Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Monumental Mid-Winter's Day in a Deep, Dark Ravine

Its been a while since I've had something worth writing about here, and that means its been a while since I have been out fishing or adventuring in the woods. The weather and conditions have been all over the place, and the low water had left a lasting impact that somehow tainted fishing for me over the last few months.

I wanted to put all that solidly behind me, and so I set out to a tried and true stream that I have not had much time to explore in the past. I've fished it a couple of times previously, but both times I had arrived late, and had not made it past a particular pool and slot canyon. I picked up a fishing companion on the way, and we arrived at the stream before 11AM.

The first hour flew by, and we moved a little too slowly and didn't really get into our respective grooves right away. It was just nice to be in the forest, away from civilization, and beyond the reaches of political concerns or crowds of people.

This particular stream is a textbook Tenkara small-stream. It seems to hold its water better than many of the surrounding thin blue lines, and what incredible water it is! Speaking of which, I was EXTREMELY excited that water levels were higher than usual... it was a very welcome sight to say the least. It gave me confidence, and returned the pure bliss that I seek recreationally via fishing, but which I had temporarily lost during the recent drought.

We picked pockets, but ended up focusing on the deeper waterfall pools because the fish were mostly podded up there. I fished a kebari for a while, but after only getting one strike, I decided to change to a bead.

We ended up lobbing beads for most of the day instead of fishing Tenkara-style, because the water was high, freezing cold, and the pools with the fish seemed crazy deep.

We climbed around a few waterfalls, fishing our way up through postcard-worthy scenery, hooking many small wild trout and hoping for some bigger fish to emerge from the depths.

While the scenery was absolutely top notch, it was all about this wild, local strain of Brookies that has survived  here. 

We fished many pools before coming to the start of a set of mini slot-canyons, where the ravine walls turned to vertical cliffs and waterfalls without even a skinny ledge on which to walk precariously... 

We decided we'd hike up and around, knowing that it wouldn't be a quick jaunt. We began to scramble our way up one of the few navigable routes to the top of the cliffs. 

It was hard work, rather vertical, and it wasn't made any easier by my felt soled boots. I hadn't planned on a steep climb up a leafy & half-frozen landscape, and I had to be really careful with each step to avoid disaster going up, and later, coming down.

But I wasn't worried about this today, I was just soaking it all in... 

Below are some of what appeared to be wood-ear mushrooms growing on a fallen, lichen-covered stick.

We took a break for lunch at one of the few nice viewpoints we found near the edge of the cliffs. I remarked how it was a good call that we had chosen the side of the river we were on... we could see across the way to a much higher mountain or hill than the one we were about to peak, with much steeper climbs in both directions. 

Bushwhacking up further, we followed a mix of game-trails and clearings in the underbrush until we reached the peak, and the junction with another existing trail. At this point we were pretty beat, but committed to finding access to the stream once again. A quick look at the map showed we were almost there and that the existing trail would cross the stream again in about a half a mile or less.

After a short jaunt on the trail, we dropped back down and intersected the stream above the seemingly endless set of impassable waterfalls. The fishing seemed much better in terms of numbers up there, as most likely very few anglers would put the necessary effort into getting to some of the nicer pools higher up.

Up here the ravine was truly devoid of sun all day at this time of year. There was a decent amount of seep-ice, but it was actually beginning to melt in the warmth of the day, sunlight or not. I knew the ice melt was contributing to lower water temps, which would likely contribute to less active feeding, but with good deep drifts, fish were taking the fly.

This is the first time I've busted out bead heads for any significant stretch of water in months, if not the entire year. At first I was reluctant because I've had so much success all year fishing Japanese style Tenkara the way it was intended. However, there are times when you know you must give up on your own set limitations or alter your style if you want to have a successful day of fishing.

That move proved rather fruitful as I began to get more and more strikes. In a way, I felt like I was admitting defeat. In another way, I knew I was doing what was necessary to catch fish. I guess this is a good moment to make a pun about a "catch 22?"

While I had been less than stellar at fishing the lower section, I was truly on point in the upper section of the stream. For some reason I was more focused and had a better rhythm. By that time I had also figured out exactly where the fish were hanging out - mostly in calmer water under overhangs.

Many more fish began to come to hand, and the colors were phenomenal. All of the fish were rather small, but there seemed to be plenty of them. Most of these fish were darker, and it made sense given how little sun made it to the stream-bed this time of year. I presume in the summer some sections get decent sun, but the walls are ridiculously steep, so its all about the orientation of the ravine walls to the sun's path. 

Unfortunately all the bushwhacking and hiking took a while, and so we began to run out of light just as we had once again both settled into a successful rhythm. I actually really regretted not having backpacking gear, and I know I'll need to return to this upper section of stream in the future with an overnight stay planned into the trip.

We were pretty far into the forest, with significant difficult and slightly treacherous bushwhacking required to get back, so we watched the time carefully.

Reluctantly, as the pre-set turn-around time came and went, we finally agreed to head back down the icy trail and to the junction with our game trail. From there we were able to retrace our steps by tracking our own disturbances/footprints and broken branches to a safe enough place to scramble back down and hike out.

 Overall I was extremely happy to have been able to explore the upper section of this epic stream, and it was great to have a "many day" as well. All I could think about while walking out was returning here with climbing ropes and ascenders in order to access some of those amazing waterfall pools in the middle of the ravine. I would like to see if I can channel the methods and practices of Yuzo Sebata that I marveled at in Japan, albeit with a little bit more modern gear. Surely nobody has ever fished some of those pools, and the idea of 16-18 inch wild brookies in untouched waters excites me more than any fish I see in front of me ever can...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Blue Lining with the Connecticut Fly Angler

I finally had a chance to meet up with Rowan from Connecticut Fly Angler this year, and we spent a few early winter days fishing some small streams in his home state.

I love fishing in CT, the brookies are beautiful and so are the surroundings. There are all sorts of little streams hidden in the rolling hills and river valleys.

We explored a few streams across a couple of separate days - some were spring fed and meandering through the lowlands...

...others were of the tumbling, plunging kind.

Wherever we went, the landscapes were dramatic, as was the lighting.

In one place, I was told the brookies were some of the most colorful around. I wasn't able to catch one there, but Rowan did.

Look at those colors! There are pink spots inside the yellow ones on this little guy... that's something I haven't seen before. What incredible colors. I would like to return here one day to get another shot at catching one of these beauties myself.

Water levels were a little better than they had been in previous weeks, but still looked low. In some cases the streams were just particularly small with not too much water at all, in any season.

I spent most of one of the days using this little fly that I've been having some fun with recently. I've taken to calling it the ginger snap kebari on account of the color.

 We fished at least 3 streams the first day, and I think we actually made it to 4 on the second day.

Most of the brookies were very small, although I did spook a couple of larger ones. They were hanging out in some strange places as they often do during these transition times between seasons.

I certainly wasn't counting though, it was all about being in new places and having that wonderful feeling of exploration running through my veins. 

Of course the fish we did catch were all beautiful and wild.

 Some leaves were hanging on to the trees and caught the light of the setting sun so perfectly, it looked as if the forest was on fire.

I spent a little too much time watching and observing, and a little bit too little time fishing, but sometimes that's what this is all about.

Looking forward to the next time!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

An Early Winter Walk in Brook Trout Forest

I feel like a broken record talking about our low water situation in the Northeast, so of course after a nice solid 2 day rain event, I scheduled a day in brook trout forest.

I drove to New Jersey because I have a nice list of streams to fish over there, and the season is open while NY is closed. I walked down to the stream and found decent water levels and a beautiful small gorge.

Immediately I was ecstatic to discover that the brookies were still in full fall dress and that they had survived a few months of low water and warm air temps.

This particular stream had some nice elevation change and some really ideal plunges that held beautiful wild brook trout.

 Working my way carefully upstream, I was sure to avoid casting a shadow and tried my best not to spook the trout in this pristine little brook.

Where I was able to stay low and out of the way I was rewarded again and again by the local jeweled beauties...

This stream was very small, I fished it to where it was essentially a tributary of a tributary, and the fish were mostly in little hidden pools and deep slots cut into the rock by erosion and water. 

I kept my eyes open for redds but I only saw one with a remaining pair of trout, which of course, I left alone.

This beautiful male was an impressive fighter, and I released him quickly back to his home.

 Some mushrooms were growing after the recent rain, but I didn't find anything edible that I wanted to take.

The stream became very shallow but I knew if I kept on following it up I'd find a few beautiful hidden spots... 

... and I'm glad I did, because one of the larger fish of the day was living under the foam in a log jam pool, hidden in a mess of fallen trees and branches.

I twitched this Ausable dry fly in the foam and saw a flash... tapping my rod gently with my finger, I let the vibrations disturb the surface. Soon enough the fish slowly rose to sip the fly and turned, so I set the hook and the fight was on.

The vibrant and varied colors of the wild brookies in this stream impressed me so much that I forgot to take enough photos of the pools I caught them in.

Soon after catching this beauty I reached the uppermost section of stream. There were no more fish hitting my fly, so I turned around and walked down to an area below where I had started my day.

I discovered a popular swimming hole and a beautiful cascading section of stream.

Below it, a small brookie was staking his claim in another picturesque pool.

 I tried to practice swinging my fly and line around the overhangs but I still don't quite have the method down to get it right. Reading casting stroke descriptions is one thing. Getting that right is another thing entirely...

 After I had checked most of the fishable sections of stream, I walked along a trail and back towards the car. The sun had been making appearances between momentary threats of intense stormy weather, and the light was dramatic, casting long shadows.

This was a successful day on a really special small stream and I can't wait to return here again some day soon.

Less than 2 hours later I reflected on my day while looking at the city skyline. I had miraculously dodged the traffic and made it home in record time.