I fished the upper South Branch of the Raritan River yesterday among a constant flurry of golden and red leaves that flew with each gust of wind. The river was clear and cluttered with those same leaves, some floating along the surface, others in the water column, and still more blanketing the bottom of the river. When the wind slowed to a soft breeze for brief periods, the bright sun warmed my face and hands making for a pleasant couple of hours wading the shallows and casting to the deeper, darker runs that likely held trout.
I started off fishing two nymphs using the leader set up Douglas uses, complete with sighter sections and one of his smaller Quill nymphs on the dropper tag above a size #14 Walt's Worm. I fished this way for a while, but the slow currents where I was fishing along with the gusty winds made for tough going and great catching.......of leaves. I then decided to switch leaders and go with the one I have much more experience with; a 12 foot, knotted, compound tapered leader, with the last 30 inches or so being 5X tippet. I tied on a size #18 pheasant tail nymph and placed a small split-shot about 8 inches above it and fished this set up with a short line with my rod tip low to minimize the amount of line between my rod and the water, and hopefully reducing the effects of the wind on my drift. Again, I caught plenty of leaves and managed to get hung up a few times on the bottom.
After a very short time, I sat down on a rock and watched the water move slowly by; a liquid conveyor belt for dead leaves and twigs. Like just about everything else in nature, there were anomalies in the way the leaves floated along - there were openings of varying sizes in the surface leaves that ranged in size from a foot or two, to maybe 4 feet in rough diameter. It occurred to me that I could use these openings to get my fly down without interference from floating leaves. I added a fresh piece of tippet to the end of my leader and to that I tied a #14 Walt's Worm that had wraps of lead under the entire body, which would get the fly down quickly.
I walked back to the river and waded in a very short distance and watched the surface of the water across and slightly upstream of me for an opening. When one came, I quickly made a tuck cast so my fly would land close to the center of the opening. Once my fly landed, I lowered my rod tip and followed the line/leader with it at the speed of the current, which I gauged by the speed of the leaves going by. A few casts later, my leader twitched where it entered the water so I lifted my rod and hooked the pretty little rainbow you see below.
I figured it out, and over the next hour and a half I landed a bunch of rainbows ranging in size from maybe 7 inches, to one that was close to 15 inches in length. I also landed a beautiful wild brown of about 8 inches in length. All of the fish came on the one Walt's Worm you see in the fishes mouth in the photo above.
We finally got some serious rains this week - two inches here - and the rivers rose quite a bit in the tri-state area. I'm sure the fish are feeling relieved at the fresh water and increased flows, not to mention some more depth in which to hide from predators. I wish I could get up to the Catskills again, and repeat the great time we had last weekend, but with water in the rivers; kind of like Groundhog day, but with more water to fish. Speaking of which, here's another shot of that nice rainbow Doug caught.
Earlier tonight I called Jim from Shannon's Tackle Shop, so we could talk about setting up dates this coming winter that I can teach their free Sunday morning fly tying classes, and also just catching up on things around the shop and on the river. Little did I know, he was knee-deep in the South Branch casting a dry fly, a caddis imitation, to a rising fish, Next thing I know he's hooking a fish and talking to it - he totally switched gears, and although he still held the phone to his ear, he was focused on the fish. That's how it should be, so I said we'd talk in the morning, hung up and imagined him landing the fish and then letting it go a few seconds later. Hopefully, I can get out this Sunday and wet a line, get lost in the world of a river somewhere, too.
And now, an update. My grandson, Henley, is now almost 9 months old. He's just starting to crawl, stand, eating solid foods, and he's teething. I'll be heading down to Charleston in a couple of weeks to see him and the family when he gets baptized. I can't wait.
Put your sound on - go ahead and smile!
Tomorrow morning I will be doing one of my favorite things to do - teaching fly tying to two anglers I know through Trout Unlimited that won the lessons at a TU banquet auction. It will be fun - at their request, we'll be covering caddis dries and parachutes. Something to look forward to.
I like to nymph fish, and practice the technique more than any other, but I love to fish dry flies whenever possible. The following offers a glimpse as to why many anglers feel this way, particularly the segment with the Atlantic Salmon coming to large dry flies. There's nothing more to say.....
By the time I arrived at the cabin in Roscoe after a longer than usual drive up from New Jersey, the sun was below the mountains leaving only a pinkish glow on the horizon. When I walked in, Douglas was already back from fishing, having left the river a short time earlier, making a compound leader complete with a sighter for nymphing the clear, skinny water the following day. A year before we had come to these hallowed waters so Doug could compete in the Troutoberfest fly fishing competition. This year the comp was canceled due to low water, and the resultant lack of interest from the competition guys. Even so, we decided to give it shot since we had nothing to lose and everything to gain, because we had the time and had not fished together for a few months. A few of Doug's friends where supposed to go as well, but for various reasons they canceled.
After staying up late Friday night discussing leader design, dry/dropper set-ups, fly design, and just catching up, we got on the water late Saturday morning. The air was still, the sky cloudy, and the cool air was quite damp, as though rain was imminent. The mountainsides were colored in a tapestry of golds, yellows, umber and shades of red only nature can produce. The Beaverkill River was as low as I have seen it in almost 40 years of fishing it, and clear as a Kettle One martini with an onion. We had a difficult time finding water that had some depth and flow, settling on sections of pocket water where we could pick and choose the pockets and slots that had adequate holding water.
(Click on photos to enlarge)
After working hard without results, we decided to head to the West Branch of the Delaware, and check that out since the flows were good. Bad choice; the flows were too high for safe wading, so after giving it a half-hearted try at the first location, and then at one other spot I often fish, we decided to head back to the Beaverkill and make the most of it. We first went to a spot that has always had depth and a decent current along with plenty of fish. Like most of the Beaverkill, this spot is well-known to many anglers, and on Saturday it had more anglers lined up along its banks than is really practical. Not to be discouraged, Doug asked about the pocket water upstream of Grand Central Station, and suggested that the deeper pockets may hold fish and that we may as well give them a shot. So we did, and shortly after he positioned himself along a decent sized run, Doug was hooked up to a rainbow. I waded higher up river to a table top a hundred feet above him, and within a few minutes hooked and landed a beautiful small rainbow trout.
I should tell you that we were both fishing the comp system, two nymph leader set-up, Doug uses most of the time he fishes nymphs. That morning, he had set me up with one of his reels and the line/leader system he uses so I could try it on my 10 foot, 3 weight rod. I was using my own flies, and once I had the right combination with respect to fly weight/size to match the river conditions, I managed to get my flies bouncing along bottom drag-free at the speed of the current. It really is satisfying and enjoyable once you get it right, and when you do, confidence comes as result. Some folks say this is not fly fishing, but from my perspective, it requires more skill and concentration than fishing nymphs with a strike indicator (bobber). Not that there is anything wrong with that.......
After we hooked 9 fish between us, we ran out of decent pocket water and headed up river to another spot in Cooks Falls that has plenty of pocket water. Doug waded out to a nice run while I walked up river to a couple of decent sized flats where I saw a couple of rises. There were late season Stenos and Blue-winged Olives in the air, as well as quite a few tan caddis. While I changed flies and set up to fish dries, I watched Doug to see how he was doing, and just as I looked up he hooked what appeared to be a decent fish. The ran him down stream a bit and after a short battle, he netted the fish. I quickly worked my way down to him and in the net he held a beautiful 17 inch wild rainbow.
Check out the pectoral fin on this beauty.
After Doug released the fish, I walked back up to the runs where two fish were still rising steadily. I First tossed a Blue-winged Olive imitation to the working fish, and they rose to the fly, stopping short just as their nose got within an inch of the fly. They were interested, but something wasn't right. They kept rising and I just watched for a bit, noticing the mayflies passed over their heads unmolested, while any caddis that drifted within a foot or two was slurped up without caution. So I tied on a size 16 Missing Link Caddis, crept into position, and after checking my fly and drift with a test cast away from my target, made my first cast to the nearest rising fish. The fly drifted about two feet before it was sipped in just like a natural, and I set the hook. The fish was heavy on my 3 weight, shaking its head and dogging it toward the bottom a few times before I turned it and brought it to net. A healthy, butter bellied, pre-spawn fall brown trout.
We fished for another half hour or so before the dusk eased the light from this beautiful day on the water. We worked hard for our fish, harder than usual thanks to the water levels, but it was worth every second. We took only two browns, among a bunch of rainbows, which is becoming more usual for this river that has been known as a brown trout fishery for many decades.
Sunday was bright and the fish less cooperative, with many more anglers on the water. Most of the stretches that held decent flows and depth had fishermen working them, but we did find spots to wet a line. It was tough going, but Doug did manage to pull a nice rainbow from the run above. After lunch Doug fished the water below the cabin, while I hung out on the patio and watched him from above, just enjoying the day.
I was, without a doubt, the best weekend I have had in months.
I spoke at a Trout Unlimited meeting recently, and afterwards, a gentleman asked me, "What flies do you normally fish this time of the year?" I thought for a second, and then replied that I fish flies that imitate the nymphs and adult flies that are most active this time of the year - in my head though, I thought; it hasn't been a normal year, and I haven't fished as much as I normally do most years and its anyones guess when we might return to fishing as we normally do in a normal year. The reality is that no two years are alike when it comes to fishing, let alone two days, even when conditions are seemingly identical both days.
Did you ever get so lost in what you had on your mind that you forgot where you were? The other day I was in New York, and after working for 6 straight hours, I drove to a burger joint, got out of the car, and while I was walking through the parking lot looking around I thought, This is weird, look at all these cars with New York license plates. I kept walking and continued to think how crazy it was that all these New York cars would be in the same lot at the same time in New Jersey................yep, by the time I got to the sidewalk I realized those cars belonged there. That normally doesn't happen, does it?
There has been a lot of discussion in the town I live in about the deer and what we should do with them because they are eating many shrubs they normally left alone, and even eating the needles of the pine trees that they can reach. Normally, or at least until recently, deer did not eat evergreen trees. Some folks think they are doing what they normally do, so they should be left alone, while others think they are eating everything they can because they are not doing what they normally do. Do we know what deer normally do when we create perfect habitat for them so they procreate like mice and decimate the forest under story?
And finally, I received the following inquiry:
My name is Steve. I live outside Houston, TX. I have been following you blog and tying videos for a number of years. I really appreciate your instruction and overall participation in the sport. We don’t have a lot of good quality freshwater fly fishing around Houston, so I enjoy seeing the videos. I’ve turned to fishing the coast but do miss my fly fishing roots from North Carolina where I grew up.
Some of the video’s show fisherman standing side-by-side, standing in pools close to one another, etc. Generally, fishing the same water, in a very crowded manor. Is this normal? Just curious. Thank you again, Steve Tomball, TX
I think it is safe to say that the only thing that is normal, is change, and even that depends on one's point of view. Maybe the guys fishing the same water think that is normal.
I'm going fishing this weekend in the Catskills with one of my favorite people to fish with, and I can't wait. We'll be fishing the West and Main Stems of the Delaware River, which is new water for him. I hope he hooks one of the Big D's rocket-charged rainbows! I'll be sure to report on it when I return.
As you know, Joe Humphreys was honored on Thursday evening, and as I didn't know, many of our readers are not familiar with Joe and his accomplishments. Joe being an American legend, more than a few overseas readers asked to know more about him.
Joe is well known in these parts as not only a passionate fly fisherman, but an educator, author and conservationist. He has authored two highly acclaimed books, Joe Humphreys Trout Tactics, and On the Trout Stream with Joe Humphreys, as well as many articles in regional and national periodicals. He has also hosted a fly fishing series on a nationally televised sports channel, and he has been featured on three fly fishing videos (The Fly Fishing Series), and produced and been featured on four very well-received videos.
Joe has taught fly fishing for more than forty years, including directing Penn State's angling program for nineteen years. I have been fortunate to live in the Northeast, where until recently, Joe participated in many of the same fly fishing shows that I also attended over the last 20+ years. He has always been tireless and generous, sharing his vast knowledge of fly fishing for trout with ease. So those are just some of the reasons why Lafayette College and the US Youth Fly Fishing Team honored Joe, If you ask anyone that knows Joe, they will tell you there's a lot more to the story. He has touched the lives of many individuals, and they all likely have a special story about Joe.
In 1977, Joe caught a 34 inch, 16 pound, brown on a Pennsylvania spring creek late one evening. It is the largest non-lake run brown trout caught on a fly in the state.
Here is Douglas speaking at the event about his first encounter with Joe at one of the fly fishing shows. It had a lasting effect, Doug's passion for fly fishing rivals anyone I know.
Here, Steven Ketterer, a commissioner of the PA Fish & Boat Commission presents Joe with a painting of Joe walking along a stream, mentoring a young man.
Next up are some of the fine members of the US Youth Fly Fishing Team and the man himself. L-R Alex Rundella, Joe, Doug Freemann, and Rob Funk.
It was a wonderful evening thanks to the folks at Lafayette College (Leslie, Patricia and Diane), and the US Youth Fly Fishing Team.
And finally, a big thank you to Joe. If I have even half the impact that you have had on the folks whose paths you have crossed over the years, I'll be content...........and like you, I'll always shoot for more.