Monday December 26, 2016 -
I finally got on the water at around 3:30 pm. You see, I had arrived at the river about a half hour before that, put on my waders and vest, only to find that in my haste to get out of the house I forgot to put my rods in the trunk of my car with the rest of my gear. Thankfully, I live only 10 minutes from the South Branch of the Raritan River, so I still had time to get in an hour or so of fishing before darkness set in.
The air was calm, 36 degrees F, and a light mist fell softly making for a raw but pleasant late afternoon on the water. Did I say that? Yes, sometimes it feels good to stand in a quiet stream, the cold, heavy air pinching at the bare skin on your face and hands. It reminds me that I'm lucky to be alive and that all my senses work; it reverses the numbness that sometimes takes over the rest of my daily life.
The river was clear, sort of low for this time of the year, and right around 41 degrees F. I was fishing my 10 foot, 3 weight, which has become my favorite rod to fish when the air is calm. It even casts quite well in a light breeze, and has enough punch to turnover a hand-tied leader and small dry in those same conditions. Nothing was rising nor were there any bugs on the water or in the air, as you might have guessed. So I tied on about 2 feet of fresh 5x tippet to the end of my already 10 foot leader, before tying on a size #16, green, beadhead Matt's Buzzer. The flow of the river across from where I was standing, and where I believed the trout would be holding, was fairly consistent so I dispensed with adding split shot to the tippet and fished by following my fairly straight line and leader with my rod tip, after throwing an upstream mend with each cast.
After about 10 minutes, and a single take that I missed, I decided to switch flies and tied on a #14 weighted Walt's Worm. I fished this fly the same as I did the buzzer, and took a short step downstream after every few casts. A few minutes into it, I had a solid take and after a brief fight landed a very dark brown trout that was about 11 inches in length. I'm pretty sure this was one of the fish from Shannon's Christmas Stocking a few days earlier.
Another fine photo by M. Grobert
I covered most of the length of the pool in about 20 minutes, and although I didn't hook any more fish, I did see a number of fish move and flash in the clear water. Being that the day was closing in on dusk, I decided to go back up to the top of the run, after which I shortened my tippet and tied on a black beadhead krystal bugger size #6. Its one of the few streamer type flies I carry now, and with it, I can cover a lot of water in a short period of time.
I cast it right up against the bank, sometimes landing the fly on the rocks or in the brush, and if that happened I'd give it a brisk snap with the rod tip to pop it back into the river. Either way, once the fly landed, I'd begin stripping it in short, quick strokes with my rod tip low, perpendicular to the flow. And the fish couldn't resist it. They came off the bottom like a torpedo to chase it, often hitting it short before turning and sliding back down to their holding position.
It was crazy streamer fishing from that point on, with fish chasing the fly on every retrieve. I worked every inch of the water, stepping downstream every few casts. I slowed up slightly, and began hooking up and landing fish. More often than not, the strikes were short grabs of the marabou tail, but when they wanted the fly, they took it in and stopped its forward motion instantly. In the last half hour of light I hooked 9 or 10 fish, and landed 6. As the light faded, a hard take separated my tippet from the fly and I called it a day.
Sharpen your hooks!