Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Rainbows

Last Saturday, I managed to free up an entire afternoon for some trout scouting.  I keep a Google map of locations for fishing as a sort of 'To Do" list, with little markers in green identifying places that have been good fishing spots in the past.  Yellow markers indicate places that I've heard about or had recommended to me, or simply found on the map and thought that it might hold wild trout.  These markers are usually accompanied by short notes such as, 'Look for parking and access.' or , 'Low water mid-summer, check back in spring and fall.'

Usually, I don't have the luxury of time to plan out a scouting trip to check out these places, but when I do, it's always a learning experience.  Saturday was one of those days.

I had made plans to attend a picnic later in the evening in a somewhat remote area.  Lucky for me, that remote area was host to several yellow markers on my map.  I picked out four markers and planned out a rough route in my head connecting them.  I wanted to hit the most promising ones first, even though that often means I won't get to the entire list.

When I got to the first location, there were big yellow posted signs every ten feet, making it abundantly clear that visitors were not welcome.  Some guys will track down the landowner to get permission, but I take the signs to mean that they really don't want people in there.

The second area simply had no convenient location to pull off the road.  A steep drop-off to the stream would have been a challenge to navigate, but there were no spots where I'd feel comfortable pulling off the road and trusting that nobody would slam into my parked car.  A bit frustrated, I went to the third spot.

The route to this spot took me on a bridge over my 'backup option': a large, rocky creek that has managed to humble and stymie me repeatedly.  I know there's big trout in it.  Hell, I've seen the big trout...but with just one notable exception (a chunky brown), this creek has limited me to nothing but smallish 6-7" fish.  For a small stream, that isn't bad, but when I know that an 18" trout isn't terribly rare on a given stream, six or seven inches of trout isn't much of an accomplishment.

The third spot looked like a good spot on the map, but in person, it was little more than a few damp rocks in a ditch.  In fact, the bridge over it was the only place that it wasn't completely covered by weeds and saplings.  There might have been a trout in there, but even dapping was impossible with the thick vegetation.

Finally, the fourth spot seemed worthy of a try. Actually the same stream as the backup option, this was simply a point much farther upstream than I'd ever fished, where the waterway was much smaller.  There was a handy pull-off just before the bridge and I quickly got out and walked down to the water.

While it was obviously low, the creek looked fishable, and I returned to my car to gear up.  A few minutes later and I finally got to my first cast of the day, hours after I left home.

This was the second outing for my new ultralight rod (which I'll discuss more fully in a later post), and I was still having trouble adjusting to the fast action in such a light stick.  Still, I managed a few decent casts and drifts...but failed to persuade any fish.  Twice, I was rewarded by quick, splashy rises, but I suspected they were minnows, not trout.

As I worked my way upstream, I was disappointed again, as I happened upon a deep, wide, slow section, too deep to wade and to steep and muddy to go around...just a few yards from where I entered.  Disappointed once again, I headed back for the car, and from there, my backup option.

Blue-lining, or searching the map for possible wild trouting locations, then following up with visits, is a venture often met with heaps of disappointment, but it usually pays off just enough to keep a few of us coming back for more.

Well, eventually, I got back to my backup creek, got my pack, and headed for the water.  Just as I entered, though, I heard a noise and looked up to see a guy and his young boy fishing and playing in the next pool up.  Had it been a lone fisherman, I might have been annoyed, but I was glad to see the young kid out with his dad.  Still, I had to make yet another decision.  To fish the lower reaches meant walking downstream then fishing my way back up.  Upstream would mean getting out and skipping over where the guy and his boy were, but would take me to water I'd only ever fished once before, so I decided to go that route.

As I walked along the train tracks that paralleled the stream, I noticed a small feeder creek that I'd only ever seen at the mouth where it emptied into the main waterway.  At this point, the light bulb came on and I decided to fish the feeder instead.  Dropping down from the railroad tracks, I started drifting the tricky currents in the rocky streambed, methodically covering every drift in a pool or riffle before moving up to the next.  Although I didn't realize it until later, I must have started to really get the feel for my new fly rod, because I noticed myself getting the drift I wanted more and more often, without the exasperating misses and splashdowns.  Another quick way to improve your casting is to fish any small stream.  You'll either improve, or lose every fly you carried in to trees, roots, branches, and shrubs.  Speaking of shrubs, the wild rhododendron was in full bloom...

As I went up, I started getting a few rises, and as I got used to the rod, rises turned into fish landed...and jus tlike that...I'd discovered a new stream for wild rainbows...

First trout on the new rod.  Not a bad way to break it in.

I love the fins of the wild bows...maybe even more than those of the wild browns and brookies.

Love the pink stripe that looks like someone painted it on there...

As always, the surroundings are beautiful...

A little farther up, I came to a bend in the stream.  At this bend, there was an extremely large, deep pool for a stream of this size in this rocky terrain.  It also had a unique feature: a rock island out in the middle of the pool.

Almost no spots on this one.  More than the browns and brookies, I think wild bows display the most variance in appearance from fish to fish in the same stream.

Terrible photo, beautiful fin.

This may be a personal best wild bow...not sure.  He was pushing 8".  Not sure what happened to his gill, though.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Personal Best Wild Trout

Short post today, but it's one I'm proud of.  I got out to chase wild trout over the weekend, and decided to revisit a small but nice stream I hadn't fished since the pre-runoff conditions.  I really like the lower sections of this stream because it has all the challenging characteristics of a typical small stream, with one major difference: as it enters the lower section, the stream widens and passes through some mature forest, meaning there's plenty of room for casting.  This is a luxury that a small stream fisherman doesn't often enjoy.

Still, that isn't to say that the stream is easy, by any means.  A good one to take a beginner to?  Sure.  There's no shortage of textbook riffles and pools.  But between the obvious spots lie some tricky undercuts with low-hanging branches, hard-to-reach seams, and those drifts that would be easy, except you can't position yourself in the logical place because you've got to be stealthy.

I was working my way up to a pool that had a pool that was long enough to create one of those stealth-related difficulties.  The head of the pool has a few boulders scattered through it, making for great fish-holding water, but while it'd be easy to cover that water from up close, you'd spook every fish to get there.  So the alternative is fishing from the bottom of the pool and making 35-45 foot casts (do-able, but a tricky proposition with a short 1wt nonetheless) up into the boulders, making 2-3 foot drifts, and casting again.  Making things even more interesting, most of your drifts here are only visible for a foot or two before the current takes your fly to the opposite side of a rock from where you're standing.

It was on one such drift, toward the outside of the pool, that my fly drifted to the opposite side of a moss covered boulder.  Just as I was about to lift my line for another cast, I noticed a few drops of water and ripples coming from behind the rock, so I set the hook with a quick snap and my hunch was proven by the resulting head shake.

The head shake assured me of something else, too: this was not another 5" native, which usually come splashing across the surface.  No, this fish immediately pulled me the the bottom of the pool and stayed there, the green blank of my 1wt flexing deeper than it has in months.

After a spirited battle, I pulled the fish up to a partially submerged rock for a few quick photos...

And soon after, his release...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Want Wild Trout, Will Travel

As promised, here's some photos from recent outings with my buddy Sam, in search of wild trout.  While some like to add narrative, often, I find that the photos speak for themselves.  So without further ado, here are the goods:

In this hole, Sam found a stocked brown that had wandered up from the creek that this blue line emptied into.  We were there primarily for wild trout, but who could resist the opportunity to take a larger fish on a light line?  Sam managed to turn the fish, but never did bring him to hand.  There's always next time, I suppose.

This is what we were after...check out that yellow spot at the corner of the mouth.  That's on the fish, not a trick of the camera.  Not sure what's going on there, as I didn't notice it until I uploaded the photos from my camera.  I took several shots of this fish, though, and the spot is consistent throughout.

Brook trout are way prettier than strictly necessary.

This was as far upstream as we went on this particular stream.  That hole is surprisingly deep, considering the typical nature of the streams in the area.  We'd have gone farther, but there were some posted signs about (even though according to sources, it should be public land...and anyone renting has no authority to prevent passage...still have to look into that one...)

A few days later, Sam and I met up again to further explore some water we'd only briefly visited in our last adventure.  I had to take care of some errands at home first, but Sam got a good early start, so I found myself hiking to the water to find some indication of whether he was up or downstream from the access.  Along the way, I found some interesting fauna...

I think this guy is a millipede as opposed to a centipede, but being unsure, I wasn't about to risk a painful sting by disturbing him.  I saw a few more like this later in the day too.  Pretty exotic-looking for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Far less exotic, this is still the biggest snail I've ever seen in the woods.

Cahills were hatching sporadically, which is perfect for a small stream, as the naturals are big enough to get the trout looking up for food, but not so heavy a hatch that they really key on anything specific.

Not sure what left this shuck, though I suspect it's a dragonfly, from the shape of the head.

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