Saturday, May 19, 2018

Last weekend we went up to the Catskills again and fished the Beaverkill River both Friday and Saturday before a steady cold rain chased us off the river.  The fishing was good and the hatches mixed; at times there were a half dozen different insects hatching.  When I say the fishing was good, it wasn't easy, just rewarding with some good sized fish brought to net.  On Friday there were Hendricksons, and Blue Quills, Early Brown Stoneflies, Dark Grannoms and Apple Caddis hatching.  Like the previous weekend, it was almost like the trout took turns rising, and I rarely had more than two fish rising within casting distance.  The rises varied; some were splashy and quick (taking caddis), while others were very subtle, barely breaking the surface (taking emergers).  I took a few nice fish on my Apple Caddis emerger, and a few on a Hendrickson Sparkle Dun.

Matt's Apple Caddis Emerger


The Apple Caddis emerger can be fished wet swinging it as you would a soft hackle fly, or as an emerger/dry right in the surface film.  I took the brown above fishing it in the film over a quick, splashy rise in a seam along a fast riffle.

On Saturday we woke to light rain and chilly air temperatures.  After tying a bunch of flies and then having breakfast with the others, I headed back to the river about midday, while the other guys stayed back in the comfort of the cabin.  Hardly anyone was on the river as a steady rain fell.  When I got to the river bank after gearing up I walked up to the head of pool where I had the river all to myself. I few Blue-winged Olives were hatching and after my eyes adjusted to the light and conditions on the water, I saw fish rise above me as I waded out from the bank.  I tied on a BWO sparkle emerger and after a couple of casts over the fish it took the fly.  I landed the nice brown and released it quickly.

Within a short while, depsite the steady rain and chill, there were Hendricksons, and Blue Quills, Early Brown Stoneflies, Dark Grannoms, Quill Gordons and Blue-winged Olives hatching.  The Olives were the most abundant, but after observing different rising fish, it was evident the fish were taking whatever insect happened to drift over them when they were ready to eat.  My olive emerger was soaked so I tied on a Hendrickson sparkle dun and when I looked up I saw a head-dorsal-tail rise of a nice fish about 30 feet out in a slick.  I made a couple of tests casts and once I saw my fly was riding as I wanted, I made a cast to the top of the slick.  The fish rose, I set, and it took my line half way across the river in a flash.  I then got control and gained line on the beast before it made a shorter run.  We did this dance a few more times before I netted the fish you see below.


I managed to bring an other ten fish or so to net before I was thoroughly soaked and my hands stiff from the cold.  The rain was falling harder by now and I had a good day on the water, so i called it quits.  When I got back to the cabin the others had already left, so I packed my things and headed home knowing the forecast called for rain the rest of the day.

Sharpen your hooks.            

Monday, May 7, 2018

First Trip of the Year to the Catskills

This past Friday afternoon my friend Paul and I headed up to Roscoe, NY to meet up with a few other friends and get in a few days fishing the Hendrickson hatch.   When we got to the Beaverkill River late in the afternoon the bugs had stopped hatching and the wind was kicking up.  The guys that got there earlier said the hatch was good but the fish weren't looking up.  With the wind blowing fairly hard and nothing on the water, we wound up hanging out at the truck with the others catching up and sipping a beer.  We never got geared up; the water surface was rippled from the wind and after an hour or so we didn't see a single bug or rise.  By the time we got dinner it was just getting dark and a wicked storm moved through with high winds blowing the rain sideways. 

Beaverkill cut stone culvert along the old railroad bed.
Saturday morning arrived with bright sun and cool temperatures. A few high clouds drifted by casting shadows that moved across the tops of the bare trees lining the hillsides along the river corridor. After a hearty breakfast, the 8 of us split up; a few guys took the drift boat to float the Delaware, two went to wade fish the West Branch of the Delaware; and Paul, Steve and I stayed on the Beaverkill hoping to hit the Hendrickson hatch that afternoon. 

As the day turned from morning to afternoon, the bright sun was muted by high thin clouds and the air warmed to comfortable temps.  Around 2:00 PM a few olives and blue quills hatched but the trout laid low, ignoring the surface and ignoring our subsurface efforts as well.  I did hook a nice rainbow on a baetis nymph, but after a brief tussle my tippet separated from the my leader setting the fish free except for the fly in its jaw and a thin wisp of monofilament that hopefully with come free in short order.

Around 2:30 or so the hendricksons and red quills started to hatch along with blue quills, dark grannoms and a few quill gordons.  By 3:00 there were quite a few flies on the water which brought a few trout up, but surprisingly most came up only once and then didn't show again.  This went on for a while so finding a target wasn't easy.  Then like someone flipped a switch just after 4:00, quite a few fish began rising steadily.  I picked out what appeared to be a nice brown that was taking hendricksons in a slick alongside a large submerged boulder and after a few casts got a good drift and the fish sipped in the hendrickson sparkle dun like it was one of the naturals.  The hook-jawed brown fought hard and didn't come to net without a few good runs that made my drag sing.
         

The hatch continued and the fish kept rising.  Over the 45 minutes I took another five browns on the same hendrickson sparkle dun that took the first one.  One of the fish was a little bigger than the first while the others were around 14 inches or so.  And then just as quickly as the feeding started it stopped just as suddenly a little before five o'clock.  The insect kept hatching, but the fish made other plans leaving us to scratch our heads wondering what just happened.  The weather didn't change, the river didn't appear to have changed, but something made the fish change their behavior despite plenty of food in and on the water.  We stayed on the water for another hour hoping things would turn back on, but that wasn't to be so we packed it in and got some dinner. 

Here's a hendrickson sparkle dun before and after the fish got done with it.       


There's nothing like a well-chewed fly.


Sharpen your hooks!

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Day Spring Arrived

Sunday morning arrived like no other day we have had so far this year.  It was warm, the cloudless sky was deep blue, and the air had the unmistakable smell of fresh blooms and trees beginning to bud. Daffodils, tulips and forsythia were in full flower while robins, cardinals and other songbirds brought their chorus to the proceedings.  Even better, we met my son Matt and his girlfriend Kelly for brunch and spent a couple of hours catching up and hearing about his new life in Boston.  It was a wonderful time, too short, but they had a long drive home and he had to go to work at 2:00AM.


Fast forward to mid-afternoon Sunday.  When I got to the river around 3:00 PM, the sun was bright through a cloudless sky and a light breeze cooled the warm air.  The water was near perfect; clear with a strong spring flow, and in the low 50's F.   I was a little hyped up after seeing all those hendricksons the day before on the river, and the kid in me was enjoying every moment.  After rigging up my rod, I sat on the bank and watched the water for bugs and risers while I peeled and ate a clementine.  The river was quiet, but it was still early, and my expectations were high.

After a short while of watching and not seeing anything on the water, I tied a #12 soft hackle pheasant tail to the end of my 5X tippet and added some shot about 8" above the fly - this is my go-to  hendrickson emerger.  I waded out and began dead drifting the fly up and across before letting it swing below me in the current so it would rise to the surface as the line tightened.  After a few casts I stepped upstream some and cast above a seam on the far side of the river.  It took a few drifts to get the fly to drop into the pocket, but once I figured it out I took two stocked rainbows a few minutes apart.  One of the fish I thought was a koi at first, but it was this mutant instead.


As the time passed I began to notice some hendricksons drifting my me as well as some dark grannoms in the air.  Nothing rose to the hendricksons despite what seemed to me to be perfect conditions.  The insects were riding the water surface for long periods before taking flight giving the trout plenty of time to rise up and sip the in.  I didn't see a single rise though in the first hour or so of fishing.

Experience has taught me that often when flies are the water and trout are not rising to them in one stretch, another stretch may have actively feeding fish.  So I climbed the bank and walked upstream through the brush and over dead falls to a couple of pools that I thought might have some action.  When I got to the edge of the water I stood and watched the water in the pool in front of me, and the lower end of the one above.  After a few minutes, a trout rose in the tail of the pool above where I was right where the water transitions into the pool I was standing next to.  A short count later it rose again, so I took the shot of my leader, checked my knot at the fly and made sure the hook point was sharp before slowly stepping up the bank to where I could get a good cast above the target. This fish was hungry.  My first cast landed about 2 feet above the fish and it didn't hesitate.  It moved to the fly and took it in a splashy rise, I lifted the rod, and was tight to what turned out to be a nice rainbow trout.


Over the next hour and a half hendricksons hatched sporadically and those that took their time getting off the water where summarily taken from below.  Although the hatch was waning, there were enough to elicit takes, thus I had enough targets to keep things interesting.  I took 6 more trout, all on the same soft hackle emerger fished in the film.  My leader was 12-13 feet long, with the tippet being about 3 feet of 5X, and even without wading over my ankles (which helps a lot on this river), none of my casts were over 30 feet or so.


Sharpen your hooks.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Hendricksons, Grannoms and Cold Clear Water

After spending time in SC visiting my daughter and the two little men, I returned this week to near perfect spring conditions on our New Jersey rivers.  At the Shannon's Beginners Fly Fishing Class yesterday I was talking to Tim Flagler, who has also been fishing the South Branch of the Raritan for many years, and we both agreed that the river is in the best early spring condition its been in many years.  This year the river rises after heavy rains, but recovers more slowly and levels out higher than it has in many years.  It also seems to be cleaner and very clear.  The there New Jersey rivers are much the same this year, perhaps the water table is recovering with regular rains and snow fall over the last few months.  Folks are complaining about how spring seems to be slow in coming, which is true, but for me it seems like its been more "normal" than it has been in many years.


Ok, so the hendrickson hatch is late this year, but the last week it has been the best we've seen in many years.  Yesterday afternoon while guiding one of the students, the hendrickson hatch was very good.  It was so good, the we could look down into the slow, clear water on the margins of the stream and see hundreds of hendrickson nymphs drifting by as they wiggled towards the water surface to hatch.  And hatch they did.  The dark mayflies drifted by on and off for several hours while the trout ignored them, which as an angler drives you crazy.  We kept hoping the trout would begin to rise so we could give the students the thrill of catching a fish on a dry fly, but it never happened.  Was it the cold water or some other unseen condition that kept the trout holding tight to he bottom?  We didn't even see fish flashing in the water column as they normally do when they feed on the ascending nymphs.  Dark Grannom caddis and some stoneflies were also on the water, and they too were ignored by the trout.

Dark Grannom
It was a very good day though.  Everyone caught fish and although it was cool and breezy, it was a beautiful day to be on the water initiating a few more folks to our wonderful sport.

Sharpen your hooks!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tying the Hendo Hammer

Our friend John Collins sat down in front of Tim Flagler's video camera's recently and tied his Hendo Hammer.  This quill bodied parachute style fly is intended to mimic a hatching Hendrickson nymph.  You can imitate any of the other mayflies in your area with this fly just by changing the colors of the fly and the size of the hook. 


Sharpen your hooks.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Another Easter to Remember

After Easter brunch this past Sunday, I headed to the South Branch to wet a line just as I have done on this holiday for many years.  Every time I fish on Easter I do it with my daughter Megan in mind.  You see, when she was ten years old, Vinnie and I took Megan fishing after Easter dinner to get both of us out of the house for a while so her younger brother and sister could nap.  We took her to a trout stocked pond in Sussex County and we had the whole place to ourselves.  That windless day in the fog and drizzle, while standing on the muddy bank of the pond, Megan caught seven good sized rainbow trout on a black woolley bugger.  I helped her cast the fly out and then she did the rest and giggled each time she hooked up. That afternoon and her big, dimpled smile is etched in my mind forever - I remember it as though it happened yesterday.  


This year I went alone except for the black woolley bugger in my vest from that day some twenty plus years ago.  That fly, along with one my daughter Leigh tied, and a few my son Matt tied, go along with me on every fishing trip.  The day was mostly sunny, cool and breezy with brief periods of calm.  The river was clear, cold and at a nice level for the 1st of April.  I started out fishing nymphs and after about an hour or so without a hit, I decided to tie on a black woolly bugger and see if the past would repeat itself.

As the afternoon moved on I started to see some dark grannoms in the air and a few blue-winged olives. When the breeze stopped for a few moments, quite a few little black stonefly females fluttered down from the tree branches and did their clumsy dance on the water surface as they attempted to drop their eggs.  I watched the bugs as they mostly drifted along untouched except for an occasional slashing take that was never repeated in the same location.  That is until a fish began rising steadily directly across the pool from me.

I quickly removed the tippet and the bugger from my leader, added a couple of sections to it and a 2 foot length of 6X, and tied on a #14 gray X-caddis.  After a couple of test casts to make sure my leader, tippet and the fly where landing on the water as they should, I made a cast to the rising fish.  My fly landed a foot above but wind blew just as it landed and moved my leader and the fly dragged.  After the fly drifted past the target, I picked it up, made a couple of false casts and with a reach cast dropped the fly  above the fish just after it had rose again.  That fly never had a chance with that winter hungry trout; it went maybe 3 inches before the fish grabbed it and I set the hook.  After a brief tussle, I netted the pretty brown you see above.

As it often happens, more stoneflies began to drop to the water and lay eggs as the sun started to move lower in the sky and with that more fish started to chase them on the surface.  I left the X-caddis on and over the next hour or so I took two more fish, rainbows, by immediately dropping my fly and skittering it over the area where a rise had just occurred.  If you have never taken trout by skittering a fly, when the conditions are right, give it try, the takes are nothing short of an explosion on the fly.

Sharpen your hooks.                            

Monday, March 26, 2018

A One Fly Day

Saturday I took advantage of the nice weather and spent much of it walking the banks of and wading in a few limestone creeks in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania.  It was chilly when I hit the first stream in the late morning, but the sun was bright and quite warm despite the breeze that sometimes kicked up a few notches to a light wind.  The fresh snow of mid-week lay on much of the ground slowly melting, its run off mixing with the creek and coloring it the shade of tea with a touch of milk.  And among the brush and tree roots along the river banks, the first flowers of the year bloomed in small clumps, snowdrops.

At the first stream I fished nymphs in all the runs, pockets and pools that I know from years of fishing this creek hold wild brown trout that range in size from 5 inches to over 20 inches.  I know I was getting my fly deep enough as I lost a few to the rocks that cover the bottom, but the trout just weren't interested.  I even fished a few of Doug Freemann's flies to no avail. After a few hours of getting the skunk I needed to warm up so I walked back to my car, broke my rod down, got in and decided to warm up while I drove to another stream a short distance away.


When I got to the next steam, I was surprised to see only a few anglers spread out over a half mile or so of water.  The sun was high now, and an upside-down, daytime moon hung in the eastern sky looking very white against the deep blue sky.  The river was a little high, clear and a little "warmer" than the first creek I fished at 42 degrees F.  I rigged up again with a small beadhead pheasant tail and drifted it through every seam, foam line and pocket over a few hundred yards of water working upstream.  I switched flies a few times, lost a few, and managed to get one hit that was on for the length of time it takes the fish to turn and show one its tail.

By now it was mid afternoon and it being a beautiful day after several weeks of periodic snow storms, windy days and temperatures below normal, I wasn't going anywhere without catching at least one.  I walked back down stream slowly scanning the banks and foam lines trying to will a trout to show itself.  Sure enough, across a long, slow pool where a partially submerged log created a thin seam below where it split the current, a trout rose and took something off the surface.  A few seconds later it rose again, and I thought, "It looks like a dink, but what the hell."

I quickly redid my leader, added a two foot section of 6X tippet and tied on a #20 Matt's Gnat.  There being a lot of brush along the bank, I had no room for a back cast so I dropped below the fish and waded out far enough that I could get a back cast over the stream below.  My first cast pushed the fly past my target just off of the log, so I let it drift through and below the fish, and the fish rose again.  The next cast was good, but the fly dragged a little and went untouched.  I waited and the fish rose.  The next cast landed about a foot above the fishes last blip, drifted a short way and then was sipped in confidently.   After a spirited battle, I worked my net under the fish and lifted the rainbow you see above.  It measured about 12-13 inches long. I took the pic, removed the fly without touching the fish, and lowered it back into the drink when after a brief rest, it swam out and back to the deep, dark flow along the log.
 

Over the next hour or so I walked the bank back down to where I started and took two more fish, both browns, and both of them on the same fly I took the first fish on - the fly you see above.  I would have been more than happy to have had headed home with the just the first fish, and really wasn't expecting to see any more rises after that.  Some days are like that; nature gives you a rainbow and a pot of gold.     

               
Sharpen your hooks.