Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nature's Choreography

Tonight I went down to the South Branch of the Raritan River to take some river temps and check out the conditions, with no intention of wetting a line.  The river was up some from the thunderstorms of the last two days, but surprisingly clear.  After taking the water temperature in two spots, I went down to one of my favorite runs where there are a few big rocks along the bank that are perfect to sit on and watch the river, and the natural world, go by.  For the record, the water temperatures were too high for fishing anyway, just about 72 degrees F.

As the sun made its way down to the horizon and the light of day slowly faded, trout began to feed off the surface.  Some of the rises were aggressive and porpoise-like, telling me those fish were taking caddis.  While other trout rose slowly and sipped their meal off the surface, leaving lazy, concentric circles that dissipated as they grew outward and moved downstream with the current.  These fish were likely feeding on mayfly dun or spinners.

In the air and on the water there were quite a few insects, whose numbers increased as the light faded.  There were fluttering tan and dark caddis, light cahills, small sulphurs, Isonychia/slate drakes and stoneflies - giant brown and yellow sallies.  I'd pick out a natural floating on the water and follow it as it drifted along; some would take flight, and others would be sipped in from below by one of the many trout feeding with abandon.  I'd guess more than two dozen trout were steadily feeding.

And it wasn't only the trout that fed on the insects hatching.  Various song birds dipped and dived over the water as they plucked the hapless insects out of the air.  Along the opposite bank, high in the walnut trees a Baltimore Oriole moved among the branches, occasionally making a foray out over the water to snatch a meal.  I often hear its song when fishing, but tonight it couldn't resist the feast that rose from the river. As the darkness overtook the light, bats joined in, their erratic flight making them easy to identify from the birds. 

So tonight the river flowed, the fish ate, and the birds joined the feast, while the fisherman watched from from a riverside perch, never to cast a line or even disturb what nature so wonderfully choreographed.   

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Meeting the Challenge

On Sunday, I met Doug at the South Branch of the Raritan to fish for a few hours.  He wanted to get in some time on the river to prepare for a competition he will be participating in this coming weekend.  It was a perfect day for the fisherman, warm and bright, which is not so perfect for the photosensitive trout.  For Doug, who will have to fish in all kinds of weather and water conditions during competitions, this was just another challenge for him to test his skills.

Doug started out doing a timed session on a short stretch of pocket water that was well shaded and known to hold a good number of fish.  In one hour, he caught seven fish, which is impressive for any angler.  He was fishing with his usual two nymph competition set rig - two tungsten bead head nymphs a little over 20 inches apart on 6X flourocarbon tippet and no split shot or strike indicator (he does have a length of amnesia mono built into his leader, which he calls a sighter).  One of the nymphs was his Quill nymph, which we showed you in a recent post, and the other was a Walt's Worm.  He was fishing a 10 foot, 3 weight rod.

Later in the day we went to another stretch of water, and in an effort to challenge him further, I put him in the water you see above.  At first he was a little apprehensive about fishing this area as it clearly does not look like nymphing water, and Doug was fishing only nymphs - because "nymphs rule!"  The flow is steady, but not fast, and the depth varies due to many rocks and gravel areas.  From fishing this area for many years, I knew it held many stocked and wild trout, and when fished properly almost always produces fish.   I knew it would be very challenging, and I also knew Doug was up to it and would figure it out.  The perfect confidence boost before a competition.

The result?  Doug fished the run with his usual high level of concentration, and before long had it under control.  In a short while, he took a few browns, a nice wild brookie, and hooked a very nice rainbow that managed a long-distance release.

Doug will be fishing waters he has never fished before on this coming weekend.  He never fished the water above until Sunday.............he's ready to meet the challenge.

Good luck, Doug!

P.S. One of these days we'll let you know when he decides to tie on and fish a dry! : )

Monday, June 24, 2013

Going to the Madison River This Summer?

If you are planning on heading out west this summer to fish the Madison River, you'll want to keep an eye on the river conditions, so you can plan accordingly, as the hatches may be off this year.  Seems the folks that control the flows out of Hebgen Lake seriously missed the mark with their flow regimes over the last 6 months and now the river is experiencing historically low flows.

Our friends a Chi Wulff posted the following on the matter today:

Why Are Flows 38% of Normal on the Madison This Morning?

Here's a bank full photo I took two years ago down river from $3 bridge.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Adding Color

"Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky."  R. Tagore

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

An Adventure With Austin

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different result.  A. Einstein

In our case, we keep expecting the drive to the river to be shorter than the last time we made the same trip.  Yep, we drove back out to State College, PA again this past weekend. Although it was only one car this time, so we shared the driving, which is definitely a sign of moderate sanity.    

You see, Doug's friend Austin came up from Birmingham for the weekend, and we were determined to show him some of the great fly fishing for trout we have north of the Mason-Dixon line.  With Austin being a former trout fishing guide in Wyoming, what choice did we have?  Nature doesn't provide any natural environments for trout in the deep south, and so the last few years Austin has had to settle for warm water and saltwater game fish, so it was our duty to take him to a place where the waters ran clear, cold and teemed with trout.  With all of our local rivers and streams bank full and the color of coffee with cream, we took the option of a long drive to a stream we knew would provide the antidote.

We arrived around 7:00pm the first evening, and made the most of the 2 hours of light we had to work with.  Within 10 minutes of getting there, Doug and Austin were in the river, with Doug demonstrating the competition nymphing skills he learned recently (photo above).   It wasn't long before Doug was into a brown and letting Austin know it, a la Hank Patterson.  Meanwhile, I quietly enjoyed the show from across the river - two like-minded fly fishermen and good friends sharing a rod, catching trout and loving every minute of it. 

The next day the boys were on the water by 9:00am and off to the races again, this time each with their own rod, while we went off in search of breakfast.  The day was beautiful, warm and bright, but the river was a cool 58 degrees and slightly off-color from recent rains.   Perfect. 

We fished hard that day beneath white cotton clouds that slid through the bright blue sky above.  It got fairly hot, but since the trout were active and the water cool, we barely noticed.....the younger folks less so than me.  And we caught fish, lots of them.   Mostly browns with a few rainbows mixed in, all on nymphs.    Austin and Doug used a variety of Doug's bead head Quill Nymphs and bead head Walt's Worms, while I used two patterns all day - #16 brown Serendipity's and #12 Walt's Worms. Here's one of Doug's Quill nymphs.

We managed to get Doug and Austin off the stream an hour later than planned, but their smiles wiped out any frustration we may have had while anticipating the drive home.  We had a great time and it was a pleasure meeting, laughing and fishing with Austin.

Now that I think about it, it would have been insane not to have taken this road trip.  Thanks DM!

Monday, June 17, 2013


From the folks at Sweetgrass Rods, located in Twin Bridges, MT.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Spotted Caddis Refresher

We have once again reached that time of year when the Spotted Caddis (Hydropsyche sp.), becomes an essential trout food for the next couple of months.  Here in the northeast, they are very abundant and they are present wherever trout are found.   And most importantly, trout love these little critters.   The past few weeks my most productive surface fly by far has been an emerger imitation - the Iris Caddis.  The adult is a brownish gray with lighter spots on the wings, and size #16-18.

Understanding the behavior of this particular aquatic insect is essential to being successful when they are actively hatching.  You don't need to be an entomologist or know any fancy language either, just some basic identifying information, and you are good to go. 

How many times have you been on the river in the evening and witnessed trout aggressively rising yet there are no insects on the water surface?  And at the same time, you see caddis fluttering about 6-10 inches above the water?  These two questions are the answer to what you should fish - a caddis emerger.  More specifically, a tan Iris Caddis dead-drifted right in the surface film.  In the photo above, all those little pale dots are caddis fluttering above the water surface.  That evening, fish were rising and they took my Iris Caddis like candy.

So what is happening?  The caddis pupae swim up from the river bottom and while hanging in the meniscus, they drift with the current and work to free themselves of their pupal shuck.  Once they have separated their new skin from the old, they literally pop out into the air without spending even a nanosecond on the surface as an adult.  That is why you only see the adults in the air, and that is why the emerger works so well - the pupa are very vulnerable while preparing to hatch, and the trout know it.  The trout feed aggressively because they know they have only seconds once the pupae get to the surface before their meal becomes airborne.
Tie up some Iris Caddis or buy a few, and next time you are out on the water and you see the scenario described above, fish this fly with confidence. Here's how I tie them:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Road Trip

We drove so much this past weekend our tires got dizzy.

Our road trip took us to the State College, PA area to fish some of the creeks Doug had been to when he was out there at the US Youth FF Team Clinic, a few weeks ago.   He wanted to show us some of the rivers he fished, and because the streams in our area were high, we decided to go for it.  Our schedule was tight, and made tighter Sunday by directional complications (we got lost).  Even so, we had a great time, caught fish, and look forward to going back again.

On Saturday we got to Spring Creek late in the afternoon, and before I was barely out of my car, Doug was geared up and on his way to the water.  The river was in perfect condition; at a good level and slightly off color, with only two other anglers within sight.  The river here is a series of pools with fast runs at their heads, and table top tail outs.  Trout Unlimited has done some significant stream improvement on the river, which provides great holding water for all of the browns and rainbows that inhabit the creek.  The weather was about as good as it can get; mostly clear with lots of puffy clouds drifting by overhead and the air temps in the mid 70's, and calm

And we made the most of it, with Doug starting off strong by hooking and landing a nice brown well before I had my waders on.  As I quickly got my gear ready, I watched as he hooked a couple of more fish.  When I got down to the stream where Doug was, he was beaming and talking faster than I could listen - the gist of which was that I needed to get my ass in the water and start fishing.   He was fishing a two nymph rig without any split shot, just as he had learned at the clinic for competition fishing.  Seems he has it figured out.

We slowly worked our way up the river, fishing all of the water you see in this photo as far up as you can see. 

As we worked our way upstream, Doug continued to fish nymphs with good success.  The first hour or so I fished nymphs as well, and took a few nice fish before the rising trout around me convinced me to switch to dries.   There were freshly hatched cinnamon caddis hovering a few inches over the water surface, which indicates an emerger is in order.  I tied a #16 Iris Caddis to the end of my 6X tippet and shortly was into a nice brown.  As the evening wore on we continued to take fish - Doug with nymphs, and me with dries.  By eight o'clock or so, Sulphurs were hatching well, and the trout switched over to feed on  them.  I changed flies to a Sulphur Usual, and took a bunch more fish before it finally got too dark to see (or were we too hungry to fish anymore?).  In short, Doug and I both did quite well, catching landing the same number of fish each. Here's a typical Spring Creek brown.

On Sunday we drove (the long way) to Penns Creek to give that a shot.  The river was on the low side and slightly off color.  I found a nice wide riffle and soon Doug was planted along side of it drifting his nymphs through the milky water.  The sun was hot and the air was very humid, sometimes cooled by a breeze.  I sat downstream of Doug on a concrete bridge and watched as he carefully worked the entire riffle with tuck casts, and good rod and line control.  He hooked many fish, and landed quite a few. Very impressive for this being his first time on this water in less than ideal conditions.  Here he is working his "comp" two nymph rig through the run.

Sunday afternoon we went back to Spring Creek to give that another go.  By then it was hot, humid and really not the best weather for fishing, but that's what we had and we made the most of it.  The river was clear and cool, and a trout friendly 64 degrees.  Both Doug and I fished nymphs, working the water as we did the night before, and we took fish.  The action was as you would expect on an afternoon like this - we had to work for our fish.......and a snake.  Yep, Doug managed to hook a 4-foot long water snake in the tail!  Now that was fun.  At first he wanted to save his flies, so I tried to get it close while holding his leader, but the fast water we were in finally broke the tippet and the tired snake made it's way to the bank, flies still attached.  It was much too pissed off for us to even attempt to get near it, so we left it alone and worked our way upstream.

That was our latest adventure.  This weekend we have planned another. This time with Austin, who is joining us from Birmingham, AL, whom Doug met when Austin was a guide at a ranch out in Wyoming.

Ya'll stay tuned....and sharpen your hooks.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Bending Reality: Fly Rods and Stream Access

Here's more from our friends at Chi Wulff on the Montana Stream Access case I posted from their blog on May 31, 2013.  It's worth a read - be sure to open and read the links included in the post to get the full, head shaking flavor of the post.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Tying the Isonychia/Slate Drake Parachute

There is something about fly tying, for me at least, that binds all of the strands that comprise fly fishing, into a nice contented bundle.  When I tie a fly, I think about how I want it to look once I get on the stream and tie it to the end of my tippet. And, then how it will look and behave when it is fished?

Will the trout like what they see? That's the goal; will the trout react to my fly?  It is a very creative process that some say has an artistic bent to it.  And it just may.  But when I tie, I am not trying to be artistic, I am trying to be creative.  There's a difference; I am trying to create something that appeals to the sensibilities (instincts) of a trout, not my own.  Whether I am tying an imitative or an attractor pattern, the finished fly has to have certain qualities that in my mind will get the fish to take it.  Although a little piece of me does "wind" up in every fly I tie.

So here we have an Isonychia parachute - it has the right color, a long slender body, a dark tail, and a "footprint" of dun hackle to mimic the legs of the natural.  The white wing is simply a visual crutch for the angler, and since the pattern works quite well, we can assume the sight of it doesn't seem to matter to the trout.

Hook: Dai Riki #300 size 12
Thread: 6/0 Olive Danville
Wing: White calf body hair
Tail: Moose body hair
Body: Rabbit - 2 parts burgundy, 1 part gray, 1 part black (I know, the video says 1:1:1 - that's my error)
Hackle: Medium dun 

And as always a big thank you to Tim Flagler - Tightline Productions, for another great job with video production.

Tie some up and sharpen those hooks!   

Monday, June 3, 2013

Quick Update - Lots of Bugs

We didn't fish this past weekend thanks to the water conditions on our local rivers and streams.  It wasn't too much water; it was too much heat and clear, bright skies, and because of this our rivers hit the mid 70's Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  We don't fish for trout when the water temps approach 69-70, as they are already unduly stressed from their environment.

I did go down to the South Branch last evening after the rains, but a check of the water temps showed they hadn't cooled enough.  So I did some recon, checking a bunch of spots I like to fish to see if there was any activity.  I saw fish rising in every spot, and was happy to sit on the bank and watch them feed unhurried and seemingly without a care.  I also took plenty of mental notes and set some landmarks in my head for another day i.e. there is a nice brown sitting in a bird bath along the bank just off a large sycamore tree whose roots are surrounding a large boulder on the bank - you are welcome to it if you can find the spot, it's a tricky drift over a myriad of current speeds after a tough back cast....just the way we like it.

I fished again tonight for a while.  The river was up from the storms, but cooler, and the color of dark tea.  It should clear overnight and cool considerably, so we should be in for a good week of fishing if you can get out.  Here's a shot from this evening.      

What else?  Be prepared when you do go out with a variety of hatch matching flies.  If you are a nymph junkie (you know who you are), fish the flies you have confidence in and maybe go down a size or two from where you were a few weeks ago.

Finally, and I know the suspense is killing you, here's what you need to be prepared for hatch-wise:
Sulphurs - sizes 14-20. 
Light Cahills - sizes 12-14.
Pink Cahills (Stenacron sp.) - size 12 - this is a large cahill whose body is tinted an orangy-pink color.
Isonychia/Slate Drake - sizes 10-12.
Tan Caddis (Hydropsyche sp.) sizes 14-18 - Prime time for fishing the Iris Caddis.
Gray Caddis - sizes 16-20
Rusty Spinners - sizes 14-20 - Just about any time of they day when you see trout softly sipping something you cannot see off the surface (the trout are leaving a bubble), fish a rusty spinner.  Check the water surface and hopefully you will see the naturals and can choose the appropriate size to use.  If you don't see anything, err on the smaller side; start with a size 16 and go down from there.

That's it for today.