Tuesday, August 25, 2015

More cold water in August

Recently I received a tip about a small stream worth a visit from someone that I trusted. I was promised wild browns and brookies, so I figured it was worth a day of exploration at the least. After a couple of hours drive, I was navigating my outback along a dirt "road" that had me grinning ear to ear. I immediately knew it was going to be a great day.

After finding a lucky flat patch of dirt to park on, I walked down the steep banks to the water. It was low, but perfectly clear and cold. Excellent headwaters conditions for August, to say the least.

I was into some small browns and brookies right away.

I love the coloring on young brown trout.

This pool, above, held a nice trout that went for my fly a second time after I missed the first strike. Sometimes you get lucky.

On the far side, in the second pool, I hooked a similar sized brown. I wondered how the territory would be settled after releasing both fish... would they return to their respective pools to become kings once more?

For the first time in a while I had decided to use predominantly dry flies for the day. I chose an Ausable Bomber tied by Alan of "Small Stream Reflections" blog. Admittedly, I'm not great at tying these, and Alan's are really well tied.

As you can see, they work quite well. The water was ideal for dry fly fishing and I was getting strikes left and right, many from fish too small to even swallow the hook. I also have found that they work in any month of the year, even in the deep of our last winter. Just because you don't see them rising doesn't mean they won't rise if you float a bomber over their heads!

I had two rods rigged up on my pack and did fish a few deeper holes with nymphs, which was also quite successful.

Most of the holes at these headwaters here were very small at best. There wasn't much holding water and most fish were maxing out at 6 inches. I decided to move downstream in search of deeper pools and some trout in the 8-12 inch range.

After surveying my map and eating the sandwich I packed for lunch, I drove back down the dirt road to a spot that would appear to give me access after a short hike in.

I made my way down to the water, following some kind of old dirt access road or trail. I could hear the water rushing loudly from the top of the hill as I approached. That's the sound I like to hear! Fast-water streams always get me excited.

I saw lots of caddis larvae here indicating a healthy stream and plenty of food for the trout.

Creeping up on this place, I spotted a fantastic deep hole and stayed to the left of the rocks.

Staying low, I approached, crouching behind the rock you can see below. I drifted the bomber into the current and BAM! My little nissin rod had bent in half. Oh my.

I decided that the best move was to just hold the fish to the side of the current. Luckily the tip of the rod did all the work for me, and this beautiful brookie was soon in my net. It appeared to be around 9/10 inches tip to tail. 

The gills were extremely red... something I don't think I've seen before. 

As I walked up, the stream flowed through some grassy bends where the last major storm had washed the bank away and changed the landscape. 

These grassy-banked bends all yielded decent fish. I loved this little brown from the small pool, above. It was hard to get a cast in to some of these spots without scaring fish.

Wet wading with neoprene high-socks and wader-gaiters makes for a pretty comfortable 92 degree day with high humidity. Waders are practically useless for small stream fishing, especially in the summer and in places you may need to hike to.

I can only credit nature for keeping the water temp at around 60/62 degrees. 

The sun was dipping earlier than I'd have liked and I reluctantly walked back to the car to head home.

It was a beautiful sunset, with a few scenic views worth stopping for on the drive back. 

 All too often it seems people lay low during the hotter summer months, but I recommend heading to the mountains instead. There's plenty of great cold water to be explored, especially if you don't need to catch the biggest fish!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Farmington with the NYC Trout Unlimited Group

Just a day after returning from Italy, I joined the local NYC TU group for a trip to the Farmington River in Connecticut. This was my first time fishing this river and I was instantly mad at myself for having put this off so long.

There was a nice long run and pool after some riffles behind our campsite. I spent the early afternoon fishing there. I was into some Salmon right away. What a surprise, I had no idea! They fight hard. They gave the Tenkara rod a real workout.

After a couple of those, I moved up to a tributary that was running low, but holding water just fine. There were many smaller salmon up there. They were taking a usual with wild abandon.

These little fish were fun to catch on my Kurenai HM30R. They put up a nice fight and jump all over the place. 

A great blue heron left this "gift" behind on a rock.

Later that night I lost an epic salmon of around 15 inches. It was just too much for the rod to handle. The brown below was the last fish I landed before calling it a night. Fishing in the dark is fun. 

Dinner was great and I can't thank the TU guys enough for organizing everything and cooking. It was fun to sit around the fire and talk about fishing - telling stories and sharing great locations is always a great part of these trips. We drank some champagne and beers and called it a night.

The next morning I caught what I swore was the same fish in the same spot... (not really, you can see the slight difference in patterns there.) After that I packed up camp and moved up river to fish some different water. There were plenty of places to fish.

This nice brown was in a deep and dark pool hidden off to the side of the river.

I caught browns, brookies and salmon over the course of the weekend.

I mostly used soft hackle flies, fished both dry and wet. I also had success with nymphs in the riffles. It seemed like different fish were willing to take different flies across a lot of the river, but the soft hackles worked universally at all times and in all locations.

Overall I lost a lot of fish, but landed enough to fell good. I can't wait to return with a slightly more suitable rod with a bit more reach and ability to land some slightly larger fish to give this river another crack. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tenkara Adventures in Cuneo, Italy #3

Between all the traveling, fishing and work I've been doing, I'm lagging a bit in getting stuff posted up here, but I'm really happy to catch up and post the 3rd and final installment of my Tenkara adventures in Cuneo, Italy.

For the third day I decided to spend less time fishing in the morning and drive over the mountain pass to a small mountain village called Elva

This is Monviso from the southeast side. It is the tallest or one of the tallest peaks in the western Italian alps. About 11.5K feet high. Little did I know but I'd be seeing this view again as a surprise later on... but from another angle.

I had to continually pinch myself to see if I was really awake... the things I was seeing were not registering as real right away. 

When I finally got into the valley on the other side and found Elva, I had to go see the old church.

The pine forest here is thick with trees. This area apparently holds one of the largest pint forests in the alps. 

After stopping for a quick tomato and mozzarella panini I grabbed some extra water and headed off to Paolo's house to meet him and Roberto for another adventure. This time we were to drive north to the Po river valley. 

We arrived in a small mountain town and then wound up the road behind some ski condos and parked the car. This is a secret stream. A childhood haunt of one of the guys I was with, and it surely held wild mediterranean trout.

After a walk down to the trail and the stream crossing, it was obvious we'd be skipping the "easy" water and doing some serious exploring of the "tumpi" or plunge-pools at the bottom of water falls.

We really had to work for each pool. Below, Paolo crawls along a rock to access the next pool.

The fish here were easily scared - extremely spooky. We had at most one shot at each pool, if we didn't scare the fish first. I lost many fish.

Paolo landed a few early on. I hooked into a few but didn't land any until the very end of the evening.

And let's be honest, it was a little bit hard not to be clumsy. It was steep. Slippery. Thick underbrush. My wading shoes were horrible for this task with their un-studded felt soles. And the trail... What trail? We pushed through the stinging nettles or Ortica, and no part of the body was spared. 

I fell and injured myself at one point, but not too badly. I also lost my glasses, which luckily we later found not far from where we were. A miracle that I remembered where I fell on this foreign stream.

There were benefits to this situation, however. Mountain raspberries and strawberries were everywhere. And they were ripe. As in "pick them today only" ripe.  I took advantage of this and ate plenty of them. Also it was a good excuse to take a few deep breaths every so often and enjoy the surroundings.

Following game trails was, at some points, clearly the best option. There was an interesting mix of animals in these mountains - the deer, called Cervus, I believe, as well as wolves. 

As we neared the top of the thick brush, we entered the bottom of a mountain-top meadow. This is something we don't really have in the Northeast USA and I had seen a few on this trip.

The brush gave way to alpine plants and flowers. Beautiful rocky fields surrounded us and the river wound up the valley towards the sky.

The fish started rising and I caught one in the pool below. I didn't get a photo as it escaped as I was unhooking it. I've since bought a Shimano folding net to use while traveling. I was rather frustrated at not having a net on this trip...

I was finally able to slow down as the major hiking and exercise was finished. I took some deep breaths and looked around. I missed a small trout as I took it all in.

Moving up towards the next pool I came around the bend and realized where we were... on the other side of Monviso, and we had just hiked into the basin below the peak! At this point Paolo and Roberto hiked up and called to me to follow. I snapped this picture as I climbed up out of the river valley.

We hiked along the ridge above the water and towards the trail home.

On the way towards the peak (and its corresponding trail leading back to the town) we came upon a farmer's house.

There were ducks and cows, dogs and kids and lots of stone. It was something out of another time.

These white cows have a lot of great meat and are the source of the Carne Cruda that is so popular all over Piedmont. And here they were, grazing on high alps grass.

The scenery was epic. But another wonderful thing was also happening - the cowbells. This was something also entirely new to me. The sound of all those cowbells with the alps as a backdrop was therapeutic beyond belief. Listen below.

We found the trail and made it back to the car after a nice hike out. I was really excited to have gotten to do some hiking as well as fishing on this trip. We were all rather overwhelmed and tired, and it had gotten pretty late. We changed out of wet clothes and wading gear and piled into the car. 

A few pizzas and cold beers later we were comparing rods and using google translate to get into some more detailed and complex Tenkara discussions. Thank god for technology because I spoke practically zero Italian, and Roberto and Paolo spoke very little English. But it all worked out beautifully.

The next morning was the start of my last full day in Italy and I went right back to where I lost that big brown two days before to try and catch it again. Of course it was gone, but I did catch some other nice browns instead.

In the evening, Roberto picked me up and had plans to take me, along with his family, up to their vacation home in Chianale. This was a special little town with less than 20 full time residents. It was the last town on the Italian/French border and it made for an epic experience that didn't leave me feeling too touristy...

We drove up to the headwaters of the Varaita river and the top of the valley, passing waterfalls and headwaters tributaries. Notes taken for next visit...

There's an old fort on the hillside, below. Bunkers from previous world wars were also carved into the rock here and there.

As we climbed higher the views got even better.

A farmhouse existed here, slightly more connected to the world than the one from the previous evening's adventure.

At the French border we took a photo with Roberto and his son David. It was nice to have help translating and David was a good dude. I hope he makes it to NYC at some point.

The view into France was pretty epic...

The town of Chianale was almost beyond words, and definitely felt as though we stepped into a portal back in time.

There was a fountain in town that brought clean water from way under ground. You can drink the water right from the fountain here.

The cornerstones were unique in this town, to say the least.

We walked to Roberto's place to have a drink and soak it all in. 

All the homes are made of stone.

The roofs of the buildings, by law, must still be in the old style with square slate tiles.

Alpine plants made into a beautiful little display by Roberto's wife.

There were relics of the past all around... 

The restaurant for dinner was one of the best meals I had in Italy. Somehow it overshadowed all of the incredible meals I had been eating all week. It was basically perfection on a plate... there were local dishes that I had seen before, and others I had not.

There was some kind of egg and mushroom casserole, the best quiche I've ever had, and some pasta dishes. Really good bread. The most incredible polenta that I've ever seen was served with the braised rabbit and the braised Italian Cervus (a kind of small elk/deer.)

Beyond the experience of the food, the local wines of the Monviso region were easy to drink, not expensive, and not too different than those of Valle d'Aosta that I'm more familiar with. They had the characteristics of more expensive wines, which is always a good thing.

More relics from the past in a display case and at the door to the restaurant. I loved the "mountain man" in particular.

Check out those snow shoes!

"Le Bracconnier" or the hunter! Great painting.

After the meal we walked through town back towards the car. It was sad knowing I had to leave the next morning. I wanted to stay for much longer.

I'm really glad Paolo could join us for dinner on the last night. It was great to get to eat with everyone from the week's adventures, and just soak it all in.

On the plane trip home (and it was a rough one, ouch...) I thought about all the wonderful experiences I had and the people I had met. I knew that I had made some new friendships that would last a long time, and I hope to see my Italian fishing buddies here in the U.S. as well!

Goodbye for now, Alps, but I'll be back for sure! There's surely a bright future for Tenkara in the Italian Alps. The water is absolutely textbook Tenkara water... the people are great, getting around is easy, and its all relatively close to major cities, for travel purposes. Don't hesitate to reach out if you're interested in going... I will provide the info and help you find some guidance!