Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Montana - Finished Strong

On Thursday, after 4 straight days of crazy weather, the forecast called for heavy snow overnight and on Friday.  Steve had already left on that morning to go tree hunting in the mountains east of Livingston.   Steve's other passion is collecting bonsai trees; he's got a serious collection of many dozen trees, some worth more than most folks cars.  He goes up into the mountains where the tree line ends in search of 200-300 year old wind and weather stunted evergreen trees, most less than a foot tall.  Anyway, Thursday's weather was cold breezy and although we caught fish on the Madison that day, we decided to pack up and head to Bozeman after dinner rather than take a chance on the forecasted storm..

Friday morning Paul left for the airport to head home around 4:00AM. We got up much later and after a great breakfast at the Western Cafe and a stop at Montana Troutfitters Fly Shop, Chris and I headed into the mountains south of Bozeman to fish Hyalite Creek.  Having fished this little gem in the past, we knew it was full of wild rainbows and some brook trout, and we also were confident that the cloud cover and light showers would bring a good hatch of blue-winged olives.  Hyalite creek is small by western standards. Its crystal clear water flows through a beautiful, heavily forested deep canyon around rocks and boulders and over a gravel bottom.  We also hoped the canyon walls would keep the wind to a minimum.  

Sure enough when we got to the first spot fish were rising to blue-winged olives in the tail out of the pool and in the broken water at the head of the pool.  The olives were coming off in decent numbers and were about a size #20, so I tied an olive sparkle sparkle emerger to end of a new, 2-foot long piece of 6X tippet and cast to a rising fish just off the near bank above me.  The fly drifted a foot or so before it was taken by what turned out to be a 6 inch brook trout.  As the day turned to mid afternoon, the hatch increased and with it fish rose throughout the river for a couple of hours before the hatch subsided as quickly as it ramped up.  We caught mostly rainbows that averaged 6-8 inches long, but also landed a few that went 12 inches or so.  These fish are beautiful and fight hard for their size, especially on the 3-weight I was using that day.      

On Saturday, we decided to head up to the lower Madison River and fish it just below the lower end of Bear Trap Canyon.  It was cloudy with a light breeze and the temperature was in the low 40's. The river here is very different than the 50 mile riffle between Ennis and Quake Lake - it has a more consistent, flatter flow more like that of a tail water river.  The river bottom is covered with rocks and boulders that break up the flows and provide cover for the trout, but there is very little pocket water and riffles, which is is a challenge when reading the water.  There are plenty of trout in the river though.

When I first stepped into the river there were a few olives on the surface and as I watched the water surface a single trout rose just below a submerged rock.  I focused on the spot and the trout rose again. I had expected to fish nymphs when I rigged up at the car, so I quickly changed over to a couple of feet of 6X tippet and tied on a #20 blue-winged olive cloud emerger.  I then made a couple of test casts above me and when everything looked right on the water, I shifted my position and dropped the fly above the rising fish.  A nose poked through the water surface a few inches from my fly and took a natural.  I cast again, and after a short drift the fish sipped in my offering and after a short battle I landed a nice brown.

After that more olives began hatching bringing more trout to the surface to feed on them.  Over next few hours fish rose constantly all around me as the water was covered with olives hatching.  I took rainbows and browns that averaged 13-14 inches with some larger and others smaller.  It was the kind of fishing we dream about.  I switched flies between the cloud emerger and the olive sparkle emerger, only doing so when the fly I was fishing got so water-logged no amount of desiccant powder would restore it.  Here's a video of the trout rising all around me that afternoon.  The rises were subtle as you can see here and many belied the size of the trout that created them.

Eventually the hatch subsided as the sun descended to the west and the rising fish followed suit.  As I prepared to called it quits I heard the rich, high-pitched sound of an eagle far up on the mountain across the river for me.  There above a tight stand of pine trees along the highest ridge, a golden eagle circled, powered by the cool, steady breeze that rose up from the valley below.  I took that as a signal to be grateful for the week we spent in its home territory and I called it a day.  I can still see that eagle in my minds eye silhouetted against the diminishing sun light as it soared with a purpose only known to itself.

Sharpen your hooks!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Tying the Peacock Caddis

Here's a great pattern that I used for years, as have many of my friends, as tied here by Tim Flagler.  The peacock caddis has many of the elements of other effective multi-purpose dry flies - peacock herl body, a deer body hair down wing and grizzly hackle.   It works during caddis hatches, as a searching pattern, and in smaller sizes it is an effective flying ant imitation.  Another variation of the pattern is the use of two hackles - a grizzly and a brown.  Either way, the pattern works well anywhere caddis are found.

Sharpen your hooks!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Montana - Winter in September

We had early winter weather in September that Monday through Thursday of our trip.  When we woke on Monday, it was sunny but quite cold.   We went and got breakfast and planed our day.We decided that we would head over the Continental Divide at Raynold's Pass and fish the Henry's Fork in Idaho.  The Henry's Fork Angler in Island Park said it was cold over there, but the wind was calm and under cloudy skies.  They reported that blue-winged olives had been hatching the last few days along with mahogany duns "paraleps".   Of course, by the time we got there it was spitting and a steady breeze moved upriver, but olives were coming off and a few fish rose to take them in broken water.   Steve took a nice rainbow early on, but after that it was slim pickings - we did hook a couple before breaking them off in the thick weeds that cover the bottom of the river this time of the year.  Here's Paul in zeroing in on a riser.

By mid afternoon the mist had turned to wet snow and the wind was became steady, enough to screw up your cast and push your tippet and fly off target.  We left to go back to the Madison, while Paul and Steve stuck it out.  This was the first day of a weather pattern that stuck around all week.  A low pressure system sat over the Northwest and an outer band picked up moisture and drove it in a Northeasterly direction dropping snow and/or rain (depending on the hour) right over the Henry's Fork and Madison Valley just north of there.

Tuesday we woke to heavy clouds, snow and freezing temperatures.  Here's the view from my room.

Again, we headed over to the Henry's Fork, where it was colder with a good breeze and thunder snow.  We put up with that for a while before the snow really came down then we blew out of there and went into West Yellowstone to visit the fly shops and grab some lunch.  When we got back to the Madison, it was still snowing but not too windy, and we caught a few before dark on olive sparkle duns.  The hatch was sparse, but the fish seemed to want to eat every one that floated over their space below.

And then there was Wednesday.  Not much to be said about hump day; we fished the Madison in bright sun and gale force winds.  It was tough, lots of shot on the leader, which more often than not, did no good.  My line, leader and flies spent more time flying like a flag off my rod tip than in the water.  Again, we caught a few fish, had fun despite the conditions and I even finished up the day taking a nice rainbow on a dry.

Thursday the wind was down some, but the rain and snow was back.  We caught some fish, but again we had to work for every one.  It was a tough few days, but we dressed right and made the most of it.  Evenings were always fun as once we ate, we sat around the table for hours tying flies, talking about the day, having a few beers, and busting each others chops relentlessly.  

Sharpen your hooks.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Montana - You Never Know What You Will Get

A week ago today we returned from an 9 day trip to southwest Montana.  We arrived on Saturday the 16th, and after leaving the Bozeman airport and stocking up on food for the week, we hit the highway out to the slide section of the Madison River.  As soon as we got to the mountains, the temperature dropped and the landscape turned white from snow fall earlier that day.  The Madison valley was beautiful and very winter like for September.  After a two hour drive, we reached the cabin far above Raynold's Pass bridge overlooking the Madison River at the base of the mountain where a massive rock slide occurred during the Hebgen Lake/Yellowstone Earthquake of August 1959.  

After unpacking and getting sort of settled in, a couple of the guys got geared up and headed down to the river below the cabin.  Chris and I drove down to fish a favorite section of fast water above Kelly Galloup's Slide Inn that is roughly across the river from the cabin.   At the end of what was a short time on the water, we all had caught a couple of fish.  We ate, then settled down to tie flies and talk about plans for the following day.  

The next day we woke to bright sun and mostly clear skies, and a pretty steady breeze.  We made a quick trip to get breakfast between the lakes, and then after couple of stops to photograph the Madison between the lakes and the snow covered slide, we headed back to the cabin.     

The Madison River between Hebgen Lake and Quake Lake.

Quake Lake and a snow covered slide mountain in the background -  the snow covered area is where the mountain slid away.

That morning all of us fished the fast water, pockets, and long slicks that line the edges of the river,  below the cabin.  A couple of guys went with streamers, and I fished a dark brown #16 serendipity on a short line and did quite well.  All the fish were rainbows that fought hard before being released to fight another day.    

Later that afternoon, we decided to hit the water around Raynold's Pass bridge where the water, while still fast, flattens out enough behind many of the big boulders that we could nymph or fish dries in the event olives hatched.   About mid afternoon, high thin clouds moved over the sun and sure enough blue-winged olives began hatching in numbers, drawing the trout to the surface to feed.  The olives were varied in size, some as large as #18 and others as small as #26.  I chose a #20 improved sparkle dun, which I fished on the end of a 12 foot long leader tipped off with 5X tippet.  The rises were subtle and quick, barely breaking the surface of the fast moving water.  

It took a good, accurate cast, with a drag-free drift to get a look or take. I made many casts onto the fast moving water that didn't hit the spot for every one that did.  With all the currents and slicks between myself and the fish I was constantly moving a little this way, a little that way, until I could find what I thought was the best drift for each fish.  It took lots of line mending and leader tweaking, which was great fun and exactly the kind challenge that takes me to another place and soothes the soul like few other things in life do.  I took as many fish that afternoon/evening as I did in the morning on nymphs, only this time I saw each and every one of my targets.

It was a great start to what turned out to be a tough week of fishing thanks to the fickle weather of Montana.  More to come, stay tuned.

And sharpen your hooks!   

Friday, September 15, 2017

Eagle River, Colorado

Last week we spent a few days in Colorado in the shadows of high mountains laced with ski lifts.  Our friends had lots of stuff planned in the afternoons and evenings, but the mornings were open for fishing and we took advantage of that.  As luck would have it, the Eagle River flowed through the narrow valley at the base of the mountains below the village.  The first day we went to Vail Valley Anglers and got the lay of the land, licenses, some new stuff, and a bunch of the local favorite flies.   The three of us got to the river around mid morning under blue skies and a bright sun.  The water temperature was 48 degrees F, and the air was in the 60's.  We were wet wading, and the water was cold at first, but once you got used to it and the air warmed into the 70's, it was perfect.

All three days of fishing went the same.  Early on we had bright sun and no rising fish, so we fished dry/dropper rigs.  I use a hopper with a size #20 zebra midge off that and that worked well.  By mid morning, the air warmed and the breezes started, which in turn pushed the haze from nearby forest fires into the valley.  The haze was fairly thick and had the same effect on the insects cloud cover does; shortly after the haze moved in, blue-winged olives started hatching and with that the trout would begin to feed on top.   

Once the fish started rising, I switched to a #20 blue-winged olive sparkle dun and began taking fish on top. This lasted for a few hours into early afternoon, and a good cast with a drag-free drift over a working fish often drew a good take.  We took dozens of chunky rainbows and browns along with an occasional cutthroat trout.  Each day we fished a different section of river, each with its own character, and did well.  I used one fly for almost all of the fish I took on top - I had to switch to another once in a while as the fly would get totally water logged.  Once it dried though, it went back on the end of my 6X tippet.  It took a beating all three days, but it stood the test as you can see here.  It's now retired.

I know it sounds like it was easy fishing, and for the most part it was, but it wasn't like every cast got a strike.  We got plenty of refusals, and even more drifts that were not even getting a look.  These fish wanted a perfect drift!  The other thing is that the wading was not easy.  The bottom is strewn with round, slippery rocks of all sizes that make it much more difficult than it looks in the photos.  Also, the water is very clear and as you can see below it looks fairly shallow, it is not.  Right in front of where I took that photo the water was a good 2 feet deep, and across the way on the other side of that big rock, it's 4 feet or so - we know, we tried to cross there. 

We had a blast and I hope to get back there sometime soon.  I do want to thank the guys at Vail Valley Anglers as they were very generous with information and all around nice guys.  If you are ever in Vail or Beaver Creek Colorado, be sure to go see them. 

LINK: Vail Valley Anglers

I'm off to Montana tomorrow morning - I'll report back when I return.

Sharpen your hooks!      

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

An August Afternoon on the River

After getting a few things done around the house Sunday morning, I had some lunch before the call of the river had me heading to the South Branch to wet a line.  The last few nights had been very cool, and that day we had high thin clouds filtering the high sun and perfect temperatures for October in August.  After getting set up, I took the water temperature and it was a comfy 65 degrees F.  This is one of my favorite times of the year to fish - water and air temperatures are such that you can literally immerse yourself in the river by wet wading.     

I started well above the Ken Lockwood Gorge section of the river intending to work my way down into the gorge and then back up.  I really had no goals in mind except to take a long walk/wade in the river on a beautiful day and take in the sights and sounds of the woods; and if a trout should take my fly that would be icing on the cake.  Initially, I had an iris caddis on the end of my tippet, which I fished wet.  I took a couple of rainbows in the first few runs and as I was moving down to fish the next run, a fish rose on the far bank under a clump of multiflora rose bushes overhanging a soft spot in the current.

I quickly cut off the iris caddis, changed tippets to a long 6x, and tied on a #20 Matt's Gnat.  This is my go-to fly when I don't see anything on the water and conditions are such that subtlety is required - slow, clear water flowing like it is thicker than it really is.  I cast the fly well up above where I saw the rise to get a read on how it looked and floated on the water, before lifting and making a couple of quick false casts and then dropping the fly above the fish.  The fly floated along unmolested, so I picked it up and in one motion dropped it a little further above the first spot.  It drifted less than a foot before it was grabbed by a wild brown that after a brief battle measured about 8 inches long.

From that point on decided I would only fish the dry for the rest of the outing.  Over the next 4 hours I waded and walked (around other anglers) my way to the bottom of the gorge before turning and heading back up river.  I fished only the shallower riffles, runs and pockets that most anglers pass on and took quite a few rainbows and wild browns, nothing over 10 inches. As I moved along, I dropped the fly in every foam line that flowed below rocks over the darker river bottom made up of small cobble and stone.  I rarely saw the trout, as they blended in well with the bottom.  It was all about making a solid first cast along with the knowledge/confidence that many of these runs held at least one fish.  I fished this one fly the whole time, retying it on to the tippet after every few fish, and I don't think I made a cast over 20 feet.         

It was one of those days that is very satisfying, not only because of the weather, but especially because my low expectations were met with good results.

Sharpen your hooks.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

2017 World Youth Fly Fishing Championship Results

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Doug Freemann and the rest of the US Youth Fly Fishing Team, competed in Slovenia last week against 12 other International Teams.  Despite tough conditions on new waters, they finished with the bronze medal.  France took gold, and Poland took silver.  Congratulations team USA! 

As I write this, Douglas is beginning a new chapter in his life.  He just texted me that he is moving in to his dorm for his freshman year at Colorado State University.  Good luck, Doug, and make sure you study as hard as you fish!

Sharpen your hooks.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A One Fly Morning

When I rolled out of bed this morning, the room was very cool with wide-open windows letting in the 58 degree F outside air.  I went into the kitchen and made a cup of coffee and then walked out onto the deck and everything about the weather told me it was the rare, perfect August morning for fishing.   The air was calm, and high, thin clouds muted the early sun.  The cool night would have lowered the water temperatures to trout-comfortable levels, which meant I only had to travel a mere ten minutes to be on the water. (Typically, this time of the year in New Jersey, one has to travel 2 hours or more to find suitable water temperatures and levels for trout fishing.)   

I parked my car at Hoffman's Crossing bridge and walked the half mile down to the top of the Ken Lockwood Gorge, where I took the water temperature just to be sure it was good to fish.  The thermometer read 65 degrees F, and the water level was very good for this time of the year.  As I walked down the rutted dirt road that skirts the east side of the river, I looked for bugs and rises without much luck, so I tied on a size #17 Iris Caddis and then added a small split-shot about 8 inches above it, intending to fish the fly as a nymph.   I stepped down to the river and began casting the fly into a short, deep pocket.  It only took a couple of casts before I was into a 12 inch rainbow.

I took one more rainbow in that hole and then started to work my way downstream hitting every pocket and run that had some depth and a "fishy" look to it.  Over the next few hours of working my way downstream, I took several more rainbows and even a couple of small wild brown trout.  All of them on the same Iris Caddis I started out with.  

I did see a few other anglers as I made my way down river, but everyone was spread out and only a few times did I have to get out of the river to go around someone to leave them a wide berth.  The air temperature stayed comfortable and it was a pleasure to wade in shorts without waders.  The gorge is very rocky, and even when the water levels are low, you do need to wear wading boots with felt or studs to be safe.

I covered about two-thirds of the gorge before turning around and heading back towards the top, stopping at various holes and runs, and fishing them.  It was a hatchless morning, and during the entire time I saw only one rise. So I fished the same fly the whole time and did well, including catching a beautiful 6-7 inch wild rainbow just before calling it a day around 2:00 PM.      

A size #17 Iris Caddis tied on a TMC 102Y hook.

Sharpen your hooks!

Friday, July 21, 2017

The 2017 Youth World Fly Fishing Team Is Ready for Slovenia

Just a few short years ago I spent many weekends over a couple of years fishing with Doug Freemann, who at the time was fairly new to the sport. He was fascinated with fly fishing and wanted to learn as much as he could about it.  At the time, he was focused mainly on nymphing with competition style leaders and nymphs. We often fished the same pools near enough to each other that we could talk about the water we were fishing with respect to flows, holding water, and how best to cover it.  Fly tying also became a big part of his world, too (how could it not with my obsession). After a few months he started competing in the fly fishing competitions that determine the team members for the USA Youth Fly Fishing Team.   

As time went by he expanded his techniques to dry flies and streamers and  became proficient in all aspects of the sport.  He not only made the US Youth Team after a couple of years, he traveled to Spain last year with the team for the world competition, and the team took silver, and Doug was the top angler for team USA.  This year Doug will be going to Slovenia for the world youth fly fishing championship in about a week as the team captain. Not only is Doug a very good angler, we couldn't have a better young ambassador for our country.  I know I'm biased, but if you met him you'd certainly agree.  In the fall he is headed to Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, CO.  I am very lucky to have been given the opportunity in this life to have fallen into Doug's orbit. 

I would be remiss if I didn't include the rest of the team here, as although each angler fishes independently, its the team that they each truly fish for in the end.   All of these young men have worked hard over the last year to earn their place on the team.  In addition to being very good anglers, they also represent our country very well.

The 2017 USA Youth World Team:

Douglas Freemann, Captain
Grant Hawse, Co-Captain
Holden Price 
Seth Drake
Evan Vanek
Mike Komara

Kalvin Kaloz, Coach

The US Youth Fly Fishing Team (Team USA) is a carefully selected group of youth anglers from across the United States that has been associated with leaders in the sport. It was incorporated in 2008.

FIPS-Mouche, the world sanctioning body for competitive fly fishing has well defined rules of competition. All fishing is “catch and release.” Anglers fish five different sessions of three hours each, all on different rivers and “beats” of water. Scoring is based on the number and size of fish caught. Placement points are awarded for each session with the goal of scoring as few points as possible. A person catching no fish in a session receives the greatest number of penalty points and considerably jeopardizes their chances of medalling.

Just as important as the fishing, is the camaraderie and the cross-cultural connections that are made through the events. Team members are also involved in a number of other areas of fly fishing such as guiding, offering fly fishing tying clinics, participating in watershed preservation projects, and promoting environmental stewardship.

Please join me in wishing the 2017 USA Youth Fly Fishing Team the best of luck in Slovenia this August. 

Go get 'em, boys!

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Yellow Sally - The Summertime Stonefly

Last week I posted a photo of a yellow sally stonefly imitation on Instagram, and an observant viewer sent me an email noting that in the tying video I made with Tim Flagler, I did not tie in a tail like the one in the photo.  They wanted to know why.  

The answer is simple; I tie my Western version with the tail so it floats well in the big, fast waters that are found in Montana.  Here in the East I tie them without a tail as our waters not as big and fast as those out West, and a sparser fly tends to work better.  I will also carry some without a tail when out West for the spring creeks and fussy fish.  

The trout mostly see the egg-laying adults, thus the egg sac on the fly.

Sharpen your hooks.    

Monday, July 3, 2017

Stripers at the Cape

My son is up in Chatham on Cape Cod this holiday weekend and he's making good use of his time up there.  He's got a kayak and his fishing equipment and has been catching small stripers in the backwaters and sand bars on spinning equipment.  He tells me that now that he has found them, he is going to go to the fly rod today.  We'll let you know how he makes out.

Sharpen your hooks.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Another Weekend In the Catskills

Last weekend we headed up to the Catskills again with the usual characters.  This time though, after fishing Saturday evening, the four of us were joined in the evening by seven anglers from Rahway River Trout Unlimited, making for a crowded cabin on Saturday night.  It worked out great though with everyone pitching in with the burger and dog dinner, before we settled in around the fire and talked fishing, fly tying and music.  A few guys had to camp out on the floor in their sleeping bags, but no one seemed to mind.

Earlier, we fished a favorite pool on the Beaverkill, where the sparse hatches of sulphurs, caddis and tiny blue-winged olives brought trout and shad to the surface.  At dusk light cahills began hatching and in the dark we could hear quite a few fish working the surface.  We had a good evening with a couple of trout and two shad, one that was good sized and battled hard despite having swam over 300 miles up the Delaware then the East Branch before taking my Iris Caddis on the lower Beaverkill.

On Sunday morning everyone split up to fish their favorite pools on either the Willowemoc or the Beaverkill.  Vinnie and I went down to angler free pool on the lower Beaverkill.  The day was very warm and humid and we knew that by midday water temperatures would hit 68-70 degrees and put a halt to fishing.  The path to the river was thick with invasive knot weed thanks to the frequent spring rains - every year it seems to grow higher and thicker than the last. 

The river was clear and at a normal level, with only tiny blue-winged olives, some of which were hatching along with spinners falling.  A good breeze blew upstream. Trout rose softly to the little insects drifting on and in the surface film along the far bank where hardwood trees provided shade.  We split up each heading to where small pods of trout dimpled the water surface as they took in morsels that to us seemed way too small to be worth their effort.

I tied on a size 22 snowshoe rabbit foot blue-winged olive to the end of my 6x tippet and then slowly worked my way within casting distance of the nearest working fish.  I made a few test casts, found that my 12 foot leader turned over well, but the light tippet and fly were sent upstream at a right angle thanks to the breeze.  It would be one of those mornings when one had to time their cast to drop when the wind dies for a brief moment.  I cast to the working fish and when I got a good drift, it rose up, inspected my offering, and then drifted back down to the bottom.  This happened several times, and I think the issue was micro-drag thanks to the myriad of currents shifting from the many large rocks lying just below the surface.

After a short while and a few dozen casts over that fish, a trout rose about 25 feet above me in a fast slick.  I let it rise again, pin-pointed its locations, and made a quick cast dropping my about a foot above where it rose.  Almost immediately, the fish came up and sipped in my fly, and after a brief fight I brought the 11-12 inch wild rainbow to my net.  I admired it for a second, removed the fly from its upper jaw and then dropped my net back into the water where the fish swam out to safety.

I fished a while longer, getting more than a few refusals, and then backed out to shallower water where took the water temperature.  It has hit 69 degrees F, so I cut off my fly and reeled in.  Then I waded down to Vinnie and gave him the news, and he too, called it a day.  He had a few good takes he said, but missed them, which is unusual for him. It was a good day for both of us though; how often in late June can you find a pool on the Beaverkill with no other anglers and rising trout?

Here's the fly I have been taking the bulk of my fish on the last few weeks up north.

Sharpen your hooks.                        

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Why Does an Imitation Fly Work?

Why?  When you look at the previous post of a mayfly from below, why do trout take this pattern, or any other pattern that really does not look like that photo?     

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Is This What a Trout Sees?

Photo courtesy of Marc Fauvet

For more great photos and other neat stuff, go to Marc's blog - The Limp Cobra

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Father's Day Weekend Fishing the Upper Delaware

On Saturday after tying at the Whitewater Flies open house event in Lafayette, NJ, my son Hunt and I headed up to the Catskills.  We landed at my friend Paul's house in Roscoe at 4:45 PM, and by 5:15, we had the drift boat and trailer hooked up to the car and the three of us were on our way to the upper main stem of the Delaware River.   

We floated from the Shehawken access on the West Branch of the Delaware River to Stockport, a short float, but filled with opportunities the whole way.   The air was humid and hot for this region, so we waded every chance we got so we could stay cool in our waders.  The water was cool, and clear, with every rock and stone on the bottom visible, which meant we were very visible to the fish. When we came upon rising fish, we got out of the boat and tossed our offerings from a distance, because if we got too close, they would go down in an instant.  By darkness, we had hooked a bunch of fish, and landed a few, including a nice 20" brown that took my size #20 blue-winged olive emerger just as the sun fell below the mountain tops. 

On Sunday morning, Hunt and I packed our gear and headed to Whitetail Country Fly Shop, to meet Joe Demalderis "Joe D", of Cross Current Outfitters.   Hunt had never been on a guided float trip,so it was a perfect way to spend Father's Day with my son.  We put in at the Shehawken access on the West Branch at just about noon.  Dark puffy clouds glided by overhead, alternately providing shade and hot sun.  We decided not to put on our waders, instead we would wet to keep cool.  We also had the benefit (not) of almost constant wind - it may have kept us cool, but it also made casting a dry fly almost impossible at times.  Joe had one hell of a hard time rowing the boat against the up river unrelenting gusts.

As we made our way downstream looking for rising fish, we realized we pretty much had the river to ourselves.   You could count on one hand the number of floating and wading anglers we saw in the first half mile of water, which usually has 3 to 4 times that many on this stretch on a weekend day. Perhaps it was because it was Father's Day, or because as hard as it was to cast from a boat, it was certainly harder to cast from a fixed position while wading.  On top of that there were no bugs on the water, or in the air, as you might expect.  Despite that, we hit every fishy looking spot (or tried to against the wind) within casting distance.  We had some refusals, and in one long riffle, my son managed to hook three fish blind casting to the edges of soft water below submerged rocks using a deer hair Isonychia emerger. Unfortunately, they were brief hook-ups.  Most likely because the wind kept a big bow in the line between the rod tip and water, making it very difficult to get a solid hook set.  As Hunt said afterwards, "I got them to take my fly, and that's what its all about".

Anyone that has fished the Upper Delaware and its branches knows that more often than not there is at least a breeze just about every day, many days with low, gusty winds  Its a rare day up there that it is calm.  A we worked our way down river, we came upon a large pod of shad milling in a large eddy below a truck-sized boulder in the middle of the river.  With no bugs and no trout rising, Hunt tied on a size #12 copper john nymph to 4X tippet, and cast it at a 45 degree angle downstream and across before feeding out line and letting it swing into the eddy.  As the fly made its way into the target area, he began to slowly strip line in.  The had would swipe at the fly and some managed to take it and get hooked.  He landed two decent sized shad before we decided to pull anchor and look for trout in the riffles below.

After we rounded the bend about a half mile below where the shad were piled up, we entered one of my favorite runs on the Delaware.  Here the river is a gentle riffle that is broken up by scattered boulders provide perfect trout holding water for about 500 yards.  We saw a lot of one-and-done rises that we did our best to put our flies over, with little success.  As we neared the bottom of the run, a trout rose along the right bank in the soft water below a rock.  Hunt quickly cast the Isonychia emerger  he traded for the copper john as we entered the run and it landed about 10 inches above the rise.  The fly drifted over the fish and it rose confidently sipping the fly in like a natural.  He set the hook and the fish bolted up river, his drag buzzing, for about 50 feet before turning and then coming right at the boat and then passing it (see photo above).   After a brief struggle, he eased the fish to the boat and Joe netted a nice wild brown trout.

After that, we continued down river without seeing another rise, and called it a day just as dusk was beginning to draw upon us.  Although the conditions were less than ideal, we had a great day on the water fishing, talking fishing, laughing and listening to Joe tell us stories and share his wisdom from thirty plus years of guiding and fishing this beautiful, big river.  And what better way to spend Father's Day than watching your son work the water with a shared passion and determination for fly fishing, and catching fish despite tough conditions?

Sharpen your hooks!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

American Shad Return to the Musconetcong River After 300 Year Hiatus!

New Jersey was a British colony the last time the American shad swam in the Musconetcong River.

Colonialists nearly 300 years ago dammed the Delaware River tributary, which straddles the border of Warren County's Pohatcong Township and Hunterdon County's Holland Township just south of Phillipsburg.

The dams made the Musconetcong impassable for the shad, which live most of their lives in the Atlantic Ocean but swim up the Delaware River and smaller rivers that empty into the Delaware each spring to spawn.

Read the full article here: Lehigh Valley Live 

This is awesome stuff.  Thank you to all of those involved in the dam removal and restoration.

Sharpen your hooks!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

I'm Glad I'm Not A Trout

I write a lot of stuff most every day (night), and most of it is about fly fishing, fly tying or some aspect of being on a river or stream.  The following I wrote late one night this past February after tying a bunch of flies while waiting for the fire to die down before calling it a night.  I have no idea where I was going with the title, but in reading the following now, I realized that when I'm tying flies I'm doing a lot of thinking.............who knew?

As I write this, it is 15 degrees F outside.  I have been tying flies in front of the fire for the last two hours and it occurs to me that I may not be fishing in the foreseeable future.  Not that that matters, I tie every day whether I'm fishing the next day or in the near future.   Being an optimist, I'm always looking forward to being on the water casting a fly as soon as the time and opportunity arrives.  So I must be prepared with the right flies, recently tied so they have the right mojo.

When I tie a fly, I think about being on the water and how I am going to fish the fly I'm tying, and how it will look as I fish it.  I think about silhouette, posture, color, proportion, and how the materials will compliment each other to create the "look" I want in my mind.   I often imagine the specific situation that requires the fly I am tying as it forms in my vise with each wrap of thread and material.  As I prepare and then tie on each material, how the material feels in my fingers and looks as it is tied on to the hook, is a part of the process.  If it doesn't feel right or look as I wish once it is tied on, I will take it off and either "fix" what it is that isn't right, or I will simply discard it and start over with a new piece of the material.  It's not like I get strung out about it, there's no scissor flinging of bobbin thumping, it just part of the process of creating what looks right to my eye in the vise, and as it will look on or in the water (to my mind's eye).  As for the feel of a particular material, that's important, and if I cut a section of hair, or fur, or pluck a feather and it doesn't feel right, I don't use it.

Don't ask me to explain what it is about the look and feel of the materials as I use them, or the finished fly, because I couldn't answer that, except to say that I think the answer would be different for each of us.

Update 6/9/17 - The title was/is a reference to the fact that the trout were hunkered down in water that was barely above freezing at the time.  

Sharpen your hooks!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Speckled Caddis On the Musconetcong River

Fished the Musky tonight and it was awesome.  The speckled caddis (Hydropsyche sp.) hatch was epic,  with the caddis hatching by the thousands, and the trout on the emerging pupa like a child to candy.  I think every fish in the river was rising tonight.  The last hour of daylight there must have been 40-50 fish rising in the pool we were fishing.  They weren't easy, but a good cast and a drag-free drift got at least a look, and often a take.  All you needed was an iris caddis fished in the film - it's a dead ringer for the natural - and that's what I got all but one of my fish on tonight.  I got one fish on a sulphur usual just after I started fishing and before the caddis really got rocking.

Sharpen your hooks!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Tale of Two Rods - The Long and Short of It

We managed to get out and fish the last four evenings on the South Branch, and for the most part the catching was very good.  The frequent rains and cooler than normal nights have the river in great condition.  The hatches have been as good as we have seen in the last few years.  Evenings we have seen sulphurs, light cahills, pink cahills, lemon cahills and their respective spinners.  Sunday during the rain, the little blue-winged olives hatched well, sizes #18-20.  Then there are the caddis; cinnamon or ginger caddis, dancing caddis, and the gray sedges are starting up.

A rainy day rainbow.

On Friday evening, the wind was up, so I broke out my favorite 5-weight; an eight and a half foot Winston Graphite II, 3-piece.  The rod is medium action at best and very pleasant to cast and fish, as it forces one to slow down and get into a relaxed casting rhythm.  This was the first time I have fished it since last spring, and it was awkward at first, to say the least.  You see, I have been fishing my 10 foot, 3-weight Hardy Zenith almost exclusively for the last year, even when I was in Montana. 

The Winston is light, responsive, and is a pleasure to cast.  The problem was the length; I literally felt handicapped having given up a foot and a half of length.  The amount of line control the shorter length gave up was very apparent.  I immediately found that it was just not as easy to place a cast, mend line, or control the drift, like I could with the longer rod.  Maybe I was just used to the longer rod, which was possible. I slowly made adjustments with the shorter rod, and after a short while I managed fine.  But I still missed the advantages of fishing with a longer wand.  I don't think I'll be running out any time soon to get a 10 foot, 5-weight, but the thought does cross my mind. Maybe I'll have to borrow one from a friend first.

....and about that iris caddis pattern I've been telling you about.  On Sunday I fished it wet, as nothing was rising, even with all the bugs on the water, and caught quite a few fish on it.  Last night, I fished it as a dry/emerger, and took a bunch of nice fish on it, including a couple of pretty little wild browns. The bottom line is that this fly works, and I recommend you try it when caddis are present.    

Sharpen your hooks!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Well-Chewed Flies

We've managed to get out on the local streams fairly often in the last couple of weeks, and the fishing has been great some days, and not so great on others.  Plenty of insects have been hatching, yet the dry fly action has been as variable as the weather.   One day its hot and the next wet and cold.  All of the rain is keeping the rivers up, so there are no complaints here.  And when the fish are not looking up, I've had great success with one pattern, the Iris Caddis fished dead-drift.   I've always had good success with this pattern fishing it as an emerger in the film during a caddis emergence, but after my friend Chris told me a few years back it also works fished wet, I've found it to be one of my go-to patterns in the spring and summer months when caddis area present but nothing is rising.  This past Saturday I fished with Vinnie on the South Branch, and between the two of us, we caught more fish than we could count.  I got most of my fish on the Iris Caddis you see here.  

(A well-chewed, size #15, Iris Caddis)

Yes, its a size #15.  The hook is a Tiemco 102Y, which is sized using odd numbers, and is the hook the fly is traditionally tied on.  It is a down eye, 1X fine, wide gape, forged hook that is black anodized.  Lacking a source for this hook, a size # 14 or 16 dry fly hook will work just fine.  I use them when I can't find the 102Y.

There have been plenty of bugs hatching, and when the fish are looking up, the dry fly fishing has been very good.  Locally, North Jersey, we have had sulphurs, lemon cahills, light cahills, little blue-winged olives, large blue-winged olives, and the slate drakes have started.  Then there are the various caddis that are hatching and/or egg-laying, including cinnamon or ginger caddis, dancing caddis, little dark granmoms, and a few lesser known species.

(Blue-winged olive - size #14 - Ephemerella cornuta)

(Dancing caddis - Mystacides sp. - size #18)

The dancing caddis shown above has been present every day I've been on the river.  They are often mistaken for the chimarra sp. caddis, as they are small, and jet black in color.  The difference is that the dancing caddis has horns, long speckled antennae, and a unique folded wing shape that is twice as long as the body.  You may have seen then dancing (fluttering) low over the surface of the water in small clouds.  They are only important to the angler when they fall spent on the water after egg-laying.  Otherwise, they hatch along the stream edge on rocks and other partially submerged limbs or logs. 

Here's my go-to sulphur pattern - the sulphur usual.  Tie them up in sizes #14-20 for all the light yellow mayflies that hatch for the next couple of weeks.  Also, tie a few with cream bodies in size #14 to imitate the light cahills.  It's a simple fly that takes fish consistently.

Sharpen your hooks!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tying the SBR Sulphur Nymph

It's one of the best times of the trout fishing season right now with the weather and many hatches being at their peak on most streams here in the East.  One of those hatches is the sulphur, and over the last couple of months Tim has been telling me he has seen lots of sulphur nymphs in his stream samples, as have I.  It's a great hatch, starts with nymphing throughout the day, until the evening when the little, pale blue-winged, yellow bodied mayflies begin to hatch making it time to switch to a dry.  The nymphs are very active in the water column before the hatch, making them very vulnerable to the trout.  Here's is Tim's version of the nymph, which he based on the naturals he sees in his home waters, the South Branch of the Raritan River.  I suspect it will work anywhere in the East sulphurs are found.    

I would suggest tying some of these without the bead, too, for the late day, pre-hatch times when the naturals are ascending to the surface to hatch.

Sharpen your hooks!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

An Unseasonable Season So Far

It's been a weird spring season so far, with plenty of rain and air temperatures that go from hot to cold overnight, along with more than our fair share of windy days.  Last weekend we fished up in the Catskills.  When we arrived Friday at dusk, it was hot and humid, windless, and much like an early July evening. Saturday morning when we first got up, it was cool and calm, but in the short time in between grabbing breakfast and getting on the Beaverkill River, the wind kicked up and made casting very tough, and often impossible during the high gusts.  The air was filled with caddis flying upstream with the wind, and the water surface had huge mats of floating caddis shucks that except for a sheen, looked much like oil slicks.   Fish rose sporadically, and at the end of the day we did catch a few fish.

This past weekend we fished Sunday on our local water, the South Branch of the Raritan River, and again the weather was very un-springlike.  I headed down to the river mid-afternoon.  The air was 48 degrees F, and as luck would have it, it started to rain just as I put on my waders.  Not one to let a little precip stop me from fishing, I geared up and walked to the river.  The water was clear, and the level perfect.  Not a soul was in sight, which is unusual this time of the year, and likely was weather related.

Over the next few hours the rain stopped and started several times, and as is often the case when it's raw, cloudy and rainy, little blue-winged olives hatched.  These little mayflies, size #22 or so, drifted unmolested by the trout on the brisk current, lifting off into the air casually - do you think the insects know when the trout are not interested?  I saw one rise.

I drifted a small soft hackle pheasant tail across and downstream, picking up a couple of stocked rainbows.  It may have been cold and raw, but it was pleasant being on the river with only the birds and the sounds of raindrops accompanying me.  Its fascinating how the swallows and purple martens fly over the water, drop down, and without slowing down pick off the little mayflies with just a quick tip of the head.

Sharpen your hooks.      

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Quiet Sunday On the Water

This past Sunday I had planned to fish with my friend Chris and his dad in the Ken Lockwood Gorge section of the South Branch of the Raritan River, but when I got to there, the upper lot in the gorge, and the lot at Hoffman's Crossing, which is a short walk above the gorge, were full.  Being one that does not like fishing with a lot of other folks that may or may not be fishing, I decided to go elsewhere and let Chris spend some time with his dad.   

I headed up river to a stretch that had only a few scattered anglers with plenty of room for one to get some solitude.  It was a perfect spring day; thin high clouds, a slight breeze and air temperatures in the low 60's.  The river was at a perfect level, clear, and so inviting that I didn't bother to take the water temperature.  I figured it was a treat just to be on the water, and if bugs came off, that would be a plus.   Truthfully, with the muted sun and good water level, I tried to will a hatch of caddis or some leftover Hendricksons.

After I parked and geared up, I walked a few hundred yards down river to a nice run where I could wade one side that was fairly shallow, and fish to the opposite bank, where a long, fairly deep slough flowed a few feet off the bank.  At the top of the slough, a large rock breaks up the flow creating eddies and foam lines that fall off on either side of the submerged boulder and continue for 30 feet or so before melting into the water.  Feeding fish tend to sit down stream of the rock under the foam lines and slick areas formed by varying currents, and also in the thin water flowing along the bank under the overhanging stream side shrubs that at this point of the season were mostly bare except for regularly spaced, small, lime green buds that in a few weeks will grow to create a low riparian canopy.  I positioned myself at the lower end of the run, and settled down low, resting my knees on the gravel bottom using my heels as a seat, in about a foot of water.  I watched as small grannom caddis came off sporadically along with scattered tiny midges.  

As I quietly watched the water, I heard a light cough above and behind me. I turned and looked up to the top of the high bank where an old man stood watching me.  His hands in the pockets of his pressed khaki pants, above which he wore a light blue, hard cotton work shirt, and a white, five day old stubble on his leathery face obscured by the smoke of a burning cigarette hanging from his lips. He nodded to me under an old, tattered green baseball cap; the rest of him as still and solid as an ancient oak tree.  I gave him a short wave and a smile, and turned back to the task at hand.  I thought to myself, Either he wants to see if I catch anything, or he is waiting to see if the idiot kneeling in the river with a fly rod will take a fall when he stands up.

In short order, as the old man might say, a trout rose just off the opposite bank and a little ways above me.  The old man saw it; he gave a low grunt as if to say, Let's see what the half-submerged guy is going to do with this opportunity

The second the trout rose, I fixed its position above me in relation to a rock on the opposite bank, and mentally measured how far off the bank it rose.  It had some out from under the brush, so my cast would just need to be above it and close enough to the bank where the trout would feel safe coming out of its lair.  My target would be about two feet above that to give the my fly enough time to settle down and drift into the feeding lane like any other insect that might find itself adrift.

My first cast was a little short, so I let the #16 Grannom caribou caddis drift down below the fish and picked it up to cast again.  The next couple of casts and drifts weren't quite right, with the trout being the ultimate indicator of whether I was getting it right. When this happens, I bring my fly in to check it, blow moisture off it, and take a a few moments to rest the occasion.  After about 30 seconds, and a few false casts, I dropped the fly above the fish.  I watched as a dark shape glided out from under the brush and rose up under my offering before softly sipping it in.  I tightened my line and the rainbow came shooting out of the water before trying to head back into the safety from it came.  After a brief battle, I brought the bright silver, 13-inch fish close enough to grab the fly and back it out, and release the fish.  A short grunt followed from the peanut gallery, and by the time I turned, the man had already taken a few steps away with his back to me.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working my way upstream and covering every fishy looking spot I found.  I caught a bunch more fish, all rainbows, about the same size and temperament of the first fish.  And all of them on the well-chewed caribou caddis you see here.               


Hook: Partridge #16 Dry Fly Supreme
Thread: 6/0 Olive Danville
Trailing shuck: Amber zelon
Body: Dark olive Australian opossum
Rib: Pearl krystal flash - 1 strand
Underwing: Clear zelon
Wing: Medium caribou hair
Thorax: Dark hare's ear - touch-dubbed

Sharpen your hooks.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Red Quill - Tied by Joe Fox

Here's a great video by Tim Flagler/Tightline Productions, of Joe Fox tying a Catskill Red Quill dry fly using techniques he learned from Catskill legends Walt, Winnie and Mary Dette, his great grandparents and grandmother. The Dette's are one of my primary tying influences, and I spent many hours in their fly shop in my younger years watching them tie and asking questions, and learning not only about tying flies, but also how to fish them.  Joe now runs that same fly shop in the front room of that white house on a quiet street in Roscoe, NY where he welcomes anglers from all over the world with the same friendly, warm regard his family did for so many years. 

Here's a link to the Dette Fly Shop: Dette Trout Flies - Since 1928

Sharpen your hooks.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Fishing With Henley and Friends

Yesterday we took my 3 year-old grandson Henley fishing at one of the bass ponds a short drive from his home here on Hilton Head Island.  The pond has bass, bream, crappie and catfish in it, and lots of turtles and a few other four-legged reptiles that made it hard to fish at times.

Here's the little man heading to the water armed and ready to do battle.

We got him rigged up and fishing in no time with his Ninja Turtle fishing pole his uncle Hunt bought him last time they were down visiting.  Once he started fishing, there was no telling him how to do it, he was on a mission and focused on the task at hand. 

He fished for a while, casting off the dock, trying both sides, while the turtles watched closely hoping a free meal might fall off his hook.  While all this was happening, the other pond denizens took notice and before long we were joined by them.  I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that any fish that might be nearby swam off to safer waters.

These guys also seemed to be waiting for a free meal.  It's likely that some folks can't read signs, or just don't care, and feed them from the two fishing docks, so when they see anyone on the docks, they come calling.  They averaged about 6-8 feet in length, and then of course, there was the king of the pond that looked to be a good 10 feet long that couldn't be bothered with us.  It stayed on the far bank sunning itself, which was just fine with us.

I don't think many folks get ticketed.......

At the end of the day we had a good time even though Henley didn't catch anything.  He was fascinated with the turtles and the alligators, which in itself was worth the trip to experience. The alligators are very cool, from a distance, and unlike any creature I've ever come across when trout fishing.

Sharpen your hooks!