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.