Friday, April 29, 2016

A Long Winded but Successful Weekend In the Catskills

(click photos to enlarge) 
My son Matt and I went up to the Catskills last weekend to spend a couple of days fishing with a few of my friends.  We arrived on Saturday and headed straight to the East Branch of the Delaware where we met up with the rest of the gang.  The river was a little low, clear and cold; the weather was cloudy, cool, and a fierce wind ripped through the river valley relentlessly.  And all kinds of flies were hatching in good numbers - hendricksons, blue quills, early stoneflies and grannom caddis.  Occasionally, a bug would get blown onto the water where it would be quickly gobbled up by a fish.  Unfortunately, this was the exception rather than the rule, as most of the bugs that got hammered to the water surface drifted without being taken except for getting waterlogged by the little whitecaps.  We went fishless, cold, and called it a day much earlier than we had hoped.

Sunday morning a bright sun bathed the landscape.  The air was cool and the wind still crashed the party, but not as hard as the day before, and today it offered breaks to the patient angler.  My son and I decided to fish the Beaverkill, which turned out to be a great choice.  When we got to the water, only one other angler was in sight.  The air was filled with thousands of freshly hatched Shad Caddis - Brachycentrus appalachia. This caddis species is easily identified by its fairly bright olive-green abdomen and brown and grey mottled wings that are roughly twice the length of the insects body.  Along the banks where rocks sheltered the water from the wind, the surface had mats of freshly jettisoned pupal shucks. Midstream, in the riffles, trout were rising everywhere.  It seemed as though every fish in the river was taking flies off the surface.                    

With all the caddis hatching, in our excitement, we first tried olive bodied Iris Caddis imitations. Our flies were ignored, so we stopped fishing and carefully watched the activity of the flies and the trout.  The trout were sipping in the flies, which is an indication that they are not feeding on emergers.  And, we observed dozens of spent caddis on the water around us, which may have been spent egg-layers or perhaps freshly hatched insects that got blown onto the water so hard that they couldn't regroup and take off again.  Many were struggling, sending tiny concentric wave vibrations out along the surface.  I then focused on one of these drifting, spent flies and sure enough, it was sipped in by a brown.  I watched another and another caddis, and all had the same fate as the first I saw.

I tied on an olive bodied caribou caddis, size 16, and using my thumbnail at the base of the wing, I forced it to spread out over the body like the naturals.  Before I began looking for a target, I called Matt over an gave him a few flies.  And then it was game on. A challenging game with the high wind, but nonetheless the opportunity was there as long as we were patient with the wind.  When it would calm down enough, we cast quickly and dropped our flies above rising fish, and if the drift was clean, the fly would get sipped in with confidence.  If the fly had any amount of drag, even the slightest bit, it wouldn't even illicit a cursory glance upward by our quarry.  Other times, the wind would rise just as our line and leader unfurled, and our line, leader and fly would land anywhere but where we intended it to go.  Yes, we did some swearing, had some wind knots, lost flies, but mostly we had a great time on the water.  Matt did a great job handling the wind and making good casts, and hooking up.

Over about 4 hours or so, we hooked dozens of fish and landed the majority of them.  All of them brown trout, with most displaying distended bellies from gorging on the caddis. We didn't land anything huge, but we did manage to bring a few 16-17 inch fish to net.  All were released to continue their food fest.                    

Sharpen your hooks and fish with your kids!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Soft~Hackle Journal - Bill Shuck Form & Function

Just Emerged PMD - Bill Shuck
Our humble friend and soft hackle magician, Bill Shuck, has a nice write up about his flies and his thoughts on tying, in the Soft~Hackle Journal blog.  His sentiments on flies, their form and function, and their origin are well worth the read.  His flies are sparsely dressed, well-proportioned and visually appealing, and as such, its easy to understand why he (or any angler) would have nothing but confidence in their effectiveness.

Read it for yourself here: Soft Hackle Journal - Bill Shuck Form & Function


Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Caddis Kind of Day

(Click on photo to enlarge)
I've seen days like this before, and somehow knew this one was going to be just like the others.  A warm, bright mid April day with soft breezes shortly after the Hendricksons have peaked almost always means there will be Grannoms hatching and trout taking them.  So while cleaning up the house this morning after last nights party, I was feeling what I thought the day would be like on the river and when I was done I made a bee line to the river.

The South Branch was fairly low today for early season clear and open to the sun with the trees only just beginning to sprout their leaf buds.  The Grannoms seem to like days like this, and sure enough when I reached the water, caddis were in the air and some even on the water.  After only a brief few minutes of watching the water, a fish rose confidently with the aggressiveness that told me they were on the caddis.  I watched for a few minutes more and several more fish rose.  

The pool I was watching is somewhat slow with shallow riffles at the head, which is not ideal Grannom water.    So I decided to head downstream about 1/4 mile to a series of riffles and deep runs that are much more inviting to the caddis.  When I got to the spot, many more caddis were hatching and flying around.  I grabbed one in my hat and saw they were the smaller species, a size #16 Dark Grannom.  And fish rose sporadically throughout the 50 yard run.

After catching a few nice rainbows on a dark olive bodied Iris Caddis like the one I wrote about a few days ago, I walked down stream a bit to a deep, dark pocket that runs along the rocks on the opposite bank.  I had seen a fish rise softly here while I fished the water above.  The rises were more like those of fish feeding on a spinner or spent caddis.  The fish rose again and sipped something in, leaving only a few expanding rings that moved quickly away with the current.  I then dropped my Iris Caddis above the rise and it moved right over the fish without a look.  The next cast drifted over the spot just like the first, only this time a fish came up to the fly quickly before turning away.  The water the fish pushed created a small wake under the fly, making it bob as it floated downstream.

After that refusal and having seen the fish take a spent caddis, I stepped back to the bank to change flies.   Having seen a number of caddis floating by that had hatched but didn't or couldn't get off the water, I decided to tie on a size 16 pheasant tail soft hackle.  This fly is a great mayfly or caddisfly cripple imitation in which I have the utmost confidence in.    After making sure my leader and tippet were solid I made a couple of test casts along the calmer water and once satisfied my fly was going to float as I liked, I moved into position and crouched low.  I knew where I was going to cast as the fish had rose several times while I was changing flies.  I dropped my cast above the target and it drifted maybe a foot before it was gently sipped in, I lifted my rod, and quickly discovered I was hooked into the beast you see above.  After a good fight that brought me another 25 yards downstream I tried to the net the fish, but it wouldn't fit, so I guided it to the shallow margin of the stream, took a quick photo, and then released it in deeper water.

I continued to fish after that, working my way back upstream, fishing the soft hackle on the surface.  Over the course of about 3 hours I took a bunch more rainbows and this little wild brown that flipped itself into the water as I took the photo.

It was a wonderful day on the water fishing dries and taking in the sounds of a warm spring day.  I was serenaded by songbirds that played in the brush along the banks, while across the river up high in a decaying oak tree a Pileated Woodpecker alternated between tapping away at the trunk looking for a meal, and releasing its distinct, rising and falling shrill of a call.

Sharpen your hooks.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Quill Gordons, Hendricksons and Bug Rainbows

It looks like spring is finally upon us.   The trees are sprouting buds, daffodils and forsythia are in bloom, and best of all for the fly fisher, bugs are in the air and hatching on our rivers.  In fact, I drove over the South Branch of the Raritan River yesterday and got my first bug rainbow of the year.  That's when a flying insect hits your windshield right in your line of sight and you try to remove it by turning on your wipers, and instead of coming off, it leaves a bug rainbow.  Its not pretty, but it is a sure sign of warming weather. Not sure what this one was, but I have been seeing and hearing about decent hatches of Quill Gordons and Hendricksons the last few days, along with early season caddis showing up in better numbers every day.  Here's a Quill Gordon that was on my kitchen window the other day.

Unfortunately, I have not been out on the water in the last week and I'm still trying to find a window to get out this coming weekend.  I have been tying every day, as usual, and have plenty of appropriate imitations for the bugs that are hatching now and for the next couple of weeks.  If I don't hit the Hendrickson or a decent Grannom hatch here in New Jersey, I do plan to be in the Catskills in the next two week, where they should be popping pretty well.  Time will tell.  Here's a few of my favorite patterns for the Hendrickson hatch.  Add to them the soft hackle pheasant tail and you are good to go.

Sharpen your hooks.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tying the Allison Streamer

In this Tightline Productions video, I tie a streamer pattern designed by a long time fly fishing friend, Mike Appello, which he named for his daughter.  It combines elements of the flatwing style mostly used for saltwater flies, and Gartside's soft hackled streamer, making a slender fly that has lots of movement in the water.  It's also a fairly easy pattern to tie.  When Mike ties it in larger sizes, he will use three hackles for the tail. 

Sharpen your hooks.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Iris Caddis for the Grannom Hatches

In the last post we wrote about fishing an olive bodied Iris caddis to imitate the emerging Grannoms (Brachycentrus sp.) that are so common on Eastern waters this time of the year.  This year a few weeks earlier than what might be considered normal.    Here's a couple of shots of that fly as I tie them - above a side view, and below what we might call a fishes eye view.  I tie them on size 14, 16 and 18 dry fly hooks, as their are several species of this caddis that hatch and size is crucial to success. 

We should see good hatches of Grannoms right through mid May, with egg-laying at dusk occurring right through the end of May - caddis can live 2-3 weeks after hatching and wait until conditions are ideal to mate and lay their eggs.

Tie some up and give them a shot anytime you see grannoms about.

Sharpen your hooks.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sight Fishing on the South Branch

The other day we spent some time in the Ken Lockwood Gorge section of the South Branch of the Raritan River.  It was a warm day, with a light breeze and bright sky through thin high clouds.  As you can see above, the river was very clear, with somewhat low flows.  The water was about 52 degrees F, and the air in the upper 50s.  Every so often the sun would break through the cloud cover and as they are wont to do, dark Grannoms hatched in decent numbers.  They are early this year, and a mix of two species as evidenced by the two distinct sizes and color variations.

I found a nice run with a rocky bottom and good flows.  I could see a number of trout scattered about the run finding refuge behind larger rocks and in current seams.  As I watched the trout moved up or to the side and then returned quickly to their holding position; a clear sign they were feeding in the water column.  After catching a few caddis and getting a good view of their color and size, I tied on what I call a Grannom Iris Caddis in a size #16.  This pattern is tied just as you would a standard Iris Caddis, but the body is a dark olive-green.  I typically fish this fly in the surface film, but thanks to our friend Chris, we have found it to be effective fished subsurface.  (Chris fishes it subsurface all the time and does quite well.)  To fish it this way, I added a micro shot about 6-8 inches above the fly.  

Once I got in position, I found a feeding fish and cast my fly about 4-5 feet above it and guided it at the speed of the current though the fishes feeding lane using my 10 foot, 3 weight rod.  Sounds simple enough, but it takes a bit to get the cast and drift right.   The fish don't want to move far for their meal and there are all kinds of little currents pushing the fly around thanks to all the rocks that break of the flow.  It took a short while, but once I got my rod angle right and the speed of the flow down, I watched the fish I was targeting moved upwards when my fly reached its position.  I lifted quickly, felt my hook stop for a split second, and the fish darted away free of my offering.

That was all it took to up my confidence that I had the right technique, and I began concentrating on honing my presentation.  I picked out another fish in the run and after a few casts, it moved sideways, I lifted my rod, and soon had my first fish of the day to net.  Over the next two hours I worked this pool, and then one other, employing the same methods as described above, and took a bunch of rainbows.  If a particular fish ignored my dead-drifted offering after a number of casts, I would gently lift the fly when I believed it was near the target spot, and often the trout would react and take the fly as it ascended.

I had a great time and love fishing this way.  It's very challenging and requires lots of concentration, and even more short casts than you might imagine due to the currents and the need to get your fly at the right level at the right time.  Time moves very slowly while you are at it, and then when you step out of the stream, time seems to have flown by; you suddenly realize the sun has changed position and with it the light and shadows.    

Sharpen your hooks.