Last week I had a real good time doing something I have not done in a few years - fish with trad gear for bass. I've been fly centric for sure. Point blank, I love the fly, but in this case, it was floating in a canoe with a good friend. If we caught some fish it was a plus and thus, I dug out one bag of soft plastics, one pack of finesse hooks and fished wacky worms all evening - literally went to the pond with that alone - it was simpler than when I fish small streams :) It was actually really fun too. I need to remember that fishing is fun any way you want to do it!
After working all day Saturday, I decided it was time to have at it and take a trip to a tailwater here in MA that's well known regionally for it's gin clear, steady flows which stay below 60 all summer - surface temps in the river holding 52-55 depending on where I took temps yesterday. It was cold enough your wrist would hurt when releasing a fish that had fatigued during the fight for example.
Any way, I slept in rather than waking super early - the rest being of greater value to me on this day. Heading down the high way, I passed my favorite exit, the back roads to my home town of Petersham. Good memories stayed in my mind as I headed west, then south, for an additional 40' of driving to the river.
There were many folks parked at the normal parking area - typical for a summer day. This river is busy on a January day for Pete sake, so a day like Sunday, yep, BUSY! That was expected though - you just know going to the river that it's going to have activity, poke around - the fish are all over, so if you can't fish your "A" spot, you can almost certainly fish other spots... and they are all good.
While I fish the lower reaches of this river occasionally, I dont get out that often, so I tend to fish the "classic" fly only / C&R area. There are tons of fish down below, and often fewer fishermen/women, so why do I fish the upper area? Simply put, memories. As a kid - in grade shool - when I was mostly self teaching myself to fly fish, guys my dad worked with told him to take me there. He used to joke he put thousands of miles on a new Subaru wagon taking me fishing on the swift. He'd sit on a picnic table and read while I did my best, and mostly got beat like a drum by the rivers notoriously tough to catch fish. Back then, some "hot flies" were glow bugs - if you got desperate - and "rubber band flies" which literally was a hook with a natural rubber color rubber band wrapped over and over on the hook to make a grub like shape. I had an absolute moment of inner triumph when I caught my first fish on purpose there. Sure, I'd caught fish occasionally on those other flies, but it was luck if I'm honest. This fish was on a stretch called "the bubbler" which is a 20 foot wide 300~yd long stretch from where the water bubbles out of the base of the Quabbin Reservoir into the river - it's almost a canal with current. I could see it below a little bottom contour change, sitting below a bit of moss. I cast a super simple fly I had tied above the fish at a 45 degree angle, and let it drift past him, he took and I landed a rainbow on a #14 caddis larva which was nothing but olive dubbing body and a black head. That fly still works great here over 30 years later!
Any way, given I live a little over an hour away, and am busy, getting there is not "easy". So when I go now, I really enjoy being in places where I had so much fun as a kid. It's really nice!
Oddly, after working my way up I was amazed no one was fishing the famous "Y" pool... well, 2 other guys, which is about normal for mid winter, so I took the chance. Point blank, it may be my least favorite section of water here - it's like a giant aquarium! Often the fish are feeding on midges and may flies so small you are not under gunned with a 26 or 28. It can drive you nuts fishing a #20 tuft of CDC only to see a fish come up and rise on something 8" from your fly that you couldn't see!
You can see a nice fish holding over some sand mid frame below. Here's the thing though... there were probably 30 fish in this picture - let me clarify, 30 rainbow's and browns.
What I hoped would come out, but didnt, was that there were at least 100 3-5" long brookies on that gravel edge where it falls into deeper water.
Oh, how deep is it... Where that fish is mid frame, it's at least 7 feet deep right there! The gravel where the brookies were in this pic is hip deep on my 6 foot tall body. Did I mention the water is pretty clear?
I was in a rut at first, fishing the way you are "supposed to" on the swift with a variety of little flies. Then it hit me - get off your rocker and fish the river as has historically "worked" for you! I put on a foam beetle I tie, it's got rubber legs, a peacock dub body, and a 2mm black foam "shell" which pulls over the back like you tie a gurgler. Always a good summer fly, and at size 14, it's big on this river. Immediately I missed a few, then landed one and as the crowd at the Y pool grew, I started working the bank as I headed down stream and caught several more - all rainbows like this guy.
I was fishing a run below the power lines and caught a few more, but one I couldnt raise. Given I'd caught several, I swapped to a Perdigon nymph and went to tight line nymphing a bit. After a few drifts I got him. At that point I ended up catching a few more before ending up in the spot above. Probably 30 fish in the log jam area here and I caught several on a variety of flies including the beetle again, a mole fly, a yellow zebra midge with an orange hot spot and ultimately with a Chernobyl ant.
When I was ready to start heading out, I put on the Chernobyl anticipating working the banks and walking down river unless I bumped into another fisherman - then I'd work around them so I didnt mess them up and continue on my way. But a few drifts at the spot above, well, about 5 yards further up stream out of frame, as the Chernobyl drifted over the log, a fish came up like a great white shark on the discovery channel and just obliterated the fly. I got a good hook set, and as it's side flashed in the clear water I could immediately see it was a giant brookie, the red belly and hooked jaw giving it away instantly. What a fish! Luckily, my efforts to keep it out of the log jam worked, and a nice guy from Amherst MA (thanks if you ever read this!) worked over and scooped the fish up with his net. I couldnt believe it when looking at the fish, a solid 15" with giant fins inclusing the most amazing white leading edges. What a fish! I briefly pondered a photo, and given it was in this other guys net and I wanted him to get back to fishing and into fish I chose not to. I've been a little bummed since. It was an awesome fish... I guess I have to go back and try to get him again.
On the brookie front, the swift has a population the likes of which I've not seen. They had been growing in number but the last 10 years has been awesome and the last 2-3 more so. Beyond the normal big bow's and browns, I probably caught 15-20 brookies of "small stream size" - 3-6", 1 about 10" and the giant above. Once you would only see a few fish here and there and catch maybe 1 per trip... Now it feels like you see em in giant schools and see real solid fish hanging in good lies. One funky thing though, is that every now and then, a 4-5" brookie would be coming in and a 18-22~ inch bow would be flying after it, trying to eat it. I had one even bite the brookie as I tried to lift it from the water. Crazy to see that. Overall, this river has good things in store... If it keeps going like this, your going to have massive populations of 10-15" brookies, and given a few folks have caught 18-20" wild brookies... Imagine where things are going here. Sure hope it continues!
Ok, enough is enough. I started out planning a short post, and now I've got a novel for folks to read :). Ha!
Ok, get out and fish - however you do it, where ever you do it!