Fishing Reports

51 posts

Summer Fishing in Wyoming

Man, have I not posted anything since June 25th? That’s a shame. Trouble is, once the summer arrives the brook trout fishing in Virginia and parts slightly north of here really slows down. So I turn to other types of angling…

IMG_5042mMuch of my summer fishing was done from my new vessel, a Native Watercraft Ultimate 12. Not the new Ultimate FX, but the older model. Turns out that thing is more than good enough for what I do, which is tooling around the Shenandoah River trying to take smallmouth bass on a fly rod. The great thing about many of these new kayaks is that they allow you to stand up and cast… without tipping over! The Ultimate 12 does this so well. I can float down the river standing up and casting to the banks. I can stand up and sit down without dumping it. And I can even paddle the thing like it’s a stand up paddle board. There is not much I would really change about the Ultimate. It’s barely heavier than our Old Town Otter recreational kayaks, which are
shorter and do not support standing up other than in a very comical sense.

IMG_5484mIn August, my wife and I finally took an epic road trip that we’d been thinking about for years. Thanks to changes in our employment situations which now have each of us working as freelancers, we decided the time was nigh. We drove across the country — well, at least until we got to Wyoming. Then we stopped and stayed a couple weeks. The grand destination was Yellowstone National Park. We had other places on our hit list, too, including Madison, Wisconsin, the Badlands and Black Hills areas in South Dakota, Montana (just Montana, had to go there), the Grand Tetons, and Jackson Hole.

This was a road trip as much as a fishing trip, though I pushed and succeeded at twisting it a lot towards fishing. We fished in Yellowstone National Park, mostly in Soda Butte Creek, and also in Pebble Creek, Slough Creek, the Lamar River, and the Yellowstone River. Then we headed south to the Grand Tetons and Jackson, Wyoming, and fished the Snake River from the banks one day.

We caught quite a few very nice Yellowstone Cutthroats and some Snake River Fine Spotted Cutthroats. And in the Snake, I even found a few brook trout. It was all DIY fishing. Maybe next year, a guide and a float trip might be in the cards on the Snake.



GWNF Brook Trout

George Washington National Forest, Massanutten, Virginia

GWNF Brook Trout
GWNF Brook Trout

The George Washington National Forest is a fragmented collection of woodland areas in the western part of Virginia that stretch into West Virginia and Kentucky. There are lots of great trails and camping spots, and of course I am of the mind that those exist in order to access the freestone streams holding brook trout. So in mid-May I scoured Google Earth looking for some likely spots to fish not too far from home in the GWNF. This one in particular was not a stream I would go out of my way to fish again, but I’ve been here twice now and have seen and caught some decent brookies…

I hiked to the first pool and thought maybe I should try it. But it was right next to the trail, maybe a ten minute walk from where I parked. I figured there was just no way anyone had left a fish in there, and no way one had managed to elude even the few fly fisherman who pass by. And to have grown to a decent size, any fish that had managed to survive would have had to do it for a couple years, then either leap up a few small falls or bash its way down from the bigger rocky cliff just upstream in order to sit in this spot and survive. It didn’t seem likely. Thought I should just skip it.

Then… revelation. What the hell, why pass by any pool that looks like it may be good enough to hold a fish? I have passed by so many similarly marginal-looking spots before. Maybe I have been denied some record for the number of trout I’ve caught by skipping past these exposed pools. Probably missed some citation-sized leviathans, too. Right?

So I gave it a go. I do what I usually do in these small stream prospecting situations; tie on a size 14 Royal Wulff. Or was it a size 12? Doesn’t matter. Slathered it with some floatant, greased up the leader and sharpened the hook. Lowering the rod and myself, I crawled to the pool, trying to find shade and keeping my shadow far away from the water when I couldn’t. Even more likely that this spot had been fished out owed to the perfect lie of it. This stair-step run bent northeast just enough so that the midday sun couldn’t quite draw my silhouette on the water. Surely someone had depleted it.

First cast to the glassy tail of the small basin of water with just the leader out of the guides. The fly sat, then began its drift so slowly downstream, sitting upright like a newly hatched bug. Nothing. Second cast to the bubbling current in the middle, along the edge closest to me. Nothing. I kept working the fly a little further out and upstream each time I threw it, and raised the rod tip to keep the entire leader off the water and the fly drifting freely. About a half dozen casts in and I hooked him. Beautiful seven inch brook trout.

And that was it. Every other spot, especially the hard to reach little gorges and snaky looking banks… Nothing.

Go figure.

Michaux Brook Trout

Michaux State Forest, Pennsylvania

Michaux Brook Trout
Beautiful Michaux State Forest brookie…

A quick one about catching brook trout near a road…

The Michaux State Forest sits at the very northern end of the formation that is known further south as the Blue Ridge. Other than that, I had little idea where I was going.

I’ve driven past this area dozens of times over the years, between my home in Virginia and points north to visit family in the Poconos and New Jersey. The May/June 2013 issue of Eastern Fly Fishing had an article by Dusty Wissmath about trout streams near the Lincoln Highway and Chambersburg, PA, and it highlighted this state forest. Trouble for me was that I was on my way back to Virginia and didn’t have the article in hand. So, I winged it, found a stream near the road, parked, and rigged up.

The water was low for a mid-May day. When I first took a look, I almost got back in the truck and drove away. Small water, skinny and crystal clear. It looked more like a mid-summer day, and it was in fact in the low 80’s.

And another further upstream
…and another further upstream

Well, what the hell… I had detoured off I-81 and was wasting time, might as well try it. So I tied on a size 14 Royal Wulff, and caught some fish. Pictured at the top is the first and best brookie I caught. Next is only other one I landed. I fished for maybe twenty minutes, and spent about three minutes “hiking” from my car to the first pool with the first fish, then meandered another ten minutes upstream, saw some splashes and missed a few before the I caught the second. Then I headed home.

There is a lot to explore in this area, including streams in Caledonia State Park, Mont Alto State Park and Pine Grove Furnace State Park. I don’t think the stream I picked was necessarily the top in terms of quality, but I was surprised by the fish I found. That shows that the rest of the area is worth checking out.

Hickory Run State Park, Pennsylvania

Fourteen mighty inches of fish

After casting to fish cruising in a good-sized run for an hour and a half, I gave up. It should not be this hard. These are brook trout, damn it! It’s never like that… it’s usually like this:

  • Sit down and scope things out
  • Keep low so the fish don’t see you
  • Avoid putting the shadow of any hat, appendage, fly rod, line, cigar or whatever on the water
  • Pitch a short cast upstream, tail of the pool first, work left and right then up, hit the corners and pockets
  • Drift the fly down each seam, keep as much line off the water as possible so the fly doesn’t drag
  • Strike quickly, land the brookie
  • Don’t get discouraged, they are at least big in their own minds
  • Repeat.

Hickory Run State Park has been on my hit list for quite some time, so I finally prioritized some things in life and got there. And despite the challenge of what turned out to be an atypical brook trout outing, it was a great afternoon.

The ranger at the park HQ pointed me to the access point for one of the streams I had asked about. The thing about Hickory Run State Park is that there are several streams and all of them have good fishing, so I am told. So I simply picked one, got the intel about where to park, and went for a little hike.

Big brook trout water

So no, this was not typical small stream brook trout fishing. The water itself was quite a bit larger than the small mountain brooks I’m used to fishing in places like Shenandoah National Park, and the fish were not the usual desperate creatures that hammer anything that looks buggy.

That one pool I worked for an hour and a half crushed me. I watched a couple of good trout (in the twelve inch range) cruising and rising periodically. Everything I threw at them was refused. A Royal Wulff, and parachute Adams, a two fly soft hackle rig, a bead head Hare’s Ear… I added weight, removed weight, drifted again and again and again. Maddening. The soft hackles seemed to generate the most interest. One fish nosed the fly on several passes but did not eat it.

So there I was, kind of pissed. Which was stupid. After all, I was fishing on a beautiful wild trout stream and, regardless of the supposed lack of success, what is better than that on a lovely spring day? But things accumulate over time, and it had been a couple weeks since I had caught a fish. And this was not for having avoided trying — the Shenandoah River a few nights before, a canal in Fort Lauderdale a couple weeks ago, and despite limited success on the Occoquan catching some shad last month, this was all adding up to mediocrity, at best. And now this. I was starting to think I could no longer figure it out. When you fail at something for a stretch, and you know you’ve given it your best shot, it’s more than perplexing. You start to sulk.

I headed upstream, hiking a hundred yards or so above a wide waterfall with a very deep pool at its base, probably a good ten feet deep. The stream here was about twenty feet wide, pretty big water for this area. The run above the falls narrowed and thinned quite a bit. I did the same thing I had done initially at the lower pool, just sat and watched and waited for a while. Finally, I saw a few rises. A fish on the far side of the main current seam was splashing at things. I tied on a size 12 Elk Hair Caddis. He hit but did not take it. More rises directly upstream, a few casts, and no takes. I switched to a size 14 parachute Adams with a neon green post I tied a couple winters ago. Two casts and the fish on the far side of the run ate it. A very nice brook trout, fourteen inches. Outside of Maine or Canada, not sure I could be much happier.

Amazing how one fish can turn your mood around.



Gonna Flood You Big Run…

Big Run Brookie
Well I heard my dream went back downstream…

If Johnny Cash or the Grateful Dead had sung about Big Run, well, maybe it wouldn’t have gone like that. But for lyrical amusement, it’s all I got for this stream in Shenandoah National Park, and the water level was just fine in late April.

First, need to rewind a few months…

In January, I had gone to a talk at the Somerset Fly Fishing Show by Colby Trow from the Mossy Creek Fly Shop in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The room had originally been scheduled for a guy from Iceland, who was going to talk about salmon fishing. However, he had to cancel and so Colby stepped in sort of last minute to do his Shenandoah Valley fishing talk. I was one of five people in attendance. It’s funny how the valley seems to evade people’s radar. When you think about it even a little, this area has tons of great fishing, from small mountain trout streams to well-known spring creeks to warm water fishing on the Shenandoah and James. Anyway, Colby covered several spots in the park and Big Run was one of them. Tales of fisheries biologists shocking fifteen-inch brook trout from one particular pool there put it on my list.

Big Run Big Pool
Many fish cruising this big pool…

So the second to last weekend in April had me heading south to Lexington to watch my son play in an off-season college soccer tournament. I figured that was close enough to turn part of the weekend into a brook trout expedition to a new spot. I stopped at the Mossy Creek Fly Shop on the way, bought some flies and tippet and spoke to Colby. He pointed out where to park to hike down to Big Run, and remarked that not many people stop by the shop with reports from there, probably due to all the other good spots nearby.

That’s fine. Leave all the brook trout to me.

I thanked Colby and drove south to Lexington. After the day’s games, I headed back north and spent the night in Harrisonburg, which was a good place to 1) get a meal with a good beer and 2) jump to SNP in the morning.

Capital Ale House
I’m a gonna sit right here until I… dry fly

Turns out the beer was more than good. Through the Google I got the top umpteen hits for “beer Harrisonburg VA.” When traveling, I’ve discovered that searching for good beer is the way to find not just good beer but also good food. Anyway, I landed at the Capital Ale House, which was great. Had a big chimichurri steak salad and a couple big beers — a local Brothers Brewing Admiral Imperial IPA, then a slightly less local Lickinghole Creek Vanilla Virginia Black Bear. Big salad, big beers… ready for Big Run.

Next day, I drove up to Skyline and headed south from Rt. 33. Parked at the Doyle’s River lot and headed downhill. I probably hiked way past where I needed to to start fishing but I wanted to explore the place. This was the first time I’ve ever been this far south in SNP. Since I live north of the park, my normal haunts are in the northern and middle sections. My PATC map of the park’s south district still looks crisp and shiny.

Brookie Scott
But she’s gone, boy, she’s gone…

I found lots of fish, and they smashed bushy dry flies. For some reason I had terrible luck with a Mr. Rapidan as well as the parachute version, and a parachute Adams. The fly that worked was a big Royal Wulff, size 12. No big surprise, big fly… Big Run.

It was all coming together.

The hike downhill was long but easy. Therefore, the hike back out was going to be a bitch, so I decided to just keep fishing. I figured it was better to avoid hiking out as long as I could. Of course, that made no sense, but catching fish for way longer than I normally would was fine with me. That ended up making what would have been a slog back to the car much more pleasant.

So is Big Run worth it? I’d say yes. Not only is it a beautiful stream, but the numbers and sizes of fish I landed made it worthwhile. It’s not dramatically better than other streams I’ve fished in the park, but it’s one of the better streams there for sure. If you go, keep in mind that the only public access to this stream is from Skyline Drive or the trails in the park, so cutting out some effort by accessing it from below is not doable. But like many of the good streams in the park, that’s not unusual.

And I follow you Big Run when you called.

Catching Some Winter Fish in Shenandoah National Park

IMG_4423MLooking back now, back over the long winter, past the worst of the weather, past the longing for warmer climes, past the bazillion flies I tied, past the trip to the Bahamas and the ten pound grouper I landed and the single bonefish I hooked and lost on our unguided not-a-fishing-trip trip… Past all that to a day on a small stream in Shenandoah National Park in early February. The forecast said temps of forty-something, which was a warm-up but still a cold and stone gray day. Snow was on the ground. The hike down from Skyline Drive was a slog. The water was cold, dry flies didn’t work, and so I did something I had never done before in the park, something that made this trip a first for me. I turned to the dark side.

I tied on a freaking nymph. And damn if that nymph didn’t work like magic.

I’ve nymphed before, and it’s worked before, but I’ve never tried nymphing for brook trout in SNP. I did catch a brook trout on a nymph once. It was on a stream in one of the state game lands in Pennsylvania two and a half years ago, and the nymph was the venerable pink weenie. I had parked right next to the stream and walked to the water about thirty feet from the car. Pitched a short cast upstream on a tight line held high, drifted it through the likeliest seam right next to my feet, and repeated this unsavory practice two more times. That third cast got me the biggest brook trout I had ever caught to that point. It was a beautiful twelve inch male. I could almost hear his disdain as he wriggled and tried to spit the tungsten-headed, pink chenille abomination with the name I can never quite bring myself to utter to certain family members. The shame welled up inside of me. A nymph. The pink weenie. Both fish and I thought it was in poor taste, and borderline cheating.

Still, I was so happy.

But that was it. Literally EVERY other time I’ve fished for brook trout, it was, is, and — damn it — will be with dry flies! So if nymphs dredge up some nice fish pretty regularly, why do I shun nymphing? Well, because dry fly fishing is the best thing ever. And because nymphing, frankly, kinda sucks.

So maybe I’ve become unprincipled. This was now the second time I’ve nymphed for brook trout, and only because I was desperate. An hour drive and an hour hike each way, and when you’re standing on the edge of a stream in that beautiful park and nothing’s working, you do things you’re not proud to do.

The fish were in deeper pools mostly. I had stalked up to these spots and figured stealth was still in order despite the depths at which many seemed to be holding. In many pools, the fish were acting very territorially. In fact, it was that aggressiveness that made this whole shameful business of nymphing work great. I saw at least fifteen trout holding near the bottom of one pool, and my first cast drifted the bead head, rubber leg monster right to one of them. He snatched it without hesitation. The cool thing about it was that it was pure sight fishing. I guided the fly right to their noses when the current allowed. Others came from a few feet away to follow and ultimately eat it. Several of these brookies I caught more than once, and it was at that point that I realized this was getting unsportsmanlike and I moved on upstream to the next spot I could find, nymph still fully secured to the tippet. It went like that all afternoon.

Well, it’s springtime now. Thank God this nymphing stuff is over for a while.

Summer Heat, Even in the Poconos

Poconos pickerel, aka “snot rocket”

Got to spend some time at the lake in the Poconos this summer. It’s the usual pattern this time of year. May — caught some nice pickerel. Late June — same. Late July and early August — low water, warm temps, the fish are nowhere to be found during the day since they are hanging out DEEP and literally chillin’. Had two bumps this past weekend but no hookups. I even abandoned the fly rod and went with the spinning rod and a Ratt-L-Trap… and everything else in the bag. Only thing left to do was 1) put on a strip of pork rind (I’m not too proud) and 2) get up early. We were having too much fun in the evenings to make (2) workable, and (1) just never happened.

As far as the brook trout, I’ve left them alone recently. It’s just too hot. I think fishing for them when the water temps are in the high 60’s is worse in many ways than catching them when they’re spawning in the fall. Plus, they are so spooky that the two hour round trip hike in the heat and humidity to maybe catch a fish or two also put me off.

The smallmouth are willing, though, if you go very early or at the other end of the day, around sunset. During the heat of the day you can try, but it’s usually (but not always) tough going.

Catastrophic Breakage, Smallmouth Grande

Scott G series, its limits tested only by my stupidity.

An unfortunate series of events on the Shenandoah River near home yesterday evening for sure. I was in a rush — that’s really all I need to say since you know where that always leads. Straight to disaster, though minor in the wide angle view of life, but still…

Beautiful day after the cold front came through. The humidity left, the clouds withered, and being the front end of summer I had about three hours of daylight left after I got home. So in my reckless haste I began to make a series of mistakes as I aimed to get down to the water and maximize my time there. It’s hard to say if any of the small missteps mattered (forgot the nice camera, the anchor for the kayak, the right hat, the good beer), though maybe they all led to the big one. That most painful error started with me deciding, uncharacteristically, to string up the fly rod in my driveway and then… wait for it… shove it in the car sticking out the window. Yeah, I know. The good thing was that nothing bad happened driving down our narrow dirt road to the river. The bad thing was that after parking the car, it was time to disembark and do the car parking ritual — car in gear, brake on, close up the sunroof and (ooops) CLOSE THE WINDOWS.

That fly rod had become one of my favorites, a nice find on eBay early last year, a Scott G, 9’6″ 8 weight two piece, about twenty years old. Still, it looked fine on my rush (that word again) inspection. So into the kayak it and I went, with a yellow size 6 popper on the end of that swank Orvis saltwater line and several bits of leader and tippet. First cast, a strike. The wind was blowing upstream so that was nice to not only cast in that direction but to have the wind push me that way, so no padding required to pretty much stay put in one spot. Anchor not needed. Everything was going my way. Second cast, nothing. Third cast — CRACK.

A noise I’m not familiar with.

I examined the rod, starting from the handle. Guide by guide on the way up, everything looks good, until the last quarter when I see the rod is splintered longitudinally into three shards of once expensive, now junk carbon fiber graphite tech material. Crap.

Beastly, for me anyway. Click on it, it gets bigger!

Back to the car and rig up the beefy Ugly Stick. Paddled to the deep holes near the big sycamores and cast right up against the weeds on shore, chugging and gurgling, pulling another popper (much bigger than the fly rod version) under the water and letting it float to the top like something wounded and dying.  Cast-cast-cast-cast-cast about a hundred times and BAM! I hauled in the biggest smallmouth to date (for me) on the Shenandoah. Awesome!!! He jumped five times, dove several times, pulled me around a little, came up and was, as they always seem to be, royally pissed. Single hook right in the corner of the mouth. Photos all around then release. That was good.

Maybe not worth the broken rod, maybe worth it. No looking back now. Except at that fish.

Early Springtime and Earlier Fishing This Year

I’m filing this under Fishing Reports. This is not a fishing report per se, but it’s relevant…

Due to a winter that never really arrived, the Mid Atlantic states are experiencing an early spring. Everything has been happening sooner this year. In my yard, the crocuses started blooming over two weeks ago and they’re fading now. That is at least two weeks early. Daffodils are flowering all over, again, two weeks earlier than usual. Following these botanical cues are the bugs, the hatches, and of course the fish. Fishing season is coming sooner this year for sure.

Reports are confirming all of this. Douglas Dear from Rose River Farm in Syria Virginia reported this past week that Quill Gordons have started hatching — two weeks early. Murray’s Fly Shop reported Quill Gordons coming off the water yesterday afternoon in Shenandoah National Park as well. Bryan Kelly at Kelly’s White Fly Shop in Shepherdstown, West Virginia sent an email yesterday about smallmouth bass fishing around Harper’s Ferry on the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers: “We are starting to guide this month. The fish are moving out of their winter patterns towards pre-spawn behavior.  Spawn will be early, and summer patterns will be early… You need to be early…” If this pre-spawn behavior is starting now, that’s closer to three weeks earlier than last year in my neck of the woods along the main stem of the Shenandoah. Incidentally, he goes on to mention that the cicadas will be emerging along the northern section of the Blue Ridge this year, so tie up some big cicada patterns.

So this could be shaping up as a phenomenal early season for us. Hopefully it’s not going to mean that the hot, low clear water conditions come early and stay longer, too. Perhaps we’ll see a nice stretch of cool rains in mid to late spring to break us out of this warm dry pattern we’ve gone through this winter.


Dry Fly Fishing in Shenandoah National Park in January!

Brook Trout Adams Wulff January 2012
Brook trout are hungry for a size 12 Adams Wulff

Just a quick update…

I got out this weekend to one of my favorite streams in Shenandoah National Park. Since it was in the mid-fifties and has been for days, it seemed like it would be worth a shot to once again and per my standard practice SHUN NYMPHING and throw some dry flies, see how I’d do, then pick up some barbeque at Mr. B’s afterwards.

A trip like this involves quite a bit of traveling for the amount of fishing. I don’t live too far from the park but it was still nearly an hour drive each way for this stream. Part of that is due to the 35 mph speed limit on Skyline Drive and getting stuck behind weekenders there who dutifully obey it. Once I parked it was another 45 minute hike downhill and about an hour hike back out. So right off the bat, that’s nearly four hours out of the day just to travel to and from the water. I managed to fish it for about two hours. I could have stayed longer but had to get back home for some reason that seemed important then but I really can’t justify or even remember looking back now.

Brook Trout Adams Wulff 2 January 2012The fishing was awesome! Throwing dry flies and catching trout on the surface in the middle of winter is so much fun. I took a tip from my trip to Florida for redfish last month about sight fishing and decided to really try locating trout before just blindly casting to the seams and other good spots, like I typically do on small streams. I was pretty successful and managed to see many of the fish I caught before I even made the cast. This is a skill I’m going to try to make more of a habit, just slowing down a bit more and really trying to spot anything I can before making even that first cast.

So I fished two flies, both of which I tied in the past week. The first was a size 12 Adams “Wulff” I think I’ll call it. I am not a huge fan of tying feathers for wings on dry flies. It just seems like it’s not always necessary. I simply used some synthetic white yarn instead to make a split wing and wrapped it in a ton of brown and grizzly hackle. Seemed to float fine, cast well and fooled fish. Not sure I’ll go back to feathers for Adams style flies any time soon.

Patriot Dry Fly
The hard working Patriot. Still looking pretty good after taking a couple fish.

The second fly was a size 12 Patriot. This is the first season I’ve tied this pattern, and it was based on a tip from Paul Kearney who runs the Trout Unlimited fish camp for kids, and who has fished the park for over forty years. I also just got Charles Meck‘s book, Mid-Atlantic Trout Streams and Their Hatches. Charles Meck is the creator of the Patriot dry fly. Typical for a brook trout stream, it worked just fine, too!

After I caught a fish or two and the fly became soaked, I put aside my principles and drifted it under the surface. Yes, nymphing! I watched several fish rise off the bottom and slurp the waterlogged fly. The first few were with an Adams, the second batch with the soaked and slimed Patriot.

A note about wading in winter: I severely limited my wading in the stream on this trip, really just wading on the very edges of the water or on shelves of big rocks and boulders. I avoided walking on the gravel and free stone areas as completely as I could. The brook trout have just finished spawning and trampling through the streams, while never a good idea, is much worse of an idea at this time of year. If you do go be very careful. There are a lot of very small fish on the bottom and we don’t want to smush our future brook trout brood.

Nice Pool in the Stream
Nice pool in this stream, one of a bazillion
Releasing a colorful brook trout
The release. Lovely colors on these fish!

My quest to catch at least one fish every month this year has begun. Preferably I’d like to catch a dozen fish each month. So far, I’m on track!