Monday, April 29, 2013

Going Beyond "Z"

"My alphabet starts with this letter called yuzz.  It's the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz.  You'll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond 'Z' and start poking around." Dr. Seuss

This was our approach to fishing on this warm, mostly sunny day, as Doug and I fished the Raritan Inn section of the South Branch of the Raritan River Sunday.  The river was a little low, but certainly not too low for fishing, and very clear.  The low water and the fact that we fished through the heart of the day, made for some challenges for both of us. For Doug, who spent the day nymphing, the low water had him continually adjusting the amount of weight he used on his leader in order to get his flies down to the fish without getting hung up on the bottom to often.  I on the other hand, spent the day fishing dry flies, and there were fish rising fairly steadily, but there weren't too many bugs on the water so it was hard to pin-point what the fish were feeding on.  At the end of the day, we both went beyond "Z", poked around, and found we had figured things out well enough that we both finished with better than average days.  

Doug, who typically uses a combination of weighted nymphs, had to resort to a set up that consisted of a bead head nymph trailed by an unweighted, tan/ginger colored scud.  At the deeper holes, he added split shot to improve his drift.  And the scud was the ticket, I think that's the only fly that took fish for him.  He hooked a bunch of fish and landed quite a few, including a 25" plus rainbow he managed to tangle with for a good 5 minutes before it parted ways with him and the 6X tippet he ran to his trailing scud.  I think I even heard him whispering some unusual foreign language under his breath after that one.  Here's a nice chunky rainbow I netted for him. 

Throughout the day there were small grannoms hatching and egg-laying, mostly in the #26-28 size range.  Occasionally a wave of them would come off, prompting some steadily rising fish for brief periods.  We also observed rusty spinners, craneflies, and a few late to the table Hendrickson duns.  After putting a size #16 caribou caddis, followed by a spent caddis, and even a rusty spinner in the feeding lanes of a number of fish, without so much as a peek from our spotted quarry, I went beyond "Z" and tied a #14 pheazant tail soft hackle emerger to the end of my 6x tippet.  I fished this fly right on top of the thin line, and was soon rewarded with a pretty, 12 inch rainbow.  From then on, I continued to fish the fly will many nice fish coming to hand.  Here's a nice brown trout that took the fly like candy next to a bank side rock. "YEZ!"       

Here's one of the pheazant tail soft hackle emergers I used today complete with knotted tippet end still tied to the eye.  This one will go in the journal under today's entry, which will be cataloged under "Z" and beyond. It took a nice 20" finely spotted, hen rainbow.

So, as you can see, Doug and I, went beyond"Z".  And if you think about this enough, you will also see, we must often go beyond "Z", fairly frequently.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Early Spring on the South Branch of the Raritan River

Here's another fine video Tim Flagler of Tightline Productions recently made during this year's Hendrickson hatch on the South Branch of the Raritan River.  This is our home river, so we fish it often, and as you can see it has some great water, hatches and fly fishing.  If you watch closely, you will even see Tim captures a Hendrickson emerging on the surface and then taking to the air a short time later.  Even the goose gets in on the action. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Not So Old Man and the Kid

Yesterday was another of those days that gets etched in the memory drawer for all the right reasons.  It started out on the cold side of the spring weather spectrum, but the skies were bright with sunshine and the lack of a canopy over our heads made for a pleasant day on the water.  We fished a PA stream, and after getting set up at the car and walking up river some distance through the quickly greening underbrush, I found Doug plying a nice riffle with nymphs.  His mom sitting across the river from him watching intently, smiling at her son's success, and enjoying the calm and quiet that only nature can bestow. He had been there for a couple of hours and was already having a good morning; excitedly telling me he was 7 for 12 - twelve hooked, seven landed!

Doug showed me the flies he had success with and how he fished them.  Using a fairly short, level leader with two bead head flies and some split shot above them, he guided the flies through the riffles, runs and deep pockets.  He said the bright green bead head caddis pupa had produced the best to that point.  All of the trout were wild browns, and upon being hooked, many launched themselves out of the water which accounted for some of the hooked but not landed fish.  Neither Doug or I get too excited about loosing fish, just hooking them is reward enough, as it means you chose and fished your flies right.

Then we both starting fishing, and began working our way downstream hop-scotching between pools, and it wasn't long before we started hooking fish.  Doug continued to use his two nymph rig, and I fished a single LaFontaine sparkle emerger deep in the water column.  The fishing wasn't fast and furious, but steady enough that we didn't change tactics as we worked our way down through the pools.  There wasn't another fisherman within sight the entire morning.
We worked a lot of water, caught a bunch of fish, and then after seeing some fish rising in the slower runs and pools, we decided to switch to dry flies.  That endeavor was less than glorious, as there were few fish rising, and many of them were one-and-done.  I did manage a couple on a gray size 18 caribou caddis, and both us missed a few more before we decided it was time for a lunch break.

After lunch the hoped for hatch never materialized and rising trout were scarce, so we went back to nymphing the faster runs and riffles.  And we got back to catching fish.  Doug stuck with his bead head nymphs, and I switched to a brown, size 18 serendipity.  I think the nymphs Doug was fishing were somewhat larger, sizes 12 and 14.  The one he showed me was a dark frenchie style nymph without the bright band of dubbing behind the bead.  He has a knack for fishing these flies properly, and at the end of the day he had the largest fish between us, this fat wild brown I had the pleasure of netting for him.

We had a great early spring day fishing hard, laughing loud and thoroughly enjoying our day on the water.  And what would a trout post be without a photo of a Trout Lily?  Thanks to Doug's mom. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Kid, the Cook and the Fly Tyer

I got a great fishing report from my young friend Doug Freemann last night, who fished his local wild trout stream in Pennsylvania last evening.  Although he only had a short time before the sun's light gave way to darkness, he did well.  Using a 7 foot 3 weight, he had the perfect rod for the small creek he fished, and armed with some pheasant tail snowshoe rabbit emergers he managed to bring three healthy wild browns to hand.

Here's Doug fishing his favorite hole, which he describes as "a little confluence between a really small creek that is chock full of food and holds some really small browns, and the main creek."  Nice going Doug, I wish I were there to enjoy it with you. 

And then there's the chef, Mr. Q, who managed to get some fishing in before hitting the kitchen yesterday.  He fished the South Branch of the Raritan River, and as luck would have it, Hendricksons were coming off the river and the fish were on them.  He caught "many feesh" on the soft-hackle Hendrickson emerger he tied in the class I gave at Shannon's Fly Shop on Sunday morning.  Another celebration of the well-chewed fly:

And finally, Chris Martino, another regular at Shannon's Sunday morning fly tying classes, brought in a couple of Hendrickson sparkle duns he tied after watching the video we made with Tightline Productions recently on how to tie them. Very nice flies Chris, let us know how they worked. 

It's always good to hear from fellow anglers and fly tyers, especially when they share their successes on the stream and at the vise.  

Get out and fish!  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Don't Text and Drive!

Today is the one year anniversary of the day some guy texting while driving hit me on Route 84 in CT, going over 60 miles an hour.  I had just come to a stop for another accident and he never looked up from his phone as he barreled into the back of the car I was driving; I saw him coming in the rear view mirror.  The car I hit in front of me was also totaled.  I was seriously injured, and missed 2 months of work because the guy just couldn't wait to text.  Some of my injuries are permanent.  I do not want sympathy, I'm doing fine, I just ask that next time you think about texting while behind the wheel, you take a deep breath and realize that whatever it is, it can wait.  It really can.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Another Lousy Day in Paradise.....

"Nothing is worth more than this day" J.W. van Goethe

Of all the things I do in my life, passing on my passion for fly fishing and fly tying is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding, and yesterday was no exception.  In the morning, I taught a fly tying class at Shannon's Fly Shop, and after catching up with each other, we got down to the business of tying flies.  We tied a few trout flies appropriate for this time of the season, and while doing so, I gave them some input on how to fish each of them when on the water.  We had a great time sharing stories, busting chops and talking trout. We tied a couple of hendrickson imitations, and a grannom emerger.

Then when I came in from working in the yard after fishing, I checked my email, and there was one from one of the guys who attended the class in the morning.  He was writing to say thanks, as he had went fishing after the class and used the flies we tied.  He fished them as I had suggested, and had a great day catching trout on them.  Some as large as 18" long!  He said he wished he could have one day a week like today all year.  I hope you get your wish, Bob.

I fished as well yesterday afternoon for a few hours, hoping to hit the Hendrickson hatch on the South Branch of the Raritan River.  I arrived around 1 o'clock or so, and despite the bright sun breaking through the high, thin clouds, the air was cool from an unsteady breeze that rippled the water surface and changed the direction of many of my casts.  The river was clear and at a good level, and there were quite a few Hendricksons coming off the water, along with a few Quill Gordons, and small dark caddis (Brachycentrus lateralis).

At times there were squadrons of Hendricksons in the air and on the water, yet realtively very few trout were rising to take them.  Usually when the hatch is as heavy as it was, it brings every winter hungry trout up to feed on the surface. I could see many trout moving in the deeper water as they took the emerging nymphs.  I wanted to fish dries, so I targeted the fish that were rising to take the duns.  I fished a Hendrickson pheasant tail soft hackle right in the surface film, and took the fish that showed themselves.  Including a nice 13-14 inch wild brown trout that had quite belly on him, apparently from gorging on the hatching mayflies.  Here's a female Hendrickson dun I snatched from the air.

After working my way up through the run and taking the fish that were rising, things on the surface quieted down - the hatch started to wane, and the trout followed, preferring to stay deep.  They did continue to feed though, as evidenced by their flashing flanks as they turned and darted to take drifting nymphs.  I caught a few more fish, including a 20+ inch rainbow that almost took me into my backing twice before I got it to net.  Then I called it a day.

Here's the view of the river valley as seen from the hill as I headed back to my home just a short drive over on the other side.  Soon the dark trees will turn to bright green.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jane Goodall at Lafayette College

On Thursday evening I had the pleasure of seeing Jane Goodall, primatologist, speak at Lafayette College. She told her story, starting out as a little girl in England, to her first visit to Africa and beyond. And with refreshing grace, she spoke with passion about her life in Africa studying chimpanzees, the importance of conservation, and also her convictions on what mankind must do to survive on this earth; to her, there are common sense solutions that can easily be understood and undertaken if one has the desire to look past their own needs. 

Ms. Goodall told the audience of how her life as a curious child transformed over time and circumstance into one that was nothing like she had imagined it would be as a young girl.  She embraced what life had brought her way, and followed her heart with a passion few of us could even dare to dream, let alone embark on.  She gave most of the credit to her mother for encouraging her to look deeper into nature rather than be repelled by it, as many mothers of her era would have done with their daughters. As Jane so eloquently stated, she entered into a man's domain and despite the trials she endured, she persevered.

I'm not sure if anything I can write here will effectively translate her message.  The bottom line is that if you ever get the opportunity to here her speak, do it.  Her point of view is non-political, non-material; it emanates from a place in the heart that is derived of passion and a sense of love for all things living.  Here's a short video from her visit to Lafayette.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fly Tying at Shannon's - Tomorrow AM

Tomorrow morning I'll be doing a fly tying class at Shannon's Fly Shop in Califon, NJ starting at 9:30AM.  There will be only one class this week, instead of the two we usually do.  We'll go until 11:30 or so and cover a couple of hendrickson patterns, and caddis patterns that are appropriate for the next few weeks in the Northeast. Bring your vise, tools and thread; Shannon's will supply the materials.  I'll supply the aggravation and entertainment.  ><))))))'>

Friday, April 12, 2013

When Summer Highjacks Spring for a Day

Its true, summer swept in this past Wednesday and seized spring from our grasp.  When I left the house and headed to PA in the morning, it was already 67 degrees, and by the time I reached the spring creek we were fishing that day, it was into the 70's.  My friends had arrived earlier and had caught a few on nymphs.  By midday, the temperatures had risen into the 80's, and the only sign telling us it wasn't July, was the lack of a deep green canopy overhead that would have provided the shade one would have expected on such a hot day.  The morning mists had worked their magic though, as the understory pushed out fresh, bright leaves, as you can see in the photo below. The breeze and the cool river water flowing through our legs, along with cooperating trout, made for a great day on the water despite the heat, and gave us memories that will live long past the summer day that came much too early.

The river was in great shape and we were fortunate to be the only ones fishing it, until later in the day.  There were some blue-winged olives hatching sporadically, but the bright sun kept the hatch to a minimum.  There were a few fish taking them in the morning, and I fished dries, missing a bunch of takes before finally landing a couple.  My buddy, who was nymphing up river from me, continued to take fish, particularly after I gave him a few brown serendipities, which became the fly of the day for both of us.  Here's another sighting of he who writes this stuff, after he switched to fishing nymphs -  a brown serendipity that produced almost immediately.

We had a wonderful day of fishing, and talking about the things in life that matter to us without the interference of electronics or the static of our daily lives.

Next we'll go about finding those hendricksons we have been waiting so patiently for.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Morning Mist and the Promise of Hendricksons

Have you noticed the early morning mist rising up from the fields, crawling up and around the cedars, evergreens and hardwoods, before it rises into the pale sky? It’s as though the warming earth is exhaling a long sigh of relief as winter finally loses its grip. Once the sun rises over the tree tops, the sky inhales the vapor; perhaps to save it for tomorrow’s dawn when it will again provide sustenance to newly emerging buds. The effect of the morning mists and the recent warmth is rapid; the green blossoms of the forsythia of only a few days ago, today have turned bright yellow and appear ready to usher in the hendricksons. I received a text this morning that some have even started to flower in the lowlands.

 Male Hendrickson (Ephemerella subvaria) - Photo by D. Cabarle

And better yet, I heard from a few folks yesterday that saw the first smattering of hendricksons on some of New Jersey’s rivers. Today there will likely be more, and possibly enough to interest some of the trout into feeding on them. So it looks like game-on any day now for this much anticipated hatch. Once it gets started, it will continue pretty much every day for a week to ten days on each river before petering out. If you are resourceful and have the time, you can follow the hatch as it progresses northward from New Jersey into the Poconos and Catskills over the next few weeks.

Also, in recent days the grannoms have been coming off fairly well starting up in the late morning and continuing on in the afternoon. A brown and bright green sparkle pupa or emerger will imitate the ready to hatch and hatching insects well. And if the trout are on them in the film, I like to fish an olive Iris caddis size 16 either dead-drift, or gently swing it like a wet fly and hang on. When the adult caddis are having difficulty getting off the water surface, fish a size 16 gray elk hair or caribou caddis. Observe the behavior of the fish and the insects and choose your weapon accordingly.

We are still seeing plenty of blue-winged olives coming off every day. They were a size 16, but as the hatch has progressed they have gotten smaller, and an 18 is a better sized imitation right now. I’ve been using the pheasant tail emerger I wrote about last week, and had good success again with it this past weekend.

And finally, the early black and brown stoneflies continue to hatch in varying degrees each day, and depending on the day and location, you may find the trout taking them off the water surface. I have heard good reports in recent days that this has been the case on some of our wild trout streams.

The options are varied, and all are viable and worthwhile, so find or make some time to get out, fish and put winter behind you.

Good luck.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sunshine and Everything Else Looks Right

If you looked out the window this morning and saw the soft breeze gently moving the daffodils in the morning sunshine, you might have thought today is the day.  The angle of the sun is higher, it is brighter, and it will give you a sunburn; my face and neck can attest to that.  The robins have arrived from their winter digs, and the cardinals are in their full scarlet glory singing majestically in the shadows of the evergreens.  Everything looked and sounded right this morning, but the forsythia still sits with blossoms unfolded, green, and in no hurry to lunge into spring.  It was also cold this morning.  And the Hendricksons agree, refusing to bring their game until the environment suits their needs.  

And so it goes....looks like the first big hatch of the year is yet to come, and will be right on time. That means it will happen this coming week, most likely when most of us are at work.  It will start out as it usually does; a few flies coming off here and there, as though they are testing the air for the rest of the brood still water bound.  And then the next day there will be more, and the trout will have discovered the active nymphs and emergers, as evidenced by their flanks flashing in the water column as they turn to take the dancing, swimming nymphs.  You may even see a few trout rising to the duns as they drift, sailboat-like, along the water surface drying their wings and taking in their new surroundings. Finally, the day we have dreamt about during the short, cold days of winter comes, and the Hendricksons will hatch en mass, bringing every trout in the river up through the water column to feed on them.  And we will be there to greet them.

There's nothing like a good hatch and rising trout to bring out the little kid in even the stodgiest old fly fisherman.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Risk Management

Today, April 6, 2013 is opening day of trout season in New Jersey. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tying the Hendrickson Improved Sparkle Dun

It's been a while since we sat down and made a tying video with Tim Flagler of Tightline Productions. Work and the Fly Fishing Shows swallowed up more time than usual, leaving little opportunity for me to tie in front of the camera. Meanwhile, Tim kept up the pace and made a bunch of great videos, in most of which he tied some killer nymph patterns. There’s also one that features friend and fellow angler and fly tyer, Allan Landeer, tying a Quill Gordon parachute. Good stuff.

In this video I tie the Hendrickson Improved Sparkle Dun. The sparkle dun is a style originated by Craig Mathews of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, MT. Craig took the Caucci/Nastasi Comparadun pattern, and substituted zelon in place of split tails, and eventually extended the zelon to combine it with the wing to create what you see here in the video. This pattern will come in handy in a week or so in New Jersey and Eastern PA, and a little later in the month further north in Catskill waters and then in northern New England.

Hook: Dai Riki #125 size 12, or any standard dry fly hook
Thread: 6/0 Danville Olive
Tail/Shuck: Mayfly brown zelon
Body: Rabbit mixed: 1/3 each of tan gray and pink
Wing: Coastal deer body hair dyed dun and the extension of the zelon tail.

This is a great fly pattern for just about any mayfly dun. All you need to do to imitate other species is change the hook size, body, and wing color. It floats well, it sits right down slightly in the surface film, which covers the dun and emerger stages.

For the Hendrickson hatch, the sparkle dun is a back up pattern for me that I use in certain situations. For others, this is their go-to pattern.
In recent years, my go-to pattern for this hatch is the pheasant tail soft hackle we featured in a video last spring (video on right). The reason for this is that the soft hackle fly provides me with a pattern I can fish in multiple ways. I can fish it like a nymph, swing it as though it’s ascending to the surface to hatch, and I can take of the split shot and fish it right in the surface film as an emerger.  Finally, I can completely dry it out and fish it on the surface as a struggling, or crippled dun. When the soft hackle fails loses its appeal to either me or the fish, or we find fish rising in faster riffles to duns, I use the Sparkle Dun or the traditional Catskill Red Quill or Hendrickson.

Give yourself options with respect to the fly patterns you carry for each hatch, but not so many that while fishing one you question whether the others sitting in your box may be a better choice. That will only lead to a lack of focus on your presentation, which ultimately will make any fly you fish less effective. Success is all about confidence in that little fur and feathered hook on the end of your tippet.
Go get 'em, it won't be long now!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

More Promises of Spring

Early this morning I went out to check on my pond, and found these golden trumpets basking in the early morning sunshine alongside the trickling outflow.  You may remember that last week I had mentioned that the daffodils had not yet bloomed, and thus, doubted the Hendrickson hatch would come off sooner than normal.  This development doesn't change my mind, I'm going with what I had said in that post - the 7-10th.  Why? I checked the forsythia, and the buds don't appear ready to flower, I think we need a few days in a row in the 60's to get them popping.  Of course, I live on the side of a steep, rocky hill surrounded by woods, so it tends to be cooler than the suburban plains. So what do I know? 

I also found a few clusters of frog eggs floating on the surface of the pond among the elodea and decomposing leaves of 2012.  It's amazing to me how many tiny black eggs are in these clear, jelly-like clusters, considering how small the Leopard frogs are - the clusters are as big as the frogs.  The few warm days last week must have drew them out of their winter stupor in the mud, and they obviously got down to business quickly.  The frogs were no where to be found this morning in the 34 degree temps.  That's an egg cluster in the center of the photo, it looks charcoal gray on the surface from all the eggs floating beneath it.

On to less important things..............  

Funny how the fly pattern I fished Sunday elicited a bunch of questions from readers.  In all of the years I have been writing on Caddis Chronicles – 7 years and counting - I still can't predict what posts will create questions or comments, or piss someone off (never my intention).
That fly is really as simple as they get.  The hook is a Dai-Riki #125 - size #18.  As usual, I use 6/0 Olive Danville thread to tie this one; only with this one, I do not cut the tag end of the thread, I leave about 8 inches trailing off the end at the tail.   The tail and body of the fly is pheasant tail fibers, four to be exact, and I tie them in like I do the other pheasant tail flies I tie.  The tail is secured, and then I wrap the remaining fibers backwards from the thorax.  Once the fibers are wrapped to the tail, I use the tag end of the thread to secure the body at that point, and then spiral the thread in the manner of a rib over the pheasant tail to the thorax.  Finish the fly by tying in a small clump of snowshoe rabbit foot hairs, just as you see in the photo.  DONE.  Maybe 2 minutes to tie this one.

When fished, the body of the fly drifts just under the surface – the thin line – while the wing rests on top of the surface.  Surface tension is a wonderful thing.  Also note in the photo, the snowshoe rabbit foot hair appears glassy, translucent and almost as though it is liquid filled (click on the photo).  Which leads to my final thought on the matter – when choosing snowshoe rabbit feet for your flies, be sure to use the ones that have shiny, glass-like hairs on the pad, and reject the ones that have chalky, dull hair, it definitely makes a difference.