Monday, May 30, 2016

That's Not A Trout

First of all, since today is Memorial Day, let me begin by saying a sincere and heartfelt THANK YOU to all who have served in any capacity in our nation's military, and above all to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. 

Once again, the blog has been in a state of neglect. I won't even try to make excuses this time. Instead, let me just say thank you to anybody who still drops by here to read on the rare occasion I get something posted to the blog. If you don't mind indulging me dredging up a post that got written two years ago, but somehow missed being published, I promise to work on getting some new content written and published on the blog about my quick trip up to Pennsylvania over Memorial Day Weekend. In the meantime, here's a Memorial Day trip from a couple years ago.  And as always, thanks for stopping by to read these ramblings!

- Joseph

First Trout of the Day
One thing that I love about fly fishing is that it works on all kinds of species of fish. When I first started fly fishing, trout were the only fish that I went after with the long rod. Since then I've found myself fishing more and more for other types of fish with the fly rod, and having fun figuring out new flies and techniques to fool bass and other warm water fish. However, I still love chasing trout on the fly rod, and try to go as much as possible. During the fall and spring, I'm fortunate enough to have a Delayed Harvest stream about twenty minutes away from home, and this seems to be where I do a good bit of my fishing. These Delayed Harvest streams are stocked by the state and managed under catch and release regulations from October 1 until the first Saturday in June. There are a few wild trout streams not too far from home, but on days when travel and fishing time are at a premium, (not to mention gas money), the local Delayed Harvest is normally where I wind up. This was the case two years ago during Memorial Day weekend, when I had a few hours to get away and try to fool a few trout.

Trent's Trout
My brother-in-law had Monday off for Memorial Day, and hadn't had the chance to fish with me in a while due to work, so we made plans to head to the state park and see if the trout were still willing to eat a fly. We were both a little apprehensive about going, because we figured the crowds might be more than we wanted to deal with since it was a holiday weekend. However, we figured that we might be able to find a stretch of stream that wouldn't require us to bring our own rock to stand on, and so we headed out. The first thing I noticed was the improvements to the campground along the river, with the addition of new sites and a bathroom/shower building. The other thing that caught my attention was that while there were people around, it was not as crowded as I have seen it later on in summer. This gave me hope that we had made the right decision to come up here and fish.

We rigged up and hit the water just a little ways up the trail from the parking area, and it wasn't too long until a nice brown ate my fly. I always like fishing these Delayed Harvest streams after the trout have been there a while, because it seems right after stocking they will be bunched up in the deeper pools. A few weeks of living in the stream seems to help them spread out and start acting a little bit more like wild fish, at least in the sense that they will rise to flies and tend to not be bunched up. This particular brown came out of a little pocket of deeper water up against the bank, and ate my dry fly like he'd been doing it all his life. I hoped that this was a sign of things to come, and we fished our way on upstream taking turns at fishing the pools and pockets.

Redbreast Sunfish
A little farther upstream and Trent picked up his first fish of the day, a pretty rainbow trout. We were both having pretty fair success catching fish on dry flies, although it wasn't the crazy numbers that can be caught soon after a stream is stocked. Working our way on upstream, we did encounter a few other fishermen, but after stopping to chat with them about their plans we were able to move on upstream out of their way and find some open water to keep fishing. The fishermen we talked to were catching a few, and I was glad to see one fisherman had a young kid with him and said he was introducing him to the sport of fly fishing. As we worked our way on upstream, we came to a pool below a bridge that usually holds a fair number of trout, especially early in the season. I figured it would be worth a few casts, even though I didn't see any signs of fish. A few casts later, and a fish rose to my fly. When I set the hook however, I made the comment to Trent that this trout felt different. It didn't seem to be fighting like a trout normally does, and when I got it close I realized why. I didn't have a trout at all! It was a redbreast sunfish, similar to what I normally catch when fishing for smallmouth. I had caught a few of these over the years up here, but that was fishing with spinners back in the early days of my trout fishing. I don't usually catch these sunfish in trout streams, but this particular stream warms up in the summer too much to support trout year round, and it must be comfortable enough for the sunfish to make a home.

Delayed Harvest Brookie
I was afraid that this might be a sign that the water would soon be too warm to support trout, but then I knew that the first Saturday in June would mark the beginning of the stream reverting to Hatchery Supported regulations, and that most of these trout would be caught before rising water temperatures proved to be fatal. This stream does support wild trout farther up towards the headwaters, and stays cool enough year round to warrant a Wild Trout designation and regulations. The Delayed Harvest section falls into a transition zone from the cold water trout stream to a warmer lower elevation stream, and I have caught the occasional wild fish from the Delayed Harvest sections, but there doesn't seem to be many in this area. After the sunfish surprise, we continued working our way on upstream, spooking an occasional fish or missing a strike here and there. I did manage to catch a nice brook trout from a deeper pool that had several fish stacked up in the current, but we couldn't entice the rest to eat our flies, even after switching to nymphs and fishing deeper in the water column. They would swim over to a fly and take a look, but more often than not they would refuse it. I suspect these fish had received a lot of pressure over the last month or so, because they seemed extremely reluctant to eat anything. Of course as a fisherman, my first instinct is to blame it on the fish, but they were just doing what nature had programmed them to do - surviving the best way they could.
Bluehead Chub

We finally gave up on that pool and worked our way on upstream, where I managed another brown trout on a dry fly. Then, as we fished on upstream, I had a fish eat my fly that I thought might be one of the rare wild fish in the stream, because I could tell it was a good bit smaller than the majority of the stocked fish we had seen. I have occasionally had rosyside dace or warpaint shiners eat dry flies while fishing this stream, but as I got the fish closer and finally got a look, I exclaimed "That's not a trout!". This one was a first for me on a dry fly, a fish that I'm fairly certain is a bluehead chub, locally known as a hornyhead for the tubercles on top of their heads. I had caught these before while nymph fishing, but this was the first time I could remember one rising to a dry fly. It was a neat experience to catch one of these on a dry, even though I will admit being a little disappointed at first that it wasn't a wild brown trout.

 One of the things I have always enjoyed about fishing is the sense of wonder that it gives me. Each time a fish strikes my fly, I never know what it might be. Somewhere inside me is still that five year old boy that used to turn over rocks in the creek looking for crawdads and insects and catching minnows just to see what they looked like. I might do it with much more sophisticated tackle now, but the urge to explore and discover is still the same. It was funny when I thought about my catches on the way home, because I realized that while trout were my goal, I wound up catching two true natives of the watershed, and neither one were the fish that I had come after. I don't think I'm going to take up chub fishing any time soon, but if I have an occasion to exclaim "That's not a trout!" again while I'm out fishing, I'm going to take a minute to savor the experience. The river is full of surprises, and I'm sure if I fish it for a lifetime I'll only scratch the surface.

- Joseph