The News from Fisher Brook

There’s an old fellow coming down from the forest trail this afternoon to fish for an hour or two. He claims to be suffering from a serious cold, but to cast here for brook trout won’t be detrimental since the air temperature is a mild 43 degrees F., and he really needs to get out on the water. Yes, it feels like it could rain here at any minute, but the snow-lined stream looks and sounds inviting, and he’s ready to give it a shot.

club moss & reel

club moss & reel

Our February angler wields a 7-foot fly rod, and he starts off by casting an Egg fly but he’ll soon switch to a bead-head nymph. Time passes and, oddly enough, nothing seems to work as well as expected.

Ah, but here’s some consolation– fisher tracks on a snowy log across the brook. The angler has seen these tracks on several visits here, and he fondly remembers a brief encounter in the area when, about a year ago, he crossed paths with the dark-furred predator hunting its way upstream.

fisher tracks on log

fisher tracks on log

He’s not feeling very well today, but he’s happy to find some time to freely work the stream. He checks the water temperature and notes a cool 42 degrees, almost identical with that of the air. Recalling a recent outing on upper Pine when brook trout rose to take a surface-floating Stimulator, he wonders about the dry fly possibility and then decides, no, it’s just too cold to expect a trout to rise and take a floater.

Our mountain angler, you see, has been stuck in a rut for years. When considering what a trout will feed upon, he relies too heavily on his past experience which, believe it or not, has been rather limited when it comes to mountain streams in February. Maybe he’ll desire some reader input on personal experiences from casting dries on winter creeks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This fisherman’s been casting 90 minutes or so, with only one brief hook-up on the nymph. He’s about to quit the effort but decides to sample a dry fly. Doing so, he’ll be able to drive home thinking that at least he tried it. No regrets.

He ties on a small Stimulator, a pattern that resembles a light-colored stonefly, and he lays it on a tiny pool where a drifting nymph had not prevailed.

You got it… Err, I should say… HE got it!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A bit of color on this otherwise drab, cold afternoon. A small trout but, nonetheless, a fish that makes him a believer, someone who can see new possibilities in winter fishing on chilly mountain creeks.

He’d been hearing and reading accounts of dry fly success on streams like this, but he always worked on the assumption that dries have been productive where water temperatures are warmer than these Fahrenheit readings in the high 30s or low 40s.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Leaving Fisher Brook, our angler friend decides that it can work… Small, high floating dries can be effective on cold water brooks, even when temperatures seem too low for this approach. It can work on little streams where trout mobility isn’t as great as previously imagined.

It can work on Fisher Brook, he thinks, but not so well on medium-sized streams or rivers where trout would have to move substantially farther to the surface.

He’s a believer, and he breaks into an old Monkees song, but much prefers a tongue-in-cheek version by the idiosyncratic master of British songwriting, Mr. Robert Wyatt. Like a Valentine from trout.




About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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21 Responses to The News from Fisher Brook

  1. Doug says:

    OK, you’ve made me a believer. But I don’t fly fish. Maybe I’ll have to get up early and see what these southern bass think, after ending this eve. with some poems by Robert Bly. One thing about them old farts. They never quit, hahaha.

  2. Brent says:

    I guess it’s NOT true what they say, that you can lead an old fisherman to water but you can’t teach him new tricks. Or am I mixing my idioms?

  3. Read a Bly poem to the bass, Doug, and I believe the bass will read a poem to you. Tight lines!

  4. I am happy to hear that “The Ol’ Geezer” found happiness in his day. Therefore, it was a good day. My water is slowly losing it’s ice and I am looking forward to singing to some fish!

  5. Old fishermen do seem to get stuck in their ways Walt, but you don’t ever count them out.

  6. plaidcamper says:

    Old fishermen on the trail are wise enough to believe in the less likely – you never can tell what just might happen out there…
    Beautiful photographs of Fisher Brook, and I enjoyed listening to Robert Wyatt. Thanks, Walt!

  7. Bob Stanton says:

    I have a theory about small streams and a trout’s proclivity to feed on the surface, often to the exclusion of other methods. I could be wrong, but it goes something like this: most small mountain streams are relatively infertile, with only a few hatches to speak of. The majority of these streams are high gradient, lots of swift water and plunge pools and in my experience, they tend to harbor insects suited best to this environment, namely stoneflies and clinger-type mayflies. The mayfly hatches are relatively brief, but the stones are usually available for a longer period, late winter to early fall in some cases. There’s lots of debate about how stones emerge -some say they emerge midstream and entymologists claim that they crawl to the stream banks to molt to the adult form – I swear I’ve seen yellow sallies poppin’ off like mayflies or caddis, but I can’t say for sure. All of which would explain the success of the stimulator. But that, I feel, is not the whole story. In almost all cases, these streams possess a heavy canopy that allows for a multitude of the so-called terrestrials to become a readily available food source for these trout. I would bet that in summer, ants, beetles, inchworms (green weenie, anyone?) and the like comprise the vast majority of the trouty diet. Couple this with the small volume of water that the fish has to move through to take something off the surface, and I’m guessing that this might explain a trout’s upward oriented feeding habits on the rills, runs, brooks and branches of the hill country. But, as you alluded to, all fisherman have notions that they stubbornly cling to, right or wrong, and I guess I’m taking my little essay above as a personal article of faith.

    • Perfect, Bob. You’re my captain on this issue. I agree completely on the trout’s orientation and willingness to feed, and still wonder, will brooks yet rise in 38 degree F. water temps? Hmm. Thanks!

  8. loydtruss says:

    Older fishermen or “Geezers” have the patience to stick it out even on the slowest days on the water. What memories that Monkeys tune brings back, proving those who remember those times are the true Geezers!! Thanks for sharing

    • Bill,
      We’re the Believers, the fishing geezers, who have learned that happiness and success on the water comes with patience and with “putting in time.” There’s nothing like wrangling with the mysteries of nature when we’re one-on-one with a stream, a lake, or the sea. It’s then that time collapses, and even the era of the Monkees and the Beatles doesn’t seem so long ago!

  9. JZ says:

    Just goes to show you, anglers of all ages and experiences can learn something new while trouncing about along the stream. Its the perfect classroom Walt! However, a fisherman needs to be open and invite new tactics within the experience. Many times, we fall back on past practices that have served us well. But that doesnt always necessitate that all new approaches are somehow gimic laden and frought with frustration. The old line (perhaps politically new), “what do you got to lose”, quickly comes to mind. You see Walt, branching out and imploying new ways to solve problems, does work. A hunter, angler, buisnessman, father and coach can always find new ways to become better. Just like that old angler! Lessons are learned many ways, often times we stumble over them, not always knowing or aware of what we learned. My son is learning them now playing travel ice hockey. I have a feeling he will carry what he is learning with him for a lifetime.
    Oh, one other thing Walt, you spoil your readers, I hope you know! But then, who doesnt have time to read something we all love and have a passion for, the great outdoors…God bless you and all of the brook trout Walt.

    • The stream is a great classroom, JZ, and yes, it helps to be a “good student,” meaning that it pays to stay alert and open-minded, taking in a broad base of experience. Lessons are learned, the way your son learns when he skates competitively with a stick and scores a new experience among others. Thanks as always for your input and your very kind support!

  10. It’s fun to test theories like that when you’re on the water. There’s a creek near me that is usually so productive with dry flies that when they’re not hitting the surface, I’m stumped. Then I tried a simple caddis nymph one day and suddenly my fishless creek was full of fish again. It’s great seeing evidence of critters out there. The last time I fished the creek I just mentioned I saw either a fisher or a pine marten.

    • Douglas, I agree with you: to fish in the company of wild creatures (even when we don’t actually see them) adds a special dimension to an outing. I think it puts us at the very heart of who we are, and opens the door to exciting possibilities. Thanks for sharing a case in point from your own experience on the water. Testing out theories can be stimulating, too. I know I’ll be working on one while casting over winter streams.

  11. Walt – so you’ve discovered that dries can be fished in small streams in winter (wink, wink). It is amazing that they will work but they do. In my limited experience, it works best in small streams where water depth is not huge. As Bob mentioned, trout in these streams do not see a lot of food so if there is something they can see on the surface that looks like food, they will at least investigate. I’ve seen them come clear out of the water and jump over a fly not to their liking. Sometimes a change in size or color will bring them back for a second look. Have fun with those dries this winter!

    • Good to hear from you, Mark. Yeah, I’ve had your reports, and a few others, in mind for a long while when considering dries on winter brooks. I’ve long been accustomed to fishing dries on limestone streams in winter but, unfortunately, thought your Connecticut streams were a bit warmer than my PA freestones in Jan./Feb. so just didn’t bother going beyond the nymph/wet attempts here. Now I know better. It should be fun experimenting while the water remains cold. Thanks again!

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