, the last time I went to there happened to be one of those fishless trips. The memory is still raw. This time I arrived at the trout management area around 11:00 am, fully expecting an empty river on a hot summer Tuesday. I could not have been more mistaken. Every single pull off had a vehicle in it. Including the one that can easily accommodate three cars, but was occupied by a lone pickup parked smack in the middle, blocking anyone else from parking. Genius or dick move, depending on your perspective… I lean towards the latter. I found a place to park at the very end of the line, about as close to the dam as you can park. Turned out to be the best move I made all day.

I had ended up parked right next to a spot on the river that has served me well in the past, so it wasn't the worst scenario. Far from it, actually. This spot happened to be very well shaded at the moment, unlike most of the river downstream. And it's a perfect little run between some large rocks. I had decided on the drive that I would start out fishing with terrestrials- a hopper and ant dropper. My second cast was hammered by a nice brown that ran downstream and grudgingly came back up and into the net. Well, there goes the fear of getting skunked. The hopper fly was now thoroughly waterlogged so I put on an indicator, just to see if it would work. A couple casts later I had another fish on. A drowned hopper was just as appealing, apparently. I hooked and landed four more browns on the soggy hopper and one rainbow that took the ant, for whatever reason. They were all 14-16 inches and none of them broke off or spit the hook. It was one of those extremely rare times that I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. As things slowed down and I started to think about moving on, a bad side cast wrapped my rig firmly around a low branch. That's more like it. I felt like the decision had been made for me. Lunch time.

I left the car after lunch and hiked downstream a bit. By now the crowd had thinned and there were some newly vacant spots to check out. These local guys clearly knew what they were doing, it was mid day by now and the entire river was exposed to the blazing sun. I wasn't having any luck with the hopper/dropper rig I had retied, so I tried nymping in the riffles for a while. Nada. Seemed like the entire river had decided to take a nap. I'd already done better than expected in the first hour, so I just decided to slow down and enjoy the afternoon. I had a beer and watched the water for a while. There's really nothing quite like that cold, damp breeze that comes from a cool tailwater stream every so often on a hot day. I kept fishing, but it was really more like passing the time until dusk when I knew the river would awaken again. I figured those crowds would return, so I staked out a good spot at the tailout of a long pool. Sure enough, around 5:00 I heard car doors slamming through the woods. The pool ahead of me was fully occupied in minutes. Five separate guys fishing shoulder to shoulder. They fish close in Connecticut, I've noticed. I stayed put at my spot, somewhat territorially, but no fish were being taken by any of us. There were some sulphurs, caddis and some very tiny mayflies around, but not much in the way of rising trout. I did see a beautiful yellowy brown jump completely out of the water right in front of me, but no dry fly I threw seemed to bring him back up. The guys upstream were casting away, but nothing was happening. Seemed like a change of location was in order. I waded much further downstream, where it was rocky and fast. The current was much stronger and wading was getting tougher and tougher. Never wade the Farmington without a staff, I've learned. I was still rigged with a dry fly, the trusty elk hair caddis, and just started casting into the riffles. Bang. A trout snatched it from the boiling water and took off downstream. I knew if would be a tough fight in this current, but instead of breaking off it got tangled in a stick underwater and got unstuck. At least I had found fish willing to bite. I carefully made my way back up through the riffles, casting blindly. I had some more takes and misses, but nothing made it to the net. As it got dark,  I made my way back up to the tailout and the pool above it was still being methodically worked over. I saw one guy land something, but it still looked slow. I decided to pack up and hit the road, it had been a long, tiring and very satisfying day. And I still had 90 miles to go.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A visit to the Esopus


This weekend my wife and I shared a house rental with another couple and we ended up in Phoencia, NY for a couple days. Full disclosure: I had volunteered to find a rental house for this weekend getaway and just happened to find a great house conveniently located near the Esopus Creek, which I've wanted to fish for a long time. It also just happened to have a classic Catskills trout stream running right behind the house. So, I figured I should pack some rods. You know, just in case.

Thanks to some excellent insider info from Tom, I was prepped for a quick strike plan to visit two distinctly different parts of the Esopus: the lower portal-fed section in the morning and the upper smaller water in the evening. I was especially curious about the upper area, being the small stream fan that I am. Neither spot was a disappointment. Not only were the flows perfect this weekend, but both areas were just spectacularly beautiful. I haven't spent a ton of time fishing the Catskills, so I usually  feel a bit overwhelmed by all that big open water, but the pocket water I found in both areas was a welcome sight. The fishing was a little slow in the morning at the first location. I tried fishing an attractor dry at first, with no takers. I switched to tight line nymphing and picked up a nice brown at the head of a deep, fishy looking pool created by a gnarly log jam. I ventured upstream and bit and found some fast riffles and then a long slow pool that looked like excellent dry fly water. Naturally, there was already someone fishing there. After a quick hello, he generously encouraged me to jump in at the head of the pool. I took him up on it, with gratitude, but wasn't able to connect with anything on a dry dropper. I didn't see a single rising fish all day and nothing more than the occasional mayfly here and there. The fishing may have been slow, but the surroundings were really incredible. I'd love to return when the hatches are more active, it's just a beautiful place to fish.

That evening I took a quick drive to the spot on the upper section. Given that the Esopus is cooled by the somewhat controversial portal further downstream, which forms a cloudy and very cold tailwater, I had no idea what to expect of the section that is more of a freestone. I was happy to find water that was gin clear and cold- and much more so than our local Croton streams these days. And this area was even more beautiful. The narrow and rocky stream wound its way through a valley, with the lush green mountains in the distance. Though it's not far from the road, the sense of being in the wilderness was striking. The only footprints I saw were those of a bear and what I would guess to be coyotes. I was actually so enamored with it all I didn't even take any photos. And again, the variety of water was amazing. Years and years of flooding have created occasional log jams that form some excellent pools. Not to mention the many rocks that provide perfect lies for trout. I hooked and lost a couple small wild browns in the first pool and then made my way downstream. It didn't take long to find an absolutely perfect run. It took shape after a shallow pool flowed into a sharp bend- creating a narrow and deep run along a bank with overhanging trees. Textbook trout water, if I've ever seen it. Though there were almost certainly trout in there, and I worked hard, I just couldn't get one of them to take a fly over the next hour. I tried various nymphs at every depth possible and drifted some terrestrial dries under the branches, but I didn't see a sign of life. Even the occasional real insect that floated by got the cold shoulder. I rested the water for a while, after likely having put down any activity, but it didn't make a difference. It's tough when you just know they're there, but they won't bite. I finally admitted defeat and walked back to that first pool. I immediately hooked a small brown. A nice way to go out, sure, but it didn't exactly solve the mystery of that seemingly lifeless run I had just left. With a promise of grilling dinner to keep, I packed it up and hiked back to the truck. I can't wait to come back here.

The famed Stoney Clove Creek, right behind the house. This little creek was just full of brown trout parr.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sneaky Pete

I've been meaning to bring this guy fishing for a while now, but I've been a little hesitant because I didn't know how well he'd do. Pete's a rescue from Mississippi, a Nova Scotia duck toller, and he's a nervous dude. He scares easily and when we first got him he was intent on escaping. And on a couple occasions he came pretty close. We don't know anything about his past, but he's clearly experienced some trauma. But he's come a long way over the years and I finally feel like we trust each other enough to go out in the woods without the leash and do some fishing together. I took him with me yesterday to a stream I knew we'd have to ourselves, and he just came alive. He loved the wading, the climbing through the downed trees and brush, and even seemed to understand the need to approach the water carefully. And he was psyched when I caught fish. What more can you ask for in a fishing buddy?

UPDATE: If you feel like supporting a good cause, vote for Pete in the Orvis Cover Dog Photo Contest.

Monday, July 14, 2014

On a Mission: Part 2


Had the bass been biting more on the previous day, I might have rallied the energy to get back out there for more at the crack of dawn. Instead, I decided to get some needed sleep and catch up on the yard work that was about a week overdue. I figured if I got on a stream by 2:00 I'd still get in a pretty full day if I fished until dark. So, after some work around the house and a quick lunch, I was on my way to the East Branch. I thought of revisiting Stream X, but I also wanted to cover more ground during this 48 hour binge. And this is the time of year when fishing options start to fade… only a few streams can really handle the summer heat. The EB is one of the most consistently cool ones around and I figured I'd have it all to myself on a Monday afternoon.

As I arrived, the only other guy there was just pulling out. Sweet. I rigged up two rods this time- a 5 weight for indicator nymphing and my 3 weight for dry flies. I'm still on the fence about a two rod attack. It's a bit of a limitation toting them both- you can't just wade as you please and absently worrying about leaving one stashed on the bank is a bit of a distraction. However, the ease of switching up tactics makes it well worth it. Many times I've spotted a rising fish and been able to cast to it with the other rod right away. I started this afternoon nymphing and worked down through the familiar runs to a spot that I realize I've only grown to love because it just looks nice. Sure, I've caught fish there. And one of them was huge. But mostly I get skunked there, just admiring the view and the scent of the pines that seem concentrated in that one area. I did connect with a trout there this time, but it got unbuttoned pretty quickly. I decided to move on to another favorite spot that actually holds fish. Or at least ones I'm capable of catching. This spot is a very non-descript section of water, but it consistently holds trout that will almost always take a dry fly year round. And no, that's not it in the above photo. I didn't see anything rising when I got there- but a couple blind casts with a trusty elk hair caddis and dropper rig provoked a take that I missed. I started making longer casts to the opposite bank and immediately connected with a fish that revealed its power right away. I gave it a second little tug to set the hook (a new habit that seems to be paying off) and gingerly fought a thick brown all the way to the net. I scooped him up with a sigh of relief. Admittedly, I haven't caught a ton of trout this year- but being over sixteen inches this was definitely the biggest of the season so far. So where's the photo? Well, there's a story. I wanted to keep it healthy and alive, so I left the fish inside my net in the shallows as I fumbled for my iPhone… turns out this fish could swim quite well in about  two inches of water. Of course. But then I got a second chance… somehow it got hooked on the dropper fly. I got it unhooked right away. And then it slipped from my hands into the water. I was cursing until I looked down and saw it calmly finning at my feet, the way large fish sometimes do after being released. A third chance. I tried to gently corral it into my net with my arm, but it swam away in a flash. Of course, again. All this bumbling just for a damn photo. I had just caught and landed a beautiful brown trout, on a dry fly even, yet it almost seemed like it didn't "count" because I had missed a chance to document it. Remind me again why I fish…

Pictures or not, it was another excellent afternoon and I had to decide whether to stay or go as it started getting dark. Unable to let go of somewhat of a fantasy, I left and returned to the West Branch. I still had high hopes for some evening dry fly fishing. Unfortunately, the conditions had degraded even further in twenty four hours. The water is officially warm. I did catch some fish- sunnies and a tiny smallmouth. Clearly, warm water residents have moved in now and the trout are in search of cooler water. I hope they find it. As it began to get dark, heavy clouds starting rolling in and thunder boomed over the hills. Time to move on.