Tuesday, May 21, 2019

From Adventure: Treasure

AT left, some favorite hooks acquired from the Dette fly shop,  Livingston Manor, NY.

I love the Partridge hooks. I've used a few and find then to optimal for my fishing. Finding the mother lode was a huge bonus for the trip.

Dette has the whole catalog on their shelves. The heavy wire hooks are my favorites for spring because my soft hackle wets  easily penetrate the film and drift down to the 12 - 18 inch dept I find pulls fish from their bank and timber hiding spots. We hatch a lot of caddis in this state and so nymphs "practicing" their assent is a common sight to trout. Wets floating int he water column do the job.

I was so excited to find the hooks that I went a little overboard on the buy.

I believe. 

At left, a hackle-less nymph given the extra weight of a bead-head. Yes, you correctly recognize the pink squirrel.

The extra-length tail on this #17 model prevents the tumble effect common on some bead-heads. It allows me a little more leverage in "steering" my fly during downstream drifts in gin-clear water.

I believe in the pink squirrel. It has been a day-saver for me.

AT left, a generic Michigan searching fly: a hackled olive spider. This one is tied on an Alec Jackson steel dry fly hook I find heavy enough to penetrate the film.

I will use this fly in 15 on the Upper Manistee near the Deward tract here right after Memorial Day. 

And since spring is a long slow affair this year, I'll also make good use of this purple-and-starling tied with my diminishing stock of Pearsall's thread.

These  dark little pieces of food do well for me in shallow water ticking over gravel or cobble right into the head of a pool. There's almost always some hungry trout with enough interest to make a grab.


I've broken out the light camping gear: my Hennesy Hammock I use in Canada as there is no flat ground whatsoever in the Wabakimi.

When it is hot, sleeping in the hammock is preferable to lying in a bunk and sweating all night despite the fact I smell of bacon to the bears.

It takes two minutes to set-up my light camp and on the Upper Manistee in spring, I want to waste no time. The brookies are hungry!

I'm booked into the Driftless for early fall. I'm going to give my new hooks a work-out there. Maybe this trip it won't rain six inches in the week. Maybe. Falls can be wet over there.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Neversink Unique Area

AT left, a picture from the Neversink well inside the Unique Area looking down on the river itself. In this picture, flows are three times normal as measured at an upstream gauging station. The debris from a couple weeks ago is another six feet up the banks! That must have been something to see.

I took a fish out of the slick in the bottom right corner.

The water had a slight cast -- green, Jim says -- but visibility exceeded 20 feet. I had the head of a Wulff TT line out plumbing the depths off a rock ledge and I could see my bead-head PTN flymph just ticking the bottom rocks as the color transition on the line denoting the head was in my hand.

Our lunch spot. Jim in foreground. Riffled break goes up around the bend. A long slick is a my back.

We've hiked in about an hour mostly downhill to reach this spot.  The day began with light rain and a cold drizzle and became this warm spring day with full sun. It topped 70 by the time we hiked out.

We were supposed to have storms but none materialized. We could hear thunder in the north as we hiked out.

The downstream lunch view. Halfway down a brook emerges from behind Jim.

The humidity was up: tropical, even.  The river valley was set to "coastal".

The blackflies were out in hordes. We endured though I'm covered in small itchy welts. Mildly annoying at the time. Mildly annoying now.

Black flies are not deer flies and the bites are  in the "discomfort" range. Deer flies are far worse.

The small brook in its last pool before tumbling to the Neversink.

It is water very much like Alan fishes on Small Stream Reflections in the right sidebar. The little fellow ran full but the very steep plunges seemed to dissuade the brookies.

I tried a Wulff in size 18 here. Nothing rose. My suspicion is that my over zealous approach put the fish down. Has to be one in there.

This lovely fellow in the 16" - 18"  class (net holds a 21" when stretched so I have a good comparison)  came from the foot of the flow where the brook (above) runs into the Neversink.

This was a very quick in-net photo and the lens is slightly fogged from being in my shirt pocket in this very high humidity.  I'm standing one foot in the brook looking out to the river.

He lacked girth but was long like a cat stretched out on your leg. I frequently encounter cat-on-leg so it comes to mind readily.

He took a partridge-and-yellow in size 12, wire wrapped with a piece of .20 non-lead tied-in along the shank. It sank well and I had to guide it downstream about sixty feet from where I could stand in the brook in order to clear some car-sized submerged rocks.

The fight to get him to my net was as exciting as I've had in years. Current, strong fish, rocks. My heart was pounding and my smile hurt my cheeks.

The emergence point of the small brook featured above. That current tongue on the right which meets a poorly illustrated lateral seam from the Neversink proper was just where I caught the trout.

I took my  snapshot, declared my prize, and moved on to let Jim have a shot at what clearly was a wonderfully fish-y spot.

The lunch spot riffle-run. The high water and fast current induced standing waves I don't suspect are standard on the Neversink.

A line of riffles from submerged rocks running across to the rock bluff just coming into view on the far left of the frame. It is much prettier in person than the flattened perspective of a snapshot allows.

The seam 1/3 the way across the river held a deep pool and it yielded a nice trout.

An 8" - 10" class trout from the bottom of a Neversink pool. Lovely coloration on this guy. He received a quick lift -- tail still in the stream -- for the snap.

I like this method of photographing fish as he was exposed to air for less than a five-count. It isn't the best fish picture in the world but we've all seen fish and he could use a break.

I've enough "grip-and-gin" for a lifetime.

He's kinda cute in this one.

I fished a Hardy 8' 4wt Zephrus with a Douglas 3" Argus reel and a Wulff TT line in 4.  The high water really made the aggressive roll cast the means of fishing. The 4wt was fine for the day.

The Neversink in the Unique Area is really good cane water. The early drizzle and the threat of storms made me bring plastic. I have a nice 8' 4/5 Steffen Bros. fiberglass blank laid up by Mark McKellip but I grabbed the Hardy because I wanted to see how it did with dry-fly in the field. New rod from the winter purchases.

Alas, we saw a half-dozen risers but couldn't reach across the river to get to them. My 6wt Winston Boron III Plus I used on the Beaverkill would have allowed me to make the presentation but I suspect -- correctly -- the rod to be overkill for the standard trout in narrow confines.

A four weight gave me thrills on the large fish and enjoyment with the smaller. Lots of bugs off the water; but, little surface action.

I tried the litany of soft hackles -- some dressed to the film, others in the top 8" or so and a few lightly weighted with wire wraps for the top 18"-24". Nothing.

I lost several fish on long lines fishing deep swings with weighted black, orange, and a couple snipe and purple soft-hackle flymphs tied with tungsten beads in #14 and #16. I used a long-line nymphing technique (no bobber) and a long leader greased at the junction with the fly line. I could hook-up using the barbless ties even in strong currents with a lot of line.  I only brought one of these to hand however.

The fish in the net above took a cdc caddis in grey drowned by a current tongue and carried nearly across the bottom of a pool. I could see the flash of the take.

The current was too high for wading as pictured.  We fished from the banks and a few rock-hops.

From the hike through the forest.

The Neversink Unique Area is well worth the hike. It's easy to find a day's worth of water and we saw no other anglers. A mile on foot seems to be the measure that sorts the crowds.

In the increasingly crowd-fished Catskills, the Neversink offers the isolated adventure one needs.


Monday, May 13, 2019

The Beaverkill Pools

The core of my Catskill trip revolved around "the five" : west and east branches of the Delaware, the Beaverkill, the Willowemoc, and the Neversink.

These five constitute a career's worth of water. If one were to fish no other streams, there would be enough here for fifty years and a dozen styles of fishing from wispy two-weight dry fly midges on tiny brooks to true Spey-style swings for deep-holding large trout across massive waters.

Our style of dry fly fishing here east of the Mississippi originated in flies inspired by those sent by Frederic Halford to Theodore Gordon. Gordon slightly altered the appearance of some patterns to more closely resemble those of insects hatching in the Catskill system illustrated at left and thus began the "Catskill-style" fly fishing of surface dries.

Certainly there were independent origins of dry fly development and the products likely evolved into the synthesis of what we consider now; but, the spiritual heart of the dry fly emerged and was re-enforced by the presence of  writers and their east coast readership who had the means and leisure to pursue fly fishing in this region. Other factors for fame include the introduction of brown and rainbow trout into brook trout fisheries decimated by deforestation and over-fishing.

Today I want to speak of the classic pools of the Beaverkill. My hand drawn map at the above is an inexact approximation; but, as you look at it, we're dealing with the section in the middle from East Branch upstream on the Beaverkill to Roscoe where the Beaverkill is joined by the Willowemoc  adding a considerable amount of water to the flow.

The famous pools begin inside the town of Roscoe on its southwest side with Junction Pool. The river and its pools are paralleled by Old Highway 17 throughout this length which makes the park-and-fish angler its principal population but for a couple of locations.

New Highway 17 (4-lane divided highway) is seldom out of sight and less out of earshot. There is little illusion of fly fishing classic waters from the early 1900's in the presence of singing tires and jake brakes from tractor-trailer rigs slowing on curves.

The pools are easy to find for they all bare large signs. Here is Junction Pool's:

We're in town at Roscoe.  I'm standing on a bridge abutment. There is a smallish parking lot here with room for half-a-dozen cars. The Roscoe Motel is across the road just behind me and to the right.

And, the pool. That's new Route 17 in the background. There is some sort of light industrial building across the river separated from the bank by a large chain-link style fence. The rip-rap on the bank is natural stone but still appears to be dumped by a highway department probably after the erosion caused by the massive flood of 2006.

Anglers fish this stretch rod to rod standing on the shallow inside from where my picture is staged and casting to the channel passing by the far bank. Only one angler was fishing when we arrived -- a rare occurrence -- but the whole place had the air of "fish harvest." All that was missing was a large salmon trap floating against the bank with its arms slowly turning to the cadence of  the harvesting march. (Sounds a bit like Panzerleid to me).

The aroma of combat fishing hung too strongly in the air. We passed and moved along.

The pools on the Beaverkill are close together and flow one into another. Below the Junction Pool is Ferdon's Pool named for the Ferdon family. Oddly, it is this pool where the first Hendrickson fly was tied by a guide named Roy Steenrod for the famous Mr. Hendrickson for whom the Hendrickson Pool is named. All very confusing, I'll admit.

Below the Ferdon's Pool is Barnhart's pool. Sign at left. Pool pictured below.

That's Neall from the Painted Trout on the bank. My other pictures turned out poorly. It's a  pool of water  reached by a hike of a quarter mile or so across flat -- and sometimes a little muddy -- meadow. There is room for four or five anglers here if they know one another.

The Famous Hendrickson Pool. I took a couple fish here. The rocks are brutal. B.R.U.T.A.L.

I'd say you must have a staff here. The current was assertive but the footing was treacherous with rocks distributed across the bottom ranging from basketball to ottoman sized. And ... they move.

I twisted an ankle bad enough I'm still limping here a week later. I just taped it up at fish camp and continued fishing. You might be a strong wader and able to avoid trouble. I didn't. The folks that fished this water one hundred years ago must have been tough.
Hendrickson's Pool above on the far left side of the snap as we look down the long flow and the bend toward Horse Brook Run named for Horse Brook which enters halfway down from the right side of the frame. That is old RTE 17 running down the right. The bank is thirty feet of rip-rap and is steep.

Horse Brook.

Beadhead flymph of the type I used to take my two trout in two hours from Hendrickson's. The body of these is a black or root beer dubbing spun in a loop to form a thorax, a hen pheasant tail, and a substantial dark hackle below the bead. The fly is a size 10  1 xl. I lost many in the pinch-points between the irregular rocks. I did however take fish.  No one else did.

Stonefly? Iso? Leech? The fly worked.

I asked the trout. They wouldn't talk. Probably knew I was a softie and was going to be quick returning them to the stream.

There are a number of successive pools one after another denoted with signs and located right along the old highway.

We stopped and fished after passing the other pools all of which were occupied by anglers in early afternoon. Painter's Bend just above Cooks Falls presented a nice flow and a nice rainbow for my fishing partner Jim Page.

Jim playing a rainbow.

Wading was much better here. The depth across the pool is mid-thigh with a few slightly deeper slots. Jim is on a cobble tongue so is in a little less water.

The current was stiff but the low depth made it fine to fish. I swung everything in the arsenal a little upstream from here and found nothing. From the riffles below Jim is a section of more than a mile of pocket water. When it is warmer, I'll go back to pick these pools at dusk. My ankle was tender so a great deal of movement in the stream was not high on my list of activities when this snap was taken. I was pretty much just "icing" it in very cool water and practicing my single-handed Spey technique.

I fished a Winston BIII Plus saltwater rod in 9' 6 wt here on the Beaverkill and that was about right. I used a Cascapedia rigged with OPST running line, heads, and tips. With the current, a fourteen inch trout  put up a solid fight with fifty feet of line out up at Hendrickson's Pool. Here at Painter's, I didn't think a four weight had enough for control.

A conventional nine foot five was probably right but I wanted to use the Winston.

The panorama of Painter's gives some idea of the course of water. There is a great deal of it here and a party of five or six could easily fish without being in each other's way providing again that they know each other.

In a day,  we stopped at five pools; drove past a half-dozen more occupied by anglers; and enjoyed the river immensely. This little section of the "upper no-kill" on the map could take an entire season to learn to fish. There are a great many anglers in the Catskills. There is water to hold them.

My favorite sign from the trip is above.

If you are curious, I recommend Fly Fishing the Beaverkill  by Eric Peper and Gary LaFontaine (The Lyons Press. Guilford, Connecticut. 1999).  This slim book prepared my crew well for the Beaverkill and the famous pools including bits of the area's history and the naming sources.

Our crew which included two guides and a North American manager for a major fly fishing gear manufacturer struggled at times.  Our party had over 250 years of fly fishing time and still the fish were a little tight-lipped. I felt fortunate to get two fish this day. The professionals were blanked -- different water, though.

The fishery is changing. Guide boats have exploded in the past ten years. At one point, we counted nine boats in a line on a stretch of the Delaware. I heard a story of nineteen trailers at a take-out.

Now, I'm not too anxious to pay $400 to follow another boat all day pool to pool. YMMV.

There are no boats on the famous stretch of the Beaverkill. At lest, there are no boats that would last a season or that wouldn't have to be pulled over humps in the case of rafts. This is wade fishing territory and the better for it.

The fish in the pools I covered above see a great many flies.

Like the Au Sable here in Michigan, fish are moving more and more towards nocturnal feeding. They've had dries, bobber-nymphs, and bank-pounding streamers thrown at them. They're responding.

Three fish  constitute a fine day on most of this famous water. A decade ago, you'd expect three in an hour. I've never been much of a numbers guy. I like to catch fish but am content with any fish for my effort.  Considering I was sight fishing new water, I'm more than happy with a couple of fish taken in spring from the bottom third of the water column.

I saw a handful of splashy rises, surmised subsurface feeding based on rise form, and pursued. My sot hackle efforts in the top third produced nothing. Jim took a ainbow on a nice soft-hackle hare's ear flymph.

You pays your money. You takes your chance.


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Fishing in the Catskills

At left, my friend Jim fishing just below the Downsville covered bridge on the East Branch of the Delaware river below the Pepaction dam.

It was a great morning and a solid snap. We took turns as subject for "action shots" to say we'd fished the pool.

No fish. Some bugs.

 Here are the bridge details nicely spelled out and poorly photographed by yours truly

Above, a couple pictures of the Beaverkill below Roscoe. It can be a little industrial fishing due to the confined nature of the Catskill valleys and the long established roads and infrastructure.

The Willowemoc flowing below the school in downtown Livingston Manor. We had lunch on this deck and the view -- and bugs -- were great. No risers.

 Shopping at Dette flies after lunch. Great place. They had the Partridge hooks I really wanted to top off the bins. I have materials but my hook supply took a big hit between this trip and last fall's Yellowstone.

Feeder stream into the far upper Willowemoc above the mile-and-a-quarter stretch completely owned by the DeBruce club.  Looks like Alan's sort of water.

The river is wonderful at this spot but we were scouting, drove to the upstream pond, and came back to find a pair of anglers just suiting up. We waved. We kicked ourselves. We drove on.

Seeing the multitude of 'Posted" signs and the cable barriers across the Willowemoc river demarking the DeBruce club stretch certainly made me hope a outbreak of leprosy infects guests.

I understand the stream ownership rules based on the fact the river was not historically used for navigation. Doesn't make me like it or folks that hold to it. I won't trespass; but, I'm not buying any drinks in the club room.

Our first day involved a great deal of scouting. Fishing in the evening was on the upper west branch of the Delaware of which I now realize I have no pictures. It was right across the road from our house. More the pity.

The next several days saw fishing in the famous pools of the Beaverkill (caught fish) and an adventure into the Neversink Unique Area (caught fish).

Until I cover these, a fish picture from the famous Hendrickson pool.:

This year I am trying to high-speed the net picture.

This guy I had to hold because he inhaled a barbless fly! Easy extraction with forceps, post extraction snap following another in-net wetting, and a release. Good expression, though. 10" - 12" class fish.


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

And It's On: Opener

Jim and I on the Black River. Photo courtesy a very nice spin fisherwoman: Mikalea.  We sent her to the Fly Girls for conversion to a hobby that will take all her money and time.

Jim and I have tied flies together on Monday nights for the last three years.

We camped through a full gale at Town Corner Campground and had a great day on the water.

I saw fish ... swimming past my feet ... at the bottom of the stream.

SO, a shut out. Not even a strike at a streamer.

One of many streamers tried.

The night before opener dipped to 25 or below. Coldest it has been in weeks. I was out adjusting lines at 2:30 in the morning and my breath turned to ice crystals instead of fog vapor. It was plenty cold (I slept in my 0 degree Marmot bag. Jim had a summer bag and a 10 lb Hudson Bay wool blanket. We were both fine.)

We felt bad about not managing a single brookie.

Then, opener evening we broke camp and went to a party for "commercial fishermen" hosted by a fly shop owner we know. Great time. Fisheries folk. Guides. Gear reps. It was awesome. Jim and I were the only non-industry forks there besides our host's husband.

We decided on the way down to just admit we were blanked. After all, we're in this for the hobby.

Turns out, no one else had a fish either. Made me feel better. Some of the folks there couldn't get on the water because of blown-out streams or -- in one case -- a horrible case of "wrong turn" due to faulty memory. It happens to us all.

So, sometimes the pros have trouble. I might have thought it was just an off day for part of the group but when a guide I now who can catch fish in the puddles of the parking lot on the way to the river was blanked, I feel better.

Fish at my feet.

Brook trout on the Black can be spooky. I decided to stand motionless in one particularly good spot for most of an hour to see if anything would come on and hatch figuring that my immobile stance world give me an idea if my clumsy wading, staff tip on cobble, shadow, or just general movement might be the culprit keeping fish down.

Fish did show up in three-and-a-half feet of gin clear water swimming upstream past my feet. No interest in my nymphs, flymphs, soft-hackles, or the assortment of streamers tried later in the day.

It was great to be out. It wasn't so great to have one of those days where nothing in my arsenal seemed to be the right bit. At least I can be sure that better fishermen than I suffered similar fates and I didn't get the "you shouda tried an orange bean pock ... they were taking 'em like crazy!" story.

Next up: New York and the Catskills next week.

Warmer water promises different outcomes. Those streams are also blown out and prone to overcrowding but being brook trout guys, our outing group are willing to hike away from crowds up into headwaters.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Back to the Black

At left, a Winston Boron IIIx with a Douglas Argus reel sporting a Wulff TT line ... all in 4 wt.

I'll use this as my back-up gear in the event of drizzle or anything more serious. I hate getting cane wet. I always think I'll damage something pulling one apart.

Opener in a few days on the Black River. Can't wait. Prepping gear. Stacking the load-out. Scanning the forecast for wind, rain, temps.

It'll be frosty in the mornings. The wind should be low and so I'm dumping the low profile backpacking spike-camp tent for the large safari-style number: a Nemo Dark Timber.(here).

The Black is an unassuming little river here in Michigan.

It is full of these fat little guys. I will say, they are slippery little buggars. Extra slime on them which I will assume is a sign of cold-water health. I'll do net-pics this year.

This guy was pretty typical of my last opener at the Black River.

A low profile shot of the Black showing the standard bottom. Small cobble with spots of gravel interspersed dominates the streambed. There is little agriculture as the river flows through forest and the logging is controlled now to areas away from the stream. There isn't a lot of run off silt/sand.

Water will be high so hopefully fishing the bank-line and close-in current seams will prove productive. I'm expecting to have to do some contact nymphing.

It's an excuse to shout "spring" at the top of my lungs.

It's been a longish dull winter here. I could use the uncertain joy of unexpectedly warm afternoons.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Hope in a Brook Trout

At left, an over-hackled Hornberg. This is tied on a 12 2XL dry fly hook.

I will use this fly and its cousins in the Catskills here in a couple weeks. I can't wait to try them out.

They are truly unfaithful Hornbergs. I do however like them.

We'll see what the brook trout say, It's the only way to be sure.

Season opens here for me next Saturday. I am camping for trout. I spent this evening assembling the camping gear.

I'm at the cusp of spring with dogwoods starting to bloom, the daffodils in the yard up through a new layer of mulch, and much of the world unchanged from my boyhood.

Chaos. Distrust. Dislike. Hatred. Dissent.

We say these words but they're inadequate. We're animals. We're vicious animals.

Mind, we bite.

There ought to be a billboard out in space warning potential visitors of the fact.

What I enjoy is the promise of the new season. I look forward to solitude and companionship on the water both. I look forward to another summer of campfires, fine scotch, and a pipe. I look forward to the brook trout in my net because it is always a surprise when I manage to land a trout. Every time: a surprise.

What we talk about when we talk about the trout.

For me, it's the hope that I never stop being amazed by the little things as unimportant as a fish in the net and that in the end, I might see past other things that I think are important but which in fact are not.

I know the joy of trout in my net and that the whole operation from the cast, to the hook up, to the stumbling play of the fish to just within my reach is the same emotional base as with the women in my life I've come to love.

It makes me think the whole art of catching was the fish's idea: an incredibly absurd perspective.

No reasoned creature would sacrifice itself in sport just to give a moment's happiness to another not knowing if the end was the frying pan, or a release back into the stream.

I've been tying.

A nice little #16 fat body flymph in olive.

 Another olive this time wire-wrapped and wearing dry fly hackle.
A sparse olive passing for a Hendrickson (waxed and thus my light changed significantly) also wire wrapped but with the hackle of a north country spider.

May all your trout be fat and happy.