One Fish, Greed, Potato Chips, and Fishing’s Small Accomplishments

Years ago, I knew a man that worked at a local fly shop. He was a pudgy, gnome-like character; opinionated, and maybe not so well informed. Anyway, he would not strike anyone as the philosophical type – not right off the bat anyway. He told me once that he just needed “one fish”.

This is what he meant by “one fish”. On any given day if he had time to catch one fish, the day was good. After that “one fish” he could recover from or move on to more tedious chores and responsibilities.

That was somewhat puzzling to me. I understood what he was saying, but could not relate to it. To me fish were like potato chips. If I caught one it made me want to catch two, and two made me want three, and so on.

In the last few months I have frequently thought about what my gnome-like friend had said. I am starting to feel that way more and more myself. There are days when one fish is all I need to make the day complete. I’ve always found peace in fishing, but it has really started taking on a zen quality.

So anyway, the other day I had time for a quick trip for that “one fish”. I chose a local trickle. After a short walk, I began working upstream away from my car. It wasn’t long before one fish ate my fly.

It was a colorful native brookie. It was an exemplary, small stream trout. It could be my “one fish”. There was a bit more to this stretch of stream, so I continued on beyond this one fish. I was content, but not done with the stretch of stream.

A couple of pools upstream, I had another take. An energetic hook set on a short line flung the fish out of the water. I recognized the small fish as a brown trout as it sailed past my shoulder. I tried to keep gentle tension on the line as the fish came down in the water behind me. I wasn’t able to pull it off. The barbless hook came free, and I chuckled to myself at the preceding sequence of events.

The next pool held another hungry fish. This fish had enough body weight to stay put when I set the hook. The head shakes and the bend in my 2 weight identified a solid fish. I worked it out of the depths and into the shallows where I was standing. A foot long brown with big black spots was about to be fish number two, or so I thought.

The trout made one more lunge into the current. It stopped dead for a moment. Something changed. I could see the fish, but the head shakes stopped. The second fly on the tandem rig was snagged on something.

I pulled my net free from the magnetic net holder, and hustled toward the tethered fish. Just as I started to bend toward the trout he shook free of the hook and left me pinned to a trash bag. Oh, the challenges of suburban trout fishing!

This was not followed by any chuckling. This warranted and received a string of expletives, diminishing, but repeated every time I thought about that fish. My satisfying “one fish” from a few minutes ago was no longer so satisfying. I needed a win to make up for that loss. So much for zen.

I was nearing the end of this stretch of stream. Only a couple of pools remained. I blew it on both of them. I hung the fly in shoreline brush and had to walk too close in order the free it. The pools were spoiled. I couldn’t buy a strike. Maybe I was still flustered, or maybe it was just bad luck and a crosswind.

I couldn’t walk away beaten. I hiked downstream, past my starting point, and through the woods. I was going to fish another stretch, working my way back upstream toward my car.

The first few likely looking spots yielded no fish. My muttering self diatribe was starting again. Then I hit paydirt. In about the fishiest looking pool you could imagine I had a take.

Here’s my brown. No wait! It’s a rainbow. I had heard that there were wild rainbows in this stream, but this was the first I had seen myself. I was quite pleased for a moment. Now, here’s where the greed kicks in.

As much as I appreciated catching this beauty of a wild rainbow, it made me crave another potato chip. I had a brook and a rainbow. Now, I needed a brown to complete a slam.

What was that nice fish I lost earlier? Oh yeah, it was brown trout.

The next pool looked as promising as the previous only just a little bigger. Right away I get a take. Here’s my brown. No, it’s not a brown. It’s another rainbow, a beautiful specimen and only the second I have seen in this stream, but not a brown. Talk about conflicting emotions.

The next hole yields a small brookie. Again, it’s almost a disappointment – almost. The next after that offers another taste of defeat as a diminutive brown trout shakes my hook before I can land it.  This is turning into work.

Fast forward through the stream bed, sprinkle in a couple more natives, and another lost brown. Let’s wrap this up. This story is starting to drag.

I reached a section with a little different topography. It was a little flatter. There was more sand and wood. There were fewer boulders. I was running out of both time and water.

At the tail of a large flat pool, I see a fish holding just off a log that runs nearly the length of this pool. Like clockwork, the fish takes my fly on the first presentation. As it turns with the fly, I see it is a brown. I pull tight and the fish immediately shakes free and runs under the log. For some reason this one doesn’t bother me. Maybe I’m beaten.

I move a few feet upstream to cast to the head of the pool. The water is flat and crystal clear. I can see everything – almost everything.

I cast above where a fish should be. The fly drifts a couple feet. I see a trout materialize out of nowhere. It turns and I set the hook. It’s a nice one. After a few big head shakes, the fish turns downstream and performs a splashy, wallowing jump. It’s bigger than I thought.

After a crazy tug of war, up the pool, down the pool, under the log a couple times, an absolute beauty of a brown comes to my Northkill net – measuring a smidgeon over 15 inches. That was the fish I needed. It was a big fish for a trickle, a big fish on a 2 weight, a brook-rainbow-brown slam, and compensation for my earlier loss. That was the “one fish” and the last potato chip.

 

The Fly Fishing List Wrap Up

I set out to catch 20 different species on a fly rod in 2018. Although I fell short of the goal, the fly rod species list was probably more of a success than a failure. It was a little distracting at times, but it got me out on some new waters, and to some degree reunited me with fly fishing. A new year is upon us, and I’m wondering whether I should take another crack at it.

Where “The 2018 Fly Fishing List” ended – just one species shy of the goal:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
  5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  6. Northern Pike – Esox lucius
  7. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides
  8. Chain Pickerel – Esox niger
  9. Black Crappie – Poxomis nigromaculatis
  10. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  11. Bowfin – Amia calva
  12. Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus
  13. Common Shiner – Luxilus cornutus
  14. Redbreast Sunfish – Lepomis auritus
  15. Rock Bass – Ambloplites rupestris
  16. Green Sunfish – Lepomis cyanellus
  17. Smallmouth Bass – Micropterus dolomieu
  18. Blacknose Dace – Rhinichthys obtusus
  19. Kokanee Salmon – Oncorhynchus nerka

Not bad, but I can’t help think of a few species I could have or should have caught on the fly last year. OK – I just decided now. I am going to take another crack at breaking the 20 species barrier. Check in for updates here on the website in the coming weeks.

From Frogs to Snowballs

While the salmonid bite remained steady this month, the weather was anything but. Fishing in “shorts weather” to downpours to a snow storm, the conditions ran the gamut as winter draws near. Here are a few November moments.

November started with lots of stream side frogs…

…and the last of the wet wading brown trout.

The first trolled landlocks of the season came to the net.

I had to break out the gloves while exploring a couple new wild trout streams.

This rainbow was a surprise visitor on a tributary known for brook trout.

Speaking of brook trout, another small stream produced natives…

…while the first snow melted.

“The 2018 Fly Fishing List” is stalled out at 19. Here’s where is stands so far:

1.Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
6. Northern Pike – Esox lucius
7. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides
8. Chain Pickerel – Esox niger
9. Black Crappie – Poxomis nigromaculatis
10. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
11. Bowfin – Amia calva
12. Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus
13. Common Shiner – Luxilus cornutus
14. Redbreast Sunfish – Lepomis auritus
15. Rock Bass – Ambloplites rupestris
16. Green Sunfish – Lepomis cyanellus
17. Smallmouth Bass – Micropterus dolomieu
18. Blacknose Dace – Rhinichthys obtusus
19. Kokanee Salmon – Oncorhynchus nerka

Queried Kokanee

Kokanee were a fish I had never caught, yet I had pondered for years. With no waters close by and only a few within a day’s drive, targeting this fish was a proposition full of questions and concerns. Most of these questions would have to be answered on the water, but the first had to be answered just to get the ball rolling.

Where and when to go? My friend and I chose a stocked lake. With little or no natural reproduction in this lake, fishing for spawners would have no impact on a future year class. With ethics out of the way, this would be an autumn trip for sure. We were not interested in eating them, so the condition of the meat was not a factor. The sight fishing aspect and spawning colors are awesome.

The next question was more of a concern. Would we catch anything if this kokanee thing was a bust? We were heading into unknown waters – quite literally. Neither of us had fished anywhere near this lake before. Fishing is never a lock. Some pre-trip research on the fishing options in that area allowed us to drive through the night and arrive at dawn with confidence high.

Like many fishing trips, it started with a chain pickerel. The Northkill boat net seems like overkill, but i did not want to chance losing my fly to sharp teeth.

Would we succeed in catching a kokanee? Hell yeah, we did! It did not take us long to locate fish. Once we found them, we were on the salmon board within minutes.

My fishing partner broke the salmon ice with his first Kokanee on the fly.

The next question: do they actually bite the fly or are we just “flossing”? They are filter feeders, after all. Add in the fact that they cease feeding when their focus turns to spawning. I had some doubt. I was going to have to see it myself.

The answer was as clear as the water. They didn’t hit every cast. In fact, they didn’t hit the majority of the presentations. When they did bite, it was obvious that they meant it. Whether it was predatory reflex or protecting their redds or whatever, they absolutely did strike our offerings.

This hen was next to take a fly; this time mine. The Kokanee Salmon – Oncorhynchus nerka just became #19 on my 2018 Flyfishing List.

Questioning success: what do we do if we drive all this way and catch what we were looking for as soon as we start? Do we hammer the same nail all day? Do we call it early and jump right back in the car?

As it turned out, we started with lemonade, it turned to lemons, and we turned it back into lemonade. We met our primary goals early, so when some jackass in an inflatable boat intolerably crowded our spot, we didn’t react negatively. We took this as a sign to move on and finish exploring the lake.

We broke out the Northkill Tackle spinning rods for efficiency, and covered some water. We found a solid population of brown and rainbow trout willing to take our lures. The trout would have been an acceptable safety net had the kokanee not come through. Nice to know for the future.

We took a little break for some trout on the spinning rods…

…and the trout eagerly obliged.

Questioning some details: would any of my “go to” spinning tactics appeal to kokanee? Based on our morning observations, most would have fallen short. Brightly colored 2.8″ Hawg Shads did seem like a promising lure choice – and they were. The kokanee hit them quite well. Hawg Shads never cease to amaze me with their multi-species versatility.

To follow up on a hunch, we got back on the Kokes (we can call them that now that we’ve caught them). Suspicion confirmed. Kokanee will hit a well presented Hawg Shad with bad intentions.

Look at those teeth! A #J304 Hawg Shad dangles from the upper jaw.

Just how long was this day going to be? We assumed from the start it was going to be a long one. Logistics made that obvious. We had success on multiple species with multiple techniques under our belts. We fished kokanee, we fished trout, back to more kokes, and don’t forget that bonus chain pickerel; we left at the end of a very full day.

One last release and we walked away content.

 

“The 2018 Fly Fishing List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
  5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  6. Northern Pike – Esox lucius
  7. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides
  8. Chain Pickerel – Esox niger
  9. Black Crappie – Poxomis nigromaculatis
  10. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  11. Bowfin – Amia calva
  12. Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus
  13. Common Shiner – Luxilus cornutus
  14. Redbreast Sunfish – Lepomis auritus
  15. Rock Bass – Ambloplites rupestris
  16. Green Sunfish – Lepomis cyanellus
  17. Smallmouth Bass – Micropterus dolomieu
  18. Blacknose Dace – Rhinichthys obtusus
  19. Kokanee Salmon – Oncorhynchus nerka

A Visit to a Brook Trout Stream…

…brought a smattering of diminutive Salvelinus fontinalis.

The surprise guest was this blacknose dace. It became #18 on the flyfishing list.

A bonus pumpkinseed from an adjacent pond added some more color to the day.

“The 2018 Fly Fishing List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
  5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  6. Northern Pike – Esox lucius
  7. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides
  8. Chain Pickerel – Esox niger
  9. Black Crappie – Poxomis nigromaculatis
  10. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  11. Bowfin – Amia calva
  12. Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus
  13. Common Shiner – Luxilus cornutus
  14. Redbreast Sunfish – Lepomis auritus
  15. Rock Bass – Ambloplites rupestris
  16. Green Sunfish – Lepomis cyanellus
  17. Smallmouth Bass – Micropterus dolomieu
  18. Blacknose Dace – Rhinichthys obtusus

This One Took Longer Than Expected

Fast forward a few weeks from the time of the trip in the last post. A return trip, this time with flyrod in hand, to that river yielded #17 on the flyrod list – Smallmouth Bass, Micropterus dolomieu, and lots of them. An unpredictable combination of destination and tackle choices lead to a delayed inclusion of this species on the 2018 fly fishing list. Better late than never. Better small than nonexistent.

Unlike last time, I was not fishing solo. I met up with a long time fishing partner for this one. Like my last trip, the river had a “B” side.

I wasn’t successful right out of the blocks this time. After half an hour or so, I had only landed one tiny smallie on one of my trusty streamers. I crossed paths with my buddy. He stared at me in disbelief when I told him of my sparse results. He said, “I’ve got at least six so far.” That second rod just shortened the learning curve for me.

Back in the flybox went my streamer. Out came a woolybugger and a Clouser crayfish for a tandem rig. It wasn’t exactly what my friend was using, but my combo was quite similar in appearance and productivity.

By swinging tandem nymph rigs, we both ended the morning well into the double digits. My friend even had a two species double with a smallmouth and a rockbass together on his rig. That change in tactics saved my day.

 

“The 2018 Fly Fishing List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  2. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar
  5. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  6. Northern Pike – Esox lucius
  7. Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmoides
  8. Chain Pickerel – Esox niger
  9. Black Crappie – Poxomis nigromaculatis
  10. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  11. Bowfin – Amia calva
  12. Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus
  13. Common Shiner – Luxilus cornutus
  14. Redbreast Sunfish – Lepomis auritus
  15. Rock Bass – Ambloplites rupestris
  16. Green Sunfish – Lepomis cyanellus
  17. Smallmouth Bass – Micropterus dolomieu

Two Rivers In One – or Maybe Three

Summer travel left me with a few hours to kill in a strange town. The logical thing to do was some fish prospecting. Small rivers with smallmouth bass seemed to be the most likely target in this region. Pre-trip planning gave me a couple waters and few access points to explore.

With ultralight in hand, I hit the water at mid-morning. Within minutes I was into a scrappy little smallmouth. First river, first spot, first lure; it was all clicking. The action continued. They took a tiny jerkbait at almost every piece of cover or likely run. This stream seemed like a dense monoculture of Micropterus dolomieu. What they lacked in size, they made up for in cooperative spirit.

My free time was running short. It was time to fish my way back to the car. Since I had just covered this water with the jerkbait, I thought a switch to an different lure might yield more results. An ultralight spinnerbait seemed like a promising choice.

Right off the bat, I was catching fish on the new lure. There was one difference. Now they were rockbass – exclusively rockbass. The same pools that just minutes ago seemed to only contain smallmouth now seemed like they only held rockbass.

What was my takeaway here? Experimentation isn’t just for the desperate times. Sometimes, even when the fish are biting on plan A, there is something more to learn by trying a plan B.

As a closer, I followed a hunch. I switched to a micro-jig and plucked a couple redbreast sunfish from a slow pool upstream from the fast stretch I just fished. That was three species for a “small river slam” to finish the day.