Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Guest Post on Orvis News

I wrote an article on Sea-run Brook Trout for the Orvis News Blog - Check it out HERE

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Rainy Day Brookies

Yesterday the forecast called for temperatures in the high 40s and rain. Those are far from the most comfortable conditions for fishing, but they were perfect to get the fish active. The influx of warm (relatively speaking) rainwater into the stream warms it faster than the air alone, and the fish let their guard down a little in higher flows.

So, I explored a couple of small streams in Central MA in search of wild trout. The first stream has it's source on the flanks of Mt. Wachusett, so it was, predictably, quite cold. I didn't catch any fish, so I moved on.

I drove to an old standby of mine. This stream is very small, but it's full of brook trout, and it was one of the first wild brook trout streams I explored, so it will always be special to me. Here I found fish.

I stripped a small wooly bugger-ish fly I tied through the first pool and soon felt a strong tug. I pulled in this brookie, which turned out to be the largest of the day.

As I moved downstream I had strikes or hookups in nearly every pool, although many got off due to the difficulty of setting the hook in tight quarters. After a couple of hours the rain picked up and the water started to show a slight stain, so I decided to head home.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Little Time Away

Those of you who check this blog regularly have probably noticed I haven't posted in a while. Have no fear, this blog is not dead! In the last few months I've been busy with school and job applications, so I haven't had a lot of time to fish or write. Fortunately, I now have a job lined up, so I'll have plenty of time to fish! Given the current warm temperatures, this couldn't have come at a better time.

My days fishing in MA are numbered, though. I'm moving to Madison, WI at the end of June, but I'll try to get a lot of fishing in here during my winter break and the start of Summer. After that, I'll still post (assuming I have time after I become a real adult), but this will be a more Wisconsin-centric blog. I'll still fish New England whenever I have a chance, but it will probably be less often.

On the bright side, I'll be much closer to the West, and Colorado has been calling my name for some time now. I'm also hoping to spend some time exploring the Northwoods streams of Northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

More posts with some of my recent outings to come!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Catching Trout on Small Streams in Winter

A Wisconsin winter brown

As any reader of this blog will know. I'm obsessed with fishing small streams. Fortunately for me, small streams fish well throughout winter, so long as you time your trips well. Due to their high surface area to volume ratio, small streams react very quickly to changes in ambient temperature and sunlight. While a medium to large trout stream like the Quinapoxet will typically stay between 32 and 35 F all winter long, a small stream can easily hit 45 F on a warm winter day. My personal "magic number" for deciding whether to fish in the winter is 38 F. Although this is arbitrary, and fish can definitely be caught at lower temps, I've found this to be a good dividing line. If, based on stream gauges and weather forecasts, I don't think my target stream will hit 38, I don't go. A few tips for winter small stream fishing:

A Massachusetts winter brown 
Watch the weather.  As I mentioned above, weather conditions are critical for winter small stream success. I pay attention to three factors in particular - forecasted high temperature, previous nightly low temperature, and cloud cover. Here's why:
  • High temperature - This one is pretty self-explanatory. The higher the air temperature, the higher the water temperature, and the higher the water temperature, the more likely you'll catch some fish. There is one thing to be mindful of when looking at the high temperature - if there's snow on the ground, a warm day will lead to a lot of melt. The snow melt will average about 32 F, so it will actually bring the water temperature down on these days.

  • Low temperature - This is important due to the same surface area to volume ration I mentioned earlier. The same characteristic that causes streams to warm quickly also causes them to cool quickly. This means that a cold night will bring the stream all the way down to 32F. Because winter days are short, there isn't much time for the sun to act on the stream and warm it, so even a very warm day is unlikely to raise stream temperatures enough after a cold night. Fishing can actually be better on a colder day if the previous night's temperature didn't drop too low. One of my best days last winter came on a day with a high of only 38, but a previous nightly low of 36. 

  • Cloud cover. Cloudy days help fishing for two reasons. One is snow melt - as I mentioned above, snow melt will drive water temperatures down. The brightness of the sun is a HUGE factor in snow melt. A sunny day around freezing will actually lead to more snow melt than a cloudy day in the 40s. The other benefit of cloud cover is less spooky fish. Because there are no leaves on the trees in winter, plenty of direct sunlight reaches the stream. This makes trout in the open very visibile, and therefore vulnerable to predation. They know they're at risk, so they'll tend to hide near undercut banks or log jams on sunny days. The sun also means that you, the angler, casts hard shadows on the stream, increasing your risk of spooking fish. So, a cloudy day means the fish are going to be easier to find and easier to fish to without spooking. Win-win!
Summing it all up - So, how do you leverage your knowledge of the weather into a successful day on the stream? Pay attention to the weather for a few days prior - ideally the weather will be warm and sunny if there's snow, or warm and cloudy if there is snow. Fish in the warmest part of the day - typically the best fishing will be from 10 AM to 2 PM. Be prepared for failure - winter fishing can be hit or miss. Catching any fish means it's a successful day.

 A winter Salter brook trout


Now that you know what weather conditions to look out for, what flies should you use? My favorite winter fly is an unweighted size 12 black wooly bugger. Because these streams are fairly shallow, you don't need weight to get to the fish. In fact, a weighted fly will likely lead to more snags and casting trouble than it's worth.

 I almost always fish downstream in winter, as it allows me to hang the fly in the current and gently guide it to any sections of the water I'm fishing. Why? Trout won't move much for a fly in winter, so you need to get the fly right in front of them. While a dry fly floating down the center of the stream will attract a fish from any section of the stream in summer, winter fishing requires much more precision in presentation.

Though streamers are my favorite flies, nymphs can work too. Because I find it hard to get a good drift with a nymph in pocket water, I typically avoid nymphs for all but the largest, slowest pools. That being said, I like to challenge myself and I'm going to try to catch more small stream trout on nymphs this winter.

A beautiful winter day on the stream - no fish were caught on this day, but the trip was absolutely worthwhile.

Fishing in winter can be tough, but remember, the point of fishing is to have fun. Go in with low expectations of catching  fish and you'll be much more satisfied than if you expect to catch a ton. Appreciate the beauty of a stream in winter - for me there's nothing better than spotting the bright red streak of a cardinal or the emerald boughs of a hemlock against a backdrop of snow.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Thinking About Winter on the Swift River

Winter is fast approaching. Here in MN we had our first frost this past weekend, and the leaves are transitioning from brilliant hues of red, yellow, and green to a uniform brown. The Wisconsin trout season is over, and the only streams open in MN are too far to make a trip worthwhile. Luckily, the bass fishing in the Mississippi should still be good for at least another month. There are also some pike hanging around and I'd love to get a few of them before it gets too cold.

A Swift River Rainbow from a cold day in January 2015 

So, despite some opportunities to fish, I've transitioned to a planning stage in regards to fishing. I'll be home in MA for Thanksgiving weekend and then for about a month in December/January. I already have a trip planned to the Swift on Thanksgiving weekend, and hopefully I'll have time to hit a few small streams if water temperatures cooperate.

Planning for the Swift

The Swift River can be an intimidating place. There are tons of large, picky trout in its crystal clear water. Flies must be small and presentations perfect. This can easily add up to a frustrating day on the water, but this can be avoided with some planning. A few tips:

  • Bring small flies. No one likes using small flies (well, maybe there are a few masochists who do), but on the Swift they are a necessity. Though you can sometimes get fish on streamers or other large flies, fish in the Swift will generally feed on tiny midges, especially in the winter. My favorite is a size 24 tung-head zebra midge, but I've done well on size 20 midge dries as well.
  • Be prepared for company. The Swift is ALWAYS crowded. Even in winter. The least crowded day I've seen on the Swift was a day last January with highs in the teens. Even then, I saw three other anglers. Luckily, people who fish the Swift tend to be helpful to beginners, and they know it will be crowded too, so they won't likely be upset at the company. You should make an effort to give other anglers as much space as possible, but realistically you'll be in close proximity to others.
  • Move around. There are many "famous" sections of the swift - The Y-pool, the Pipe, the Tree pool, and so on. These spots all have fish, but there are plenty of less-known areas with plenty of fish as well. Last winter I found a huge school of Brookies in the shallow water downstream of the Y-pool. I was hooking up with fish after fish while the guys in the Y-pool got nothing.
A nice brookie from that same January day.

The Swift River can be a great spot to fish, and is probably our best winter fishery in Massachusetts. So, if you haven't already, give it a shot this winter.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A JT Special Variant

I was inspired by Jo's recent post on FlyFishMA to put my peacock herl to good use. I decided to try to imitate Jo's streamer pattern - the JT Special.

I didn't have any white marabou, so I substituted white crosscut rabbit, which I palmered and then propped up with my thread to form a wing. The final appearance is pretty similar to the original, but it will be interesting to see how the action of the rabbit in the water compares to marabou. In my experience, marabou compresses more in the water, but also moves more, so my variant will likely be a little fuller-bodied, but with less movement.

I can't wait to give this fly a shot at the Swift this winter!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

End of the Season - Browns, Brookies, and Waterfalls

One of two hydropower plants in River Falls. Fortunately neither has a large impact on trout fishing in the Kinni.

Wednesday unfortunately marked the end of the Wisconsin inland trout season. The MN season is still open for a couple weeks, but the closest streams are a bit too far to make a trip worthwhile. So, I'll likely be troutless until Thanksgiving.

Luckily I did have success on my last two trips of the season. Last Sunday, bored of my usual spots, I decided to explore a new section of stream. I had caught fish on other sections of this stream, but for some reason I never explored the lower, high gradient section. I've missed the higher gradient streams of New England, so I decided to give it a shot.

What I found was even better than I could have expected. The stream was moving fast, and although it was small, there was plenty of casting room. It sits in a narrow ravine, so I think the lack of sunlight prevents the formation of dense undergrowth. To top it off, there were two large waterfalls in the ravine where the stream flowed over shelves of limestone bedrock. Oh, and there were fish too.

The first pool I fished was formed where two current tongues met and then flowed around two large rocks. I had three hookups and landed 2 fish in this pool - 1 brown and 1 brookie landed, and another brown that got away. The fish were small, as is to be expected on streams like this, but they were brilliantly colored. I think both the brookies and browns are beginning to prepare for the spawn.

I had less success farther upstream, but I managed to land a few more brookies in some of the deep pools, including one just below one of the waterfalls.

On Wednesday, the last day of the season, I took a friend to fish in the fading hours of the day. We both managed two small trout on dries before dark, so it was another successful day!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Couple Driftless Brook Trout

While most people think of brook trout as an eastern species, They are native to the Driftless as well. Unfortunately they have a harder time competing against brown trout in the slow spring creeks common in this area than they do in mountain streams, so they are somewhat rare here.

Luckily, I've found a couple small streams that support them. Interestingly, I've found that the Driftless brook trout are much paler than those in the East. I think this is likely a result of the light-colored stream bottoms common here, but it could also be a genetic difference.

Below are a couple pics of fish I caught last weekend on one of the nearby brook trout streams. Both fish hit streamers. These fish will hit dries, but I find it easier to present a streamer with a downstream presentation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Speed Up or Slow Down?: Some Thoughts on Fishing Speed

One element of fly fishing I've always found difficult is determining the amount of time to spend before moving to a new spot. Sometimes I feel I'm going too fast, while other times I feel I'm going too slow. Over time I've noted of some of the fishing situations that lead to those feelings in attempt to improve my approach in the future.


Trout are the fish I target most often, so let's begin with trout fishing.

When to Speed Up 

A stream fit for fast fishing

I've found it important to move fast when fishing small, high-gradient streams. The food supply in these streams tends to be the limiting factor in trout density. Because trout densities are low, each pool will likely have only one or two trout, and fish will tend to be in the best habitat - deep pools, undercut banks, and other areas with a lot of cover. This means you should fish faster, as trout will tend to be spread out. Skip over the less desirable habitat and head straight to the nice pools.

Once you get to the fish, another reason to speed up becomes apparent. Again due to the low food supply in these streams, fish are typically eager to strike a fly. If you make more than a couple casts to an area without a strike, the trout there are probably either spooked or not present at all.

I made the mistake of moving too slow when I started fishing small streams - I would try to get a perfect drift in every likely-looking part of the stream, but the few fish I caught were almost always on one of my first few casts. I soon realized that the fish in these streams didn't care if I got a perfect drift. I started moving quickly and subsequently started catching a lot more fish. The one thing to be careful of when moving fast is not to let the fish see you. Luckily, most streams where moving fast is helpful are high gradient enough that trout can't easily see what is going on around them.

When to Slow Down

A stream fit for slow fishing
On larger, lower gradient streams, I've found that slowing down is often a good idea. These streams tend to be more productive, so trout densities are much higher. The trout also become more selective, as they have more foods to choose from and don't have to eat everything they see to survive.

This means that trout will care a lot more about drift and fly selection, so it's worth staying in a spot for longer, especially if you're confident there are fish there. The trout in these streams can also see you a lot better in the flat water, so it's important to move slowly so as to not spook them. Lastly, low gradient streams tend to have a lot of sediment, so quick movement could ruin the fishing downstream.

When I fish in the Driftless I have to remind myself to slow down. I always catch more fish when i slow down, but it can be hard for me to get over my urge to move faster.


Bass tend to be solitary and bite relatively quickly if they are interested, so they should be fished similarly to small streams. Because most bass lakes are hard to access from shore, a boat is ideal to quickly move between spots.


Panfish, on the other hand, usually live in schools, so I usually try to find the best spot and stay there. I'll move if I get bored and want to explore, but otherwise I'll typically stay in one spot.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Baby Brook Trout Streamer

Brown and brook trout coexist in many streams in both New England and the Driftless. Because browns tend to be somewhat larger and more piscivorous, it's likely they feed on smaller brook trout from time to time. Plus, insect hatches are over for the most part at this time of year and browns are fattening up for the spawn, so now is a great time to fish streamers.

With that in mind, I set out to tie this baby brook trout streamer. I'm sure someone has made something similar in the past, so I'm not claiming any originality here. The olive back and white belly give a good general impression of a brook trout, while the rubber legs look a bit like a brookie's orange fins and provide some movement. Given that many species of fish have a dark back and a white underside, this fly could also imitate any number of baitfish or juvenile gamefish, especially with differently colored legs.

Hook: Size 8 4XL Streamer
Bead: 3/16" Brass
Tail and Back: Olive Marabou
Body: Palmered White Crosscut Rabbit
Legs: Orange Rubber Legs

This fly worked well on the Upper Kinni, helping me land this brown near the mouth of a small brook trout stream.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Week in the Whites

I spent the last week of August fishing and camping with a friend in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire. The weather forecast leading up to the week looked iffy, with at least a 50% chance of rain every day, but we elected to go anyway - a little rain rarely inhibits fishing. In fact, some of my best days of fishing have come in the rain.

In the end, the weather turned out better than expected. Though we did get rained on a few times, it was mostly overcast with temps in the 60s - perfect trout fishing weather.

Our first destination was my favorite remote pond. I was hoping to match the success of my previous trips to this pond, but unfortunately conditions did not cooperate. We found the pond quite low and fairly warm. The only place we found fish was at the mouth of a frigid tributary, but we stopped fishing after realizing nearly every fish in the pond was holding there.

On Day 2 we drove north to fish a few streams originating high in the Presidential Range. The first stream emerges at over 4000' in elevation, then falls about 2500' over 3.5 miles before entering a relatively flat meadow in the valley. We knew the meadow stretch would have cold water due to the stream's high elevation and steep gradient, but would also likely have deeper, slower water than most of mountain streams, and therefore could possibly have some bigger fish.

One of the prettiest fish of the trip 
Wild Blueberries
We caught brookies in nearly every pool. It's rare to find a nice meadow stretch in New England - most meadow streams are too warm for trout. The combination of deep, slow pools and ample casting room made for some fun fishing.

Later in the afternoon we fished the Peabody River, which also has its source in the Presidential Range. We caught stocked brookies, stocked rainbows, and even a few small wild rainbows. The water here was crystal clear, and the fish were much more selective than typical mountain stream trout. The fishing was a little slower than the morning, but it was a fun challenge.

Peabody River wild rainbow
Mt. Jefferson covered by clouds
On Day 3 we packed up camp and fished the upper section of the Pemigewasset River in Franconia notch. We both caught several nice brookies in the deep pools formed from the granite bedrock. The water here was crystal clear, so we could see the fish dart through the water column to smash our hopper patterns.

Pemi Brookie with a broken mandible
After that we headed home, satisfied from a great fishing trip.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Back in Minnesota

I'm back in Minnesota for the school year, so I'll mostly be posting reports about fishing here and in Wisconsin for the next few months.

It's been a busy few weeks moving back in, but I've had a few chances to fish.

The fishing has been a bit slow for me - I spent the whole summer fishing for eager brook trout, so now I have to readjust to fishing for browns in slow spring creeks. I did manage to catch a couple fish though.

More reports are soon to come!

Kinnickinnic River wild brown trout

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A few pics from Western MA

Last Tuesday I travelled to a few streams in the Deerfield River Watershed. These streams stay cool throughout the summer, but they were at quite low levels, which limited the fishing. Luckily I was still able to find a few fish.

Massachusetts Wild Native Brook Trout

Massachusetts Wild Native Brook Trout

Massachusetts Wild Native Brook Trout