Monday, July 18, 2016

Awesome fishing and one bad decision, sort of.

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!


Monday, July 11, 2016

Place of Many Waters

In the heart of Massachusetts is, well, what was called Quabbin, meaning "place of many waters" by our Native American predecessors.  The valleys that existed here were home to thousands, in bustling mill towns - Dana, Greenwich, Enfield and Prescott.  But as Boston grew, so to did it's thirst for water.  Ultimately that thirst lead to the complete demolition of those four towns - right down to moving bodies from the towns grave yards.  Why?  Well, those towns were built within the valley's carved over the millennia by the East, Middle and West branches of the Swift River.  By erecting a dam below the confluence of those river branches, a giant reservoir could be established - flooding the valleys that once were home to busy families and hard working people.

Growing up in a town that narrowly escaped its eradication, due to being high upon a hill at the headwaters of the East Branch of the Swift River, I'm just old enough to remember older folks who were children playing in Dana prior to the state moving the families out.  Many of those folks, and their families still resent what the state did to their ancestral homes.  While I can't blame them... The area ultimately became something we should all be hugely proud of.

Quabbin today is 117 miles of wandering shore line and thousands of acres of protected forests spanning it's 26 mile length.  It's a massive gift in the age of urban sprawl and development.  Ill never - I hope - understand the depth of frustration and angst those families who were moved felt, but Ill be forever grateful to them for their sacrifice.

I'm only 42, and by the time I was 10 I was spending a lot of time wandering the "res" as we locals like to call it.  Up until about 5 years ago, I was in there all the time fishing, hiking etc.  But with the craziness of life, my res time has been lacking... So, in a familiar theme on my blog... After doing a bunch of work Sunday morning I shot out for a walk in a favorite area.  I brought some snacks and planned to just poke along the shore, fish a little, walk a little, and quite probably, sit and just be quiet for a while.

I did all of those things, caught some fish and just enjoyed it.  I hope you are able to as well. 

Actually looking away from the res gate here... I just love this spot.  Ive caught so many fish here - many over 5# - and I've shot a number of deer on both sides of the road as well in this area (Outside the res, where it's legal).  Many memories of trail runs and hikes couple with those other adventures... It's a great spot.

An afternoons worth of gear.  Sometimes warm water fishing I only bring one rod... but today, I just couldn't decide and didnt feel like "fighting" to decide, so I took em both.  Started with the 8, but they only wanted the cray fish fly, so I caught everything with the 6.

Hard to imagine, but when we are not in a drought, the water is up to about 2 feet from the top of that rock wall -which is actually an ancient stone culvert where a stream enters the res.  I could not count the number of 5-8# LMB's and SMB's (ok, 4-5# for those guys) in this spot.  The water in the huge beaver pond 200yds upstream warms fast in the spring, so it's often as much as 10 degrees over the reservoir's main body early in the year... So shortly after the mid April opening of the res... this spot is MONEY.

Looking due south as the res opens into larger water. You can get a sense of the "glass pane clear" water in this image!  

I often see moose and other large animals here.  Sometimes bear as well.  This moose had walked through some what recently, but overall, on this trip, there was a surprisingly small amount of animal activity near the water.

The day's first smallie.  Took a crayfish fly off a stick pile.  An interesting thing, which you can sort of see on the waters surface left of his tail... fish were occasionally smashing moth's that were falling onto the water.  The moth's would flitter away on the surface, seemingly unable to fly away, and the fish would aggressively roll on them.

I was amazed this sunnie ate a fly with a 1/0 hook.  How he got it in his mouth, I will never understand! :)

That lumpy land mass dead center is an island called Mt Zion.  It's very "popular" in the media right now, because that area you are looking at is home to steep, craggy and boulder strewn ledges... The same broken rock areas the state fish and wildlife is taking heat over for wanting to re-introduce timber rattlesnakes on.  It's a good plan overall.  I'm still unsure how I feel in some ways... But overall, sustaining the meager population of rattlers left here seems to have some merit, and a spot which is illegal for human activity seems a good one to try and "bring them back" to.

Soapstone Mtn.  I could not count the times I've reached it's summit over the decades.  Amazing views in all directions - well, north is really only great when the leaves are down... but overall, WOW.  Great hike from the Womens Federated State Forest, also known as the Daughters Of the American Revolution forest.  Not a hard hike from that side, and amazing views.

A little snack at the furthest point of shore I'd hiked to.  I sat on a nice boulder over the water and just enjoyed listening to almost nothing... Only the sound of wood frog, or loon seemed to break the silence.  Hard not to enjoy some time in a space that sounds like that...

Little smallies seemed to like my snack rock... I got a few within easy casting range - no double haul required.

Ok, look at that darn hook.  That's what that little sunfish managed to eat too.  Like I said before - no clue how it got that thing inside it's mouth!

Nice to see some wild roses still in bloom at the edge of the woods.  
Awesome afternoon for sure, which ended with dinner at my parents before returning home to do some more... Work.

Enjoy your wild, amazing places folks.  We are so lucky to have them!


Saturday, July 9, 2016

An Under Utilized Super Fun Fishery

My family is off to Minnesota, and regrettably this year, I'm home alone.  Wrapping up the masters degree, work, and some home projects this summer, I just couldn't make it.  So while they are on the road, and will be spending time on Gull Lake, I'm mostly busy at work.

But, if you don't take some time to hit the rest button... You burn out.

So, after a busy morning, I did something I have not in to long, hit the local "major" freestone that's a heck of a trout river.  Browns, and big ones.  Rainbows.  It's a blast for trout.  It's a destination for trout.  And for some reason, most people act like the many, many, little small mouth bass that live in this river are just a pain in the butt who occasionally eat their trout flies.

I dont know why.  Smallies are awesome - any size!

Most of em here are 8-12".  I've caught a few a smidge bigger... Almost PR'd today.  I've seen a few that were probably 15-18"... but that's not what you will catch consistently for some reason.  It's a really fertile river, so I'd think there would be some bigger fish... Especially since my brown trout PR on this river was a 23" fish that took a black muddler variant I created in high school.  

Well, when the river bottoms out in volume come summer, and the trout seek refuge near springs or cold feeder streams, this place can be a down right blast catching these small mouths.

Today sure was!

I figured it would be good, when my first cast with a beat up little hair popper lead to a micro bass in the 6-8" range.  Has to be a good omen!

I caught a few more in the 8-10" range working up from the bridge I started at, but reaching a favorite spot under the next bridge lead to some great fish.

Probably caught 15 smallies here today.  Sadly, a real whopper took  and while I got him to the edge of shore, while trying to grab the lip, the hook pulled and the fish swam off.  Oh well, I'm going to say that fish was 15".  Heck of a fish here and gave the six weight a good workout!  Even pulled a little drag.

  One thing that kept surprising me, was how deeply these fish were taking the popper.  they were getting the whole darn thing in there mouths quite often!

I moved up stream.  Caught a few at the tail of the giant pool above the bridge - you can see the tail below.  The pool stretches up around the bend a bit to a rail road bridge.  The left side is deep, but the right has a sand bar you can fish most of the way to the rail road bridge.  It's DEEP up there, but most of the pool is in the 3-6 foot range.  I think I've seen carp here, but not with the consistency that I have ever tried to target them.  Pretty sure I broke off a pike here once on a streamer trout fishing, if not, it was a GIANT pickerel.  Up stream and over one dam, there are some huge Pike - like 20-30# routinely caught through the ice.  Pretty sure one spilled over, or came up from the CT 5-6 miles down stream - I have caught walleyes up stream from here for example... So a pike could pull the trip off too.

First bass in the big pool was a nice one, close to 12".  it was quickly followed by a 10" with heron scars.  I saw a heron here when I first arrived, wonder if he was the bird who stabbed at this fish!?

I was a little surprised to see a sunfish get the whole popper in it's mouth... but I was more surprised with the coloration - what an amazing belly on this fish!

After a while I'd worked the sand bar up to the rail road bridge.  I saw a toad of a bass swim by, but got no takes in the deeper water.  I turned to try my luck on a down tree in a shallow area behind me..

Pop goes the popper... Couple more pops, and then a nice splashy take.  I bring the fish in and was amazed to see a fall fish.  They are cool - but I've never caught one on a popper before!  Neat surprise - they are another fish that does not get enough respect :).

The thoughts of the big bass I'd seen in the deep motivated me to take off the popper for a bit and fish a cray fish imitation.  it's similar to others, but is one I came up with a couple years ago.  It has caught trout on occasion, but mostly it's a bass catcher.

First cast yields a fish near 12".  After that, nothing was interested.  I worked back down stream and caught a few more on the cray fish... but... when fish are willing to look up... how do you keep tossing sub surface flies?

Finally back under my favorite bridge, I catch a few on the popper, and as I get set to leave, I look down and was a little startled to see this giant snapper about 2 feet away.  Glad I didnt have a fish on the line hanging down there - he'd have been happy to have a feast of small mouth I'm sure!

Fun time and good stress release for sure.  And all this writing was a good warm up for a school project I'm working on the rest of the night!

Dont neglect fisheries that are under estimated, or over looked.  Some times, I think we get so focused on doing something a certain way, we miss out on awesome fun.  It may be a little farm pond or drainage easement, a public park pond, a warm river or some other local pond... But they all can offer fun surprises.

In this case, a river that's regionally "famous" for trout, but totally neglected for warm water fish provided a ton of fun and some good double haul practice.

Get out, and have some fun!