Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Tale of Three Rivers

This past weekend we managed to fish quite a bit despite working both Friday and Saturday morning. The fishing was very good, the catching somewhere between poor to excellent depending on the location and the day. The weather all three days was weird, yes weird, at least for late April, but not bad.  Seems a low pressure system hanging to the north kept the breezes strong and the air temperatures fairly cool, and the skies about 51:49 - clouds to sun.  If you looked up at the sky and watched the flow, the clouds were riding the upper winds like they couldn't wait to get out over the Atlantic Ocean.

On Friday afternoon, I hit the South Branch mid afternoon, and to my surprise there was no one on the water where I went and the hendricksons were hatching in very good numbers, and best of all the trout were taking them off the surface.  I waded into the top of the pool, tied on a #12 soft hackle pheasant tail emerger to the end of my 5X tippet, and before long was fast to a nice rainbow. I fished for about 4 hours and had the river all to myself.  And the bugs and the trout cooperated.  I caught a ridiculous number of trout, all rainbows, and all of them on two flies - the same pattern, only the first fly literally was torn apart to the point it was almost a bare hook so I retired it and tied on a new one.

On Saturday, I headed to Broadhead Creek in PA after a morning meeting nearby.  I got to the river about noon, and it was in great condition - clear, a little high and essentially perfect for this time of the year.  A good breeze blew, it was cool, and everything felt good.  Only there were no bugs, and after two hours of nymphing to no avail, I decided to head back to Jersey.  I think I was a week or so too early.  Doesn't the creek look great though?

My next stop was the South Branch, where I found lots of anglers, plenty of bugs and trout rising to them.  I went to a spot that was off the beaten path and fished for a bit, caught a couple and then spent the next hour or so checking out different spots on the river to see what was happening before calling it a day.

Sunday I met up with a couple of friends on the Musconetcong River, and we had a blast.  There were no fish rising when we got to the water despite a very heavy hatch of dark grannoms, so we went deep with sparkle emergers and crane fly larva, and did quite well.     

My friend David lent me his Winston classic fly reel to fish, and so I did. It balanced perfectly with my 10 foot, 3 weight rod.  It was a pleasure to fish with.  Here it is in a bed of what I call swamp daisies.  Did you know that these bright flowers react to the sun by closing up when the big yellow orb goes behind the clouds?  I didn't know this until Sunday when I sat down in a patch of them to watch Paul fish, and I noticed that every time the sun went behind the clouds for more than 30 seconds or so, the flowers would close up.  Then the sun would emerge, and they would respond by opening up just as you see here in the photo.

After fishing for some time, Vinnie decided to seine the river and see what he could stir up in the rocks.  Here's a nice, big crayfish.

This is a Rhyacophila Sp. caddis larva, better known as a rock worm.  It is a free-living caddis that is very abundant in most Eastern rivers, and that was evident on Sunday as every sample had a bunch in it.

And here we have a giant brown stonefly nymph crawling over the back of my hand.  These big fellas prefer clean, fast moving water and cobble bottoms.  They crawl around the rocks for up to two years before they hatch into a slender, down-winged adult whose flight resembles what one might think a drunk helicopter might look like.....use your imagination.  

And finally, we have an egg laden female hendrickson spinner.  When dusk settles in after a good hendrickson hatch, these beauties return to the river to mate and drop the next generation into the drink where they will hatch into a tiny nymph, grow over the next twelve months, and then hatch again into a winged terrestrial adult to start the process all over again.  

I hope you all enjoy this stuff as much as I do.  The fishing is great, and it's even better when you look around, open your ears, and see and hear everything else that's tethered to the world around you.

Sharpen your hooks! 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Road Trip With A Sweet Ending

Doug and his friends, Bryson, Alex and Rob, went to the US Youth Fly Fishing clinic last weekend in North Carolina and along the way, and on the way back, they fished a bunch of different streams. And when you fish a lot you get better at it, and with that comes rewards.  On the way home, the boys made their last stop at Mossey Creek in Virginia to fish before the last leg of their trip, and as you can see below, Doug was rewarded with a very large brown trout.            

Doug tells me that the rest of the trip was a success for all of them, as they did well at the clinic, which was held on the Nantahala River, and at the other rivers they fished.  One of them was the South Holston in Tennessee, which Doug tells me I "have to fish!"  So now I have the Nantahala and South Holston on my to fish list.

Sharpen your hooks.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pheasant Tail Soft Hackle Emerger

Here's another fly that we partner with during the river dance this time of the year.  The video shows how we tie the sulphur soft hackle, however, right now we are tying this same fly in a size 12 and 14, with a medium Australian Opossum dubbing for the thorax in lieu of the yellow - check out the start of the video and the second fly being rotated is tied this way.  It imitates the hendricksons that are hatching now here in New Jersey, and that will soon be coming off Catskill rivers in the next couple of weeks. It can be fished as you would a nymph or wet fly, or dead-drifted in the film just as you would a dry to imitate the emerging dun, or a cripple.  Trout love these flies when they are fished properly, and they always account for a few good fish for me during the hendrickson season. 


Hook: Standard Dry Fly #12 & 14
Thread: 6/0 Danville olive.......but of course!
Rib: Copper wire
Tail and abdomen: Dyed brown pheasant tail
Thorax: Medium Australian Opossum - touch-dubbed
Hackle: Golden olive dyed speckled hen 

Tie some up, fish them hard, and sharpen your hooks.

And have fun!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The LaFontaine Sparkle Emerger - Tie Some Up!!

A reader asked to see the flies I have been using with success of late, and this is one of them.  The LaFontaine Sparkle Emerger is a great caddis imitation, and one of the flies I use all year around with good success.  It's also very effective throughout the country, where ever caddis are present - everywhere. The color combination shown in the video - brown and yellow - has been the most effective of late. I have also been using the brown and bright green with good results.  I typically fish them deep or in the water column, and only at the surface when fish are taking the naturals in the film.


Hook: Standard Dry Fly #12-16
Thread: 6/0 Danville black..........
Overbody and Trailing Shuck: Golden yellow antron sparkle yarn
Underbody: Tan antron
Wing: Deer - well mottled
Head: Dark brown

They are a bit of an effort to tie, but like everything else that takes effort, it is well worth it.  This fly works well, and while there are plenty of similar imitations, I still haven't found a subsurface caddis pupa/emereger pattern that is nearly as effective as this one.

I'll post some other patterns I've been using, so come on back real soon.

Sharpen your hooks!!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Another Day On the Musconetcong River

With the South Branch being as low as it is and the Musky fishing so well, it was an easy choice today as to where we would fish.  There were four of us today, Vincent, Chris, and his friend Mike. We fished the same water that Vinnie and I fished last weekend, and although the fishing wasn't as frantic as it was last Sunday, we all caught fish and had a good time.  

We had hoped to see some hendricksons hatching, but they didn't show.  The dark grannoms did though, and in very good numbers.  Caddis emergers, soft hackles, and iris caddis fished below the surface all took fish.  I saw one fish rise, but that was it, so the dries stayed in our boxes.  Most of the trout in the stretch we fished are stocked, and with the cold water it seems they are in no hurry to start rising to bugs even though there were plenty of caddis on the water today.

Over on the South Branch, I got word that the hendricksons are hatching there, not in big numbers, but enough to bring fish up to the surface.  There are also good numbers of dark grannoms coming off there as well.  It should be noted that this river has been lower than the Musky this spring, thus the water temperatures have been higher. Not much, but enough that it has made a difference.

Sharpen your hooks!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hendricksons - They Should Be What's For Dinner

Over the next couple of weeks, the Hendricksons should be hatching and with luck the trout will be feasting on them.  Here in New Jersey, they should begin to hatch any day now, while in the Poconos and in the Catskills, they should show in a week or two or three, depending on where you fish.  After the brutal winter we had, there are all kinds of predictions on when the hatch will occur.  The only way to know is to get your ass out on the water as much as possible, because if you aren't there, you aren't going to catch anything on them.  If course, if you are there, you should have been there yesterday........

Rather than reinvent the blog post, here's a link to a nice write up that OrvisNews posted this week with a great video by Tim Flagler of the Hendrickson nymphs in their natural environment, followed by two tying videos of some guy tying Hendrickson dry flies - a Catskill Hendrickson and a Hendrickson Comparadun.

LINK: Meet the Hendricksons       

Sharpen your hooks!

Monday, April 13, 2015

An Early Season Report - The Musconetcong River

Yesterday, Vinnie and I decided to fish the Musconetcong River, one of New Jersey's most popular trout streams.  The "Musky", as it is known, begins at Lake Hopatcong and flows in a Southwesterly direction for 45+ miles before it enters the Delaware River.  We fished a stretch that flows through a wide valley that is a patchwork of cornfields and former dairy farms and whose weathered barns have either been converted to homes or left to nature's whims.  The river here is classic Northeastern trout water; long pools divided by short, fast pocket water stretches, that hold plenty trout (mostly stocked) and the aquatic insects they feed on.  This stretch is also perfect habitat for scuds, which thrive and serve as a primary food source for the trout.

Let's get to the report.  We parked off a road that crosses the river and walked about a mile up through first a cornfield and then a good half mile of shrubbery, trees and thorn bushes before we got to the water we wanted to fish.  The river was a little high, clear, and there was a good hatch of dark grannom caddis and little black stoneflies.  The skies were clear and bluebird blue, the sun was as warm and bright as it has been all year.  A light, intermittent breeze blew just often enough to keep casting interesting, but not so much that I resorted to swearing at it under my breath.  I was fishing a 10 foot, 3 weight, which on windy days stays in its case, but the purpose perfectly today.

Vinnie was in the water and fishing before I was, and had taken a few fish by the time I started.  I started fishing the pool above him, and using a brown and yellow LaFontaine sparkle pupa, it wasn't long before I hooked into a fish and landed it.  As I released the fish, Vincent hooked one, lost it, and in a few more casts was into another.  I also couldn't keep the fish off my fly once I got the right amount of weight on my leader.  I had heard the state stocked the river heavily this year with rainbows, and I guess conditions were just right so that they were feeding aggressively.

It is rare, but sometimes the water, weather and perhaps some other natural event happens that the trout feed with abandon.  It was like we couldn't keep them off our flies.  No kidding, as we worked the water we were hooking fish with a regularity that was almost silly. I'm sure we had many more drifts that went unmolested, but the ratio of drifts to takes was high enough that it seemed as though we were into fish almost constantly.

We started to work upstream, and after going maybe two pools, I changed directions while Vinnie continued moving up.  I wanted to fish, not rub elbows with other folks, and about 100 yards upstream there were at least 7 guys fishing a few pools. I headed down and continued to hook fish regularly, and after about an hour Vinnie was back and had the same experience as he worked up, although he had to hopscotch around the other anglers.   My biggest fish was this hold over brown that took my fly less than a foot from the opposite bank.  I had seen it flash a few times as it took emergers under the surface, and after making a few casts, I got the drift right and it took the fly.

It was a great day, however unusual, as we hooked and landed a ridiculous number of fish and after three hours we figured we would quit while we ahead.  Most of the fish were taken on the sparkle emerger.  In the deeper holes, a size 12 Walt's Worm was the ticket.  With all that activity, we didn't see any fish rise, which isn't a surprise but more of a wish.  When conditions are like they were, the voice my head always starts whispering, "Look for rises.  They just have to start looking up."  No such luck, and no I'm not crazy, just optimistic after a long, cold winter of not fishing.

Sharpen your hooks!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

They Paved Paradise.........

When Vincent and I finally drove away from Saucon Creek today, I was a little depressed at what has befallen this wonderful little limestone spring creek in Pennsylvania.  Just two short years ago, this creek was full of wild browns that rose almost daily to the blue-winged olives and other small flies that typically hatch here.  And it's also the place where I first met Douglas, his mom, and his friend Shawn a little over two years ago to fish for our first time together, and where over the next four or five months, Doug worked very hard to develop into the successful angler he is today.  We fished this creek hard every weekend for the entire spring, catching dozens and dozens of trout, Doug almost exclusively on nymphs using competition methods, and I on nymphs and dries, depending on the mood of the river.

In my 40+ years of fly fishing, it was one of the most memorable springs on the water for me. Working with Doug and seeing him develop and improve every week was wonderful, and the richness of this creek gave him the opportunity to do just that.  And we literally experienced the change of seasons from late winter, to early spring, to spring and finally to summer; it was like the best time-lapse real life slide show one could have.  It started in the starkness of late winter when the natural world is chilly and dull, and then as the weekends passed nature slowly awoke; buds formed, wild flowers bloomed, birds came and nested along the river, and after a few nasty thunderstorms, the trees turned green and full.  And every weekend we caught fish, often fishing both days.  (Check out my posts from spring 2013 to see our spring).

Fast forward to the last few weeks. I have been to the creek a number of times, and something has changed.  The fish are not there, but the hatches are, which is a good indicator of the water quality. Both Doug and I have seen plenty of bugs, but no fish rise to take them off the surface, which we first thought was because the water was too cold. We have fished the pools and runs to little or no avail, and walked the banks looking into pockets and holes where we would typically see plenty of wild browns hanging just above the bottom and where now we are seeing maybe one or two fish......and often none.  And word has gotten around; the stream was empty today of anglers.  Normally on a bright early spring day like today we would see a number of other anglers fishing the stream, many casting a blue-winged olive imitation to the numerous fish rising to naturals along the far bank in the park.

So what has happened to this little gem?  The wild browns are still in there, only in far fewer numbers than there were last year and the year before.  The bugs are still there. I have seined the creek a few times in the last few weeks, and there are good numbers of nymphs, larvae, and other aquatic insects. Last week I saw high numbers of blue-winged olives hatching, and the week before quite a few were also coming off.

I don't know what has happened, but what I think may have happened, is that the hard winter we just experienced negatively affected the resident trout population, and perhaps last year's drought - July through November - and the resultant low water levels created water temperatures above what trout need to survive. The low water also significantly reduced the amount of suitable submerged gravel beds for the trout to spawn last year. I've heard a few anglers, Doug included, comment that they did not see any redds last fall.

Where does that leave us?  We are hoping that many of the fish headed down stream to the Lehigh River, and that over time they will return.  And that this fall there will be plenty of water in the creek, and that the fish that are there will successfully spawn. And with luck and the help of nature, the creek will heal and return to its old, reliable self.

I have a season of wonderful memories on this creek, and I hope beyond what may be reasonable, that it will recover to give many others what it has given me.

I'm betting it will.

.......you don't know what you got 'til it's gone.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Rainbows

It was one of those strange early spring days today where the weather isn't sure if it wants to merge into the next season.  A little sun, which was warm when it showed itself, low clouds that increased in density as the day progressed, and lots of gusty winds.  The air also couldn't choose a season, remaining mostly cool so as not to get our hopes up too much as to when the first major hatches will begin in earnest.

After a great brunch with family and friends at the local Inn, I went home, changed and gathered my gear before heading down to the South Branch of the Raritan River.  The water level was good, clarity very good, and the temperature about 45-46 F.  There were a few small little black caddis about, a few dark grannoms, and plenty of tiny black midges skittering about the slack water along the stream edge.  I walked upstream from where I parked and found a favorite hole at the bottom of a long riffle that was without an angler anywhere in sight.

After setting up my leader for fishing a single nymph, I got to work drifting a #14 Walt's Worm through the deeper runs and along the far bank.  After making a number of drifts and adjustments to the amount of weight on my leader, I finally got the drift right for the fly I was fishing.  There's no set formula to finding the correct amount of weight; it's all feel and experience, trial and error. And what's right for one run or pool or pocket, may not be right when you get to the next.  It's all about the drift - the depth and the speed; it has to be right and feel right.

And of course it is about results.  I managed to take a bunch of freshly stocked rainbows, some smallish, and two that were 13-14 inches long that found hard.  The first two took the Walt's Worm, the rest I took on a #12 brown and yellow LaFontaine Sparkle Pupa.  

After about two hours, I decided to call it a day.  I had caught fish, and my right arm was freezing!  I had stopped fishing for a bit to seine the run above the pool I was fishing to see what nymphs and other aquatic life was active.  I seined a few shallow spots, but didn't find much, so I went deeper and submerged my arm almost up to my shoulder.  Bugs before comfort I guess, and I was fine when I first went back to fishing, but the wind on my arm started to chill my whole body.  If fishing were better, I likely would have stayed warm just from the excitement, but not today.

It was a good day.  Caught fish, and found a load of bugs in the deeper water.  Tons of scuds, mayfly nymphs, caddis larva and a few crane fly larva.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Hendricksons should start hatching by next weekend.  Maybe by Friday - that is, in New Jersey.

Sharpen your hooks.     

Happy Easter

                                                         (c) 2009 Eugene Arenhaus

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tying Harrop's CDC Transitional Midge

I finally got off my ass (see 3.23.15 post), sat down on it, and tied in front of the camera with Tim Flagler this past Sunday.  This fly is a simple but effective midge emerger pattern originated by Rene Harrop for his ultra tough home water, the Henry's Fork of the Snake River in Idaho.  Like most Harrop patterns, the second you look at this fly, you know it is going to work.  It may be small, but it is fairly easy to tie - three materials - and you can change the body color to match any midge on your home water.

Hook: TMC 100 #20-24
Thread: 6/0 Olive Danville (what else?)
Tail/Shuck: Grizzly hackle tip
Overbody/Legs/Head: Natural CDC puff
Body: Australian opossum - natural

What could be easier?  With a little practice you can knock these things out in no time and be prepared for those snotty little smutting trout that are feeding on midges and won't take standard fare.  If you have trouble seeing them on the water, tie on a larger dry first, then tie about 20 inches of tippet to the bend of that fly to which you then tie this fine pattern.   No reason to make things more complicated than they have to be.

Sharpen your hooks!