So, 2019 has come and gone and the Fly Fishing Species list has remained dormant for months. You may wonder why. The answer is simple and complicated at the same time. The simple answer is, I lost interest.
The complicated answer is an explanation of why I lost interest. It started out fun – maybe even more fun than last year. It was a second shot at the previous year’s goal. Before too long I realized I was just going through the motions for the sake of clicking fish names off a list, or rather onto a list. It was turning recreation into desk work.
It’s the same reason that I don’t keep a log or compete in tournaments. I understand why lists and logs and tournaments are great for other people. They just aren’t for me. I fish for the fishing. Whether it’s bass or bowfin or bluegill, I like to make that choice based on what’s the best bite or just the most enjoyable experience at the time – no side agendas, no paperwork.
You only get so many days on the water. If there’s a good catfish bite on cutbait, I don’t want to feel obligated to spend the day fly fishing for crappies. The reverse would be true as well.
The 2019 fly fishing species list shall end at just 12. That is a humble number, but it was part of a great year of fishing overall. Good luck to everyone in 2020.
I recently had the opportunity to fish some new waters. The top dog at Northkill Tackle was planning a camping and fishing trip in the middle of nowhere. He had room in his camper, and I had room in my schedule. It was perfect timing.
Maybe it’s not fair to say the middle of nowhere, but you could see it from there. More important than the remoteness was the variety of water types in the area. I got to sample four different waters, and there are more. It was a fishing cornucopia.
Day one started early for me. I had a few hours to drive. Half of that was before the sun rose. Coffee, snacks, and the promise of fishing kept me alert behind the wheel.
I arrived at the campground and found the Northkill mobile headquarters without too much trouble. The camper was a cushier set up than I was expecting. Running water, electric, Seinfeld on the TV; I can see why there’s a market for those things.
My past camping experience had mostly been the tent kind. I did have a childhood friend with access to pop-up campers, but that was a long time ago. Camping for me was generally some acceptable discomfort for convenience or cost cutting. Anyway, enough about the micro-hotel on wheels. This was a fishing trip.
After a quick breakfast we packed up for the first venue. It was a boulder strewn, freestone trout stream We were rigged up for tightline nymph fishing. My expectations were low. I wasn’t prepped with glorious fish stories. The preface for this stream was a story of the sentimental significance. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. The foliage was beautiful too.
Well, the stream gods were listening. They gave us what we asked for. We bugged out at midday with no fish landed and maybe two strikes between us. It was fishing, not catching. Time to mix things up.
We needed a sure thing for the PM session. A short drive and a shorter walk brought us to a mountainside trickle inhabited by native brook trout. We leapfrogged our way up the creek with our lightest fly rods. The resident fish were plentiful and hungry. Most pools at least produced strikes. Many produced one or more landed fish. This was a great water for field testing the prototype Northkill Native net.
The Native is a net with a small hoop and a deliberately short handle. This reduces weight, and presents less length & surface area to catch on the bushes & boulders that line mountain streams. Aesthetically, it pairs nicely with the diminutive tackle that is so effective on native brook trout streams. It’s the two weight of nets.
Back to the stream. The afternoon was as much about catching as it was about fishing. Our final tally could be measured in dozens. These weren’t big fish. Some were no longer than the beech leaves that covered the ground. What they lacked in size, they made up for in color and cooperative spirit. We wrapped it up before the sun set, and headed back to the glampsite.
The next day started early. We wanted to squeeze in a trip to a local lake before the forecasted afternoon rains arrived. We loaded up a cartop boat and were on our way to what I thought was the final venue.
This was planned to be mainly a spinning trip. The pre-frontal winds made sure it stayed that way. We used a mix of plugs & plastics, and found success with both largemouth bass & chain pickerel. The rain was drawing near. We both had things to do, so we stuck a fork in it before noon. This warmwater fishery had been a perfect, complimentary juxtaposition to yesterday’s trout fishing.
Before I left the glampground, it was suggested that I scout out Lake Such-n-such on the way home. Sure enough, 15 or 20 minutes down the road I see a sign for the lake. I better check it out.
It was a good looking body of water. It was a moderate sized lake. There were some visible weedbeds. The surrounding topography lead me to believe there were some steep shorelines too. Then it happened. I caught a glimpse of movement. It was time to stop looking and go fishing one more time.
After a little more observation I was fairly certain they were trout cruising a shallow flat. I still had a small minnow plug on my ultralight. I tried that first, then a few different soft plastic presentations, then a spoon. Nothing garnered more than a follow. At least the followers revealed they were indeed trout.
I ran back to the vehicle and grabbed my two weight, a rig I normally reserve for the smallest trout streams and panfish applications. With the rain almost upon me, I didn’t want to waste time rigging a bigger rod.
Bucking a stiff wind, I was maybe casting 20 or 25 feet with the six foot something fiberglass rod. On about the third or fourth cast with a leech fly I had a take. As soon as the line came tight the trout went full berserker mode. On one of its jumps it actually hit dry land and bounced back into the water. Somehow the barbless fly stayed secure in the jaw. After a few more jumps, a couple short surging runs, I slipped my Native net under a healthy rainbow.
I’d like to say I released it and walked away a winner as the rain began to fall, but I can’t. I did release it, but I also stuck around casting until the drizzle turned to a driving rain. I didn’t get another bite. At least I caught a fish and maybe found a new fishing spot for another time.
2. Affix the dumbell eyes or bead chains eyes of your choice. I like to add a bit of nail polish/head cement at this point.
3. Add a little lead wire behind the eyes, and tie in a a few strands of Krystal Flash to start forming a tail. Sorry about the blurry pic.
4. Top the Krystal Flash with marabou.
5. Top the marabou with 4 or 5 full strands of pearl Flashabou at an equal or slightly shorter length. Do not trim off the long ends.
6. Fold the long ends of Flashabou back, and tie in a few inches of metallic braid.
7. Bring the metallic braid forward in overlapping wraps to form a tapered body.
8. Wrap the long ends of the Flashabou forward with no gaps. This adds a smooth, pearl iridescence to the metallic braid. Build a head with thread and whip finish. Top the body and head with a thin layer of clear coat for strength.
9. Add the Hickory Shad to the 2019 Fly Fishing Species List.
Landlocked Atlantic salmon are probably the most delicate fish I target. Keep them out of the water too long, they go belly up. Fish in warm water, they go belly up. Look at them the wrong way, they go belly up.
To add to the problem, they have no quit in their fight. They make runs, they jump, they bulldog. Once in the boat, they flip, they flop, they spin like sharks. They just don’t know when to give up. They’re too scrappy for their own good.
I started as a 100% netter. Any LLS I brought to boat I scooped up with a net, and brought it aboard. That seemed like the logical approach. Unfortunately, it just opened a new can of worms.
Typically, when you bring landlocks in the boat, they go ape shit. They have no regard for their own safety. They don’t just thrash a bit. They spin, and they spin fast. This snaps leaders, breaks split rings, and sinks in extra hook points. Possibly worst of all, that spinning will often roll the salmon up in the line or leader. That can cause physical injuries, but it also delays the release while you untangle them adding to their stress.
I have tried boatside releases. Just bring the salmon beside the boat, reach down with pliers, and pull the hook out. This can work well in the right situation. Add in a lure with trebles or a fly that you don’t want to destroy, and it’s suddenly a bad idea. Now, I rarely use this method.
The best approach I have found is a hybrid of the two. Net the fish at boatside, but don’t lift it out of the water. The fish will remain calm – relatively speaking. After the hook is removed, lower the net a little to create a pool in which the fish can recover. Once the fish is upright and free swimming, tilt the net below the surface. It will swim off.
If you are in a moving boat, do this at the stern. There will be slack water there. The fish won’t get pinned in the net. Recovery and release will be stress-free
With that bit of advice, here is Number 6 on The List, the Landlocked Atlantic Salmon, Salmo salar sebago.
So back to “The List”. A warm day and a little free time presented the opportunity to chase down another flyrod species for 2019.
Right out of the blocks, I hooked up with a little wild rainbow. A pretty fish, but not what I was looking for. Keep working.
Stoneflies were fluttering around. It was nice to see some insect life. I won’t miss the winter.
A watersnake even came out to catch a little solar energy.
My next catch was a slightly larger rainbow.
Followed by a brown trout,
and another brown trout.
Finally, I hit pay dirt. On my first cast into a big pool that I call the “Chub Hole”, this beautiful specimen ate my nymph. The Creek Chub became number four on The List. The “Chub Hole” lived up to its name by producing several fish like this before it was time to call it quits.
I took one last shot at winter striped bass last week, and pulled some nice schoolies. The local lakes have lost their ice. Other species are readily available, and it’s time to give those stripers a rest.
Hello spring species! Now, I’m working on the early spring patterns that develop right after ice-out. I will see the striped guys again, but not until they are chasing shad and herring later in the spring.