Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

The forecast today was for rain, but with mild temperatures - A perfect combination for both feeding fish and solitude.

I drove to a few of my favorite streams near the Wachusett reservoir in search of wild brook and brown trout.

The first stream I fished contains only brook trout. It's too small for a decent cast for most of its length, save for one large pool below a small dam. I cast a beadhead hare's ear nymph into the steady current, swollen by recent rains. My indicator drifted past an overhanging bush, then shot under the surface. Soon after my first fish of the day was at hand - a nicely colored wild brookie.

First trout of December

A few casts later my indicator dove again, and I found another wild brookie at the end of my line.

A view of this stream's one fishable pool

At this point I decided I had likely caught both actively feeding residents of the pool, so I moved to a different stream in search of some wild browns. There's brookies here too, but I tend to catch more browns, especially when it's cold. 

Browns are meat eaters, and sometimes it takes something big to make them move in the winter. I watched intently as my olive wooly bugger drifted downstream. Just as it passed a boulder in the stream I saw a flash, followed by a tug, and soon a wild brown was in the net.

Wild Brown #1

I had its in the next three pools, landing one more brown before the rain switched from a light drizzle to a true downpour. I packed up and headed home, satisfied with my most successful day of winter* fishing ever.

Wild Brown #2
*I'm not sure if a day with air and water temperatures in the mid-40s truly counts as winter!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Black Friday on the Swift

Route 202 - Possibly my favorite drive in MA
Like many others, I was up before dawn on Black Friday. Though it was sure to be crowded, my destination wasn't a mall. I was headed for the Swift.

The early morning sun on the clear waters of the Swift
The Swift River, as the only true tailwater in Massachusetts (I say this because the Deerfield, though fed by bottom release dams, lacks the stable flows for which tailwater fisheries are known),  is always crowded, but it's by far the most reliable winter fishery in the state.

The Swift wasn't my first choice for fishing on Black Friday this year. While it is full of large stocked rainbows and small to medium wild brookies, the fish are frustrating and the crowds take away from the natural beauty of the area. I was hoping I could head out for one last trip to some freestone streams in Western MA, but the foot of snow that fell 2 days before threw a wrench in those plans.

The USGS gauge on the Stillwater River, which I use to estimate freestone stream temps, showed a chilly 36 degrees F, a temperature at which trout are unlikely to feed unless hit on the nose with a nymph. The Swift, on the other hand, was still at 48 degrees! I decided I'd rather be frustrated by trout that might actually take a fly than trudge through the snow and hope for the best on a small mountain stream.

Dressed for Success
So, at 8 AM on Black Friday my friend Aaron and I were the first, but certainly not the last, anglers walking the banks of the Swift. We worked our way upstream towards the pipe, spooking one nice-sized brook trout, but otherwise seeing any fish. Most of the water from Cady Lane to the Pipe is flat, shallow, and featureless-It could benefit from some chop and drop habitat improvement.

We got to the Pipe and were pleasantly surprised to see rising fish and not another angler in sight! We couldn't see what they were rising to, so I tied on the smallest dry I had. I'm not sure what it is (I found it in a tree), but it's a small tannish-white mayfly.

After a few rejections a nice rainbow rose to my fly and I set the hook...only to have my line fly back at me, the 6X tippet snapped. Most of my dry fly fishing is for small brookies, so I forget that I need to set the hook lightly. After that the fish stopped rising, so I switched to a size 20 black tungsten-head zebra midge. I had heard tiny midges are effective on the Swift, but I was having a hard time believing the fish could even them it until my indicator shot under. I was rewarded with this small, but beautiful wild brookie.

A few casts later, my indicator dipped again, only this time there was significantly more weight on the other end. After a 2 minute fight (long for me) this slab of a rainbow was in the net. As I lifted him from the net he snapped my tippet and flopped back into the water, taking my zebra midge with him.

I rushed Aaron to take the picture...I may have been a bit overexcited
I didn't catch anymore fish that day, but Aaron caught this nice rainbow on a dry in the fading light. Having both caught fish, we decided to head back to the car and begin the long drive home along snow-covered Routes 202 and 2.

Given our combined 1 fish in our previous 3 trips to the Swift, this trip was a resounding success!