Brook Trout, Speckled Trout, Brookie…

… and now #2 on my 2018 flyfishing list.

Last week, I set a goal to catch 20 different species of fish on the flyrod by the end of the year. This week, mild weather gave me the chance to add to the list.

Being my first visit to this particular, small mountain stream, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Thankfully, I found some native brook trout receptive to my flies. Here’s the release of the first one:

A large mouth and a matching appetite make brookies vulnerable to over fishing. Whether mandated by your state or not, careful catch and release is the rule within their native range. These beautiful fish are slow to grow, slow to reproduce, and too valuable to be caught just once.

Brook trout are clearly one of the prettiest freshwater fish.
Brook trout are a “State Fish” for at least 9 of the 50 states (some recognize multiple species). As much as that shows a lack of imagination, it also reflects the iconic position of the species.

“The List” so far:

  1. Brown Trout
  2. Brook Trout

Winter Musings With a Goal

My fishing habits and preferences are continuously changing. I used to think of it as a circular path, but it’s really more like a jumble of old monofilament. It’s sort of like a spiral, but with many points of unpredictable intersection.

I was born into spin fishing and have jumped around between spinning/baitcasting and flyfishing since I was a teen. There was a period of several years where flyfishing was clearly my preferred method, but I never fully put away the conventional tackle. For the last decade or two the flyrod has been a tool reserved for special occasions.

That doesn’t make sense. When I do break out the flyrod, I always have the same thought; I should do more of this. I enjoy almost every aspect of it. I like the casting, the fight on the long rod, the finesse, the fly tying, even the reduced weight when traveling is nice.

I have heard more than one person say this in varying terms. If you want to switch to flyfishing: sell your spinning tackle, put your spinning rods in the closet, don’t bring spinning tackle on the boat etc., etc. That is too miltant to me. Plus, it leaves a lot of meat on the bone.

I came up with a better psychological strategy to implement more flyfishing in my schedule. I’m going to challenge myself to catch 20 different species on the flyrod by the end of the year. Why 20? First I thought ten would be enough, but there’s probably five intentional gimmees and another five common bycatch in my local haunts. Without making a list and over-thinking it, I semi-ambiguously decided on twenty species. That’s it.

The game is afoot!

#1 Brown Trout. What this wild brown lacked in size, he made up for in significance as the first species on my 2018 flyfishing list.

Flatty New Year!

2017 was a year of consistency over size. I’ll take that – for now anyway.

A nice one from some butt-clenching, high water.
I didn’t think they made flatheads that small.
A nice fish to cap a strong morning.
After changes in weather, tactics and location, it was a return to the original plan on spot #1 for more like this.
And, the one that got away.

Mixed Doubles Through the Year

Whats more fun than catching a fish? Catching two at the same time.

How could that get more interesting? Simultaneously catching two different species, of course.

A small pond double header of largemouth bass and black crappie in the early spring.
A river twofer of smallmouth bass and channel catfish on a summer float trip.
Early fall brings some great panfish opportunities like this bluegill and black crappie combo.
The cool water of the late fall sparks salmonid activity. This RBT and LLS pair will attest to that.

One from winter: the pic at the top shows a mixed double of rainbow trout and chain pickerel captured over deep water. They were sharing that location to feed on a school of alwives. Notice the third fish in the net. That alewife was barfed up by the pickerel. The gamefish were released unharmed. The alewife was DOA or maybe DOB.

Roadside Opportunities

This is a tactic I employ far too infrequently, and I’m actually prepared this time. I’ve got a rod & reel and some good searching lures. I’m on the way home from a road trip with a loose schedule. An interesting bridge over a steep valley makes me instantly curious.

A short, steep hike through misty rhododendrons and cedars reveals a midsize freestone stream. I’m thinking – smallmouth for sure!

Fish #1: a leeping, pink finned rainbow trout is a nice surprise.

Fish #2: a little smallmouth bass. That’s more like what I was expecting. A couple more of those and it’s time to move upstream.

A deep, slow pool yields a mix of largemouth, smallmouth, and sunfish.

Rivaling the rainbow, this bluegill may have been the gem of the day with shades of purple, turquois, and burnt orange.

Turning a monotonous grind into a mini adventure is as simple as being prepared and being willing to stop. A rod & reel and a small box of confidence lures is all the equipment you need. Most importantly, you have to stop. If you don’t stop and try, you’ll never know.

Crappie Identification Methods

Crappies come in two varieties – black and white. You would think with descriptive names like that, telling the two species apart would be as easy as, well, black and white. For a crappie beginner, the differences may not be that obvious. For example; the very light colored fish at the top is not a white crappie. It is a black crappie.

The round body and an overall mottled color pattern signifies a black crappie.
An elongated profile and mottling arranged in bars identifies a white crappie.

The most conspicuous difference is the patteren on the sides of the fish. The white crappie has dark blotches arranged in bars. The black crappie wears his blotches in an evenly distributed pattern.

Body shape is another ID cue. Black crappies have a more round silhouette. White crappies are more “stretched out”, and have a little more of a snout.

A white crappie with 5 dorsal spines.
A black crappie with 8 dorsal spines.

The most analytical identification characteristic is a count of the rigid spines of the dorsal fin, A white crappie will have 5 to 6 spines. A black crappie will have 7 to 8 spines. When in doubt, a quick count of the spines will provide a near certain identification.

The range and preferred habitats of the two species overlap quite a bit. In my area, the black crappie is the dominant species. In other areas, the white is the dominant crappie. In either instance, it is still quite common to run into both species during the course of a season, or even in a single day. With these three methods to differentiate the two species, you will always be sure of a proper ID.

A pair of text book black crappies.
A classic example of a white crappie.

Yet Another Use For the Uni Knot

1. Pass several inches of line through the eye of the hook.
2. Loop the line along the shank of the hook.
3. Wrap the tag end through the loop and around the shank about 5 times.
4. Moisten the line and draw it partially tight. I find it is easier to control if you start this process near the bend of the hook rather than near the eye.
5. Moisten the hook shank, slide the knot up to the eye, and draw the knot fully tight. Trim the tag to a reasonable length.

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Three Steps to a Handy Spool Tender

This great way to store and dispense line or leader from 1/4 pound spools. It’s a neater and cleaner solution than rubberbands or tape. It reduces tangles in your tackle bag while protecting the line from indadvertent UV exposure.

Step 1: Remove beer can from koozie, and pour beer into a chilled mug.
Step two: Replace can with line spool. Allow a couple inches of line to extend out the top for dispensing.
Step three: Admire double entendre fishing logo and tangle free line handing capability.

Sunfish, Sunfish, and More Sunfish

Sunfish generally don’t get enough credit. They were the “first fish” for many of us. Their colors rival any tropical species. Ounce for ounce, most of them put up quite a fight. Despite all that, they are often lumped together as one fish, or even overlooked altogether. Here’s an individual look at some of the major players and their characteristics.

The Bluegill is probably the most widespread and commonly encountered sunfish. A small mouth, solid black “ear”, and subtle blue shading on the lower part of the gill cover indicate a Bluegill.
A red and white trimmed “ear” and yellow to orange spots across the sides give away the Pumpkinseed’s identity. During spawning season you may see lots of blue coloration as well. See the close up pic at top.
The Redbreast Sunfish is most often caught in flowing water. Its orange to red breast, long black ear flap, and reddish highlights to the tail and soft part of the dorsal fin are good identifiers.
Predictibly, Rock Bass are most often found in rocky rivers or lakes. Red eyes, and black dotted lines on a golden brown background are a sure sign of a Rock Bass.
The aggressive Green Sunfish uses its large mouth to eat most any bait or lure that you put in front of it. A greenish overall color, with blue dots along the sides, and bright orange anal and pelvic fin are the best indicators of a Green Sunfish. They produce a large and beautiful hybrid when they cross with a bluegill.
The large eyes give the Warmouth the nickname goggle eye. Mottled sides and a large mouth are also good indicators of a Warmouth.
The Redear is often called shellcracker for its love of mollusks. As the name implies, the Redear Sunfish has a short red tipped “ear” on the operculum. Faint vertical bars are generally present . This one is the heavyweight of the sunfish world, with a record well over 5 pounds.
The Longear Sunfish is the true jewel of the sunfish world. If the spectacular coloration isn’t enough, look for a long black ear flap trimmed in white.