January to July – A Mid-Year Review

It has been awhile since my last post. Thankfully, that is because I have been fishing too much! As always, thanks for reading and be sure to comment below with techniques that have been giving you success on the water in 2016!


In early January, I set a 2016 goal to catch a trout in 20 new Pennsylvanian trout streams as a way of forcing myself to develop my skill at pursuing and fooling trout, rather than simply learning how to fish a particular stream. It seems that just yesterday that we were welcoming in a new year, but suddenly July 4th has passed and we are over half way done with 2016!

Fortunately, I have been keeping pace with my goal, and have logged 14 new Pennsylvanian trout streams to date. They have ranged from large rivers such as Pine and Penn’s Creeks, to secretive blue-line gems. It has been a great half-year of fishing, and I have watched my ability to reliably fool trout increase as a result.

Below are a few principles and techniques I have found consistently helpful in producing fish thus far this year.

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Many of my most beautiful trout so far have come from small creeks found tucked in steep valleys, such as this Brown pulled from Roaring Branch in Tioga County, PA.

  1. A trout must eat. Thus, they are never uncatchable.

Over the past 6 months, I have encountered snow-banked creeks with water temperatures nearing the mid-30s, and also sun-bathed pools measuring close to 70 degrees (I try to avoid fishing in water much warmer than this). Similar in contrast, I have cast my line into the high waters of early spring, as well as into summer riffles drained of ¾ of their typical flow. This is the nature of fishing in the mid-Atlantic, where it is not uncommon to experience the bitter cold of winter and the heat and humidity of summer within a handful of weeks. Extremes in fishing conditions definitely play a role in the success of an angler, but in my opinion they are far less affectual than most people make them out to be.

Fruitful fishing in such conditions often requires patience. The fish may not be feeding how you wanted or expected them to, but nonetheless, they will still feed. A weekend spent in Clinton County fishing Hammersley Fork this spring comes to mind as a time when I was taught this lesson. The wooded, mountainous creek had yet to warm adequately from its icy winter state, and a fishless morning all but extinguished my excitement for a productive weekend. Out of ideas, my two friends and I sat on a streamside log, ate lunch, and shot the breeze. Without us even realizing it was happening, the day gradually morphed into one of those early spring days with a bright enough sun to make it feel like summer. By the time we ran out of things to discuss, the stream temperature had risen over six degrees. We immediately began spotting and catching gorgeous wild brook trout, and could not keep them off of our lines until evening came.

 

  1. The dry-dropper is a deadly presentation technique – on all sizes of streams.

Throughout the summer months, trout will often feed both subsurface and on top. Fishing a dry-dropper combination is the perfect way to “cover your bases”, and increase the number of trout you catch. On an early-May morning at Pine Creek, I was able to pull 6 large trout out of a long and moderate riffle by fishing a Prince Nymph under an Elk-Hair Caddis – All in less than an hour and a half of fishing. I had equal amount of takes on the dry as I did the nymph, proving the effectiveness of my strategy!

One of the fat Pine Creek browns that fell victim to my Elk-Hair Caddis.

One of the fat Pine Creek browns that fell victim to my Elk-Hair Caddis.

However, the main reason I fish a dry-dropper so frequently is that a well-hackled dry fly provides the perfect suspension device and sighter when fishing shallow to medium depth riffles. I have always used this method with great success when fishing small streams, however only recently have I begun to frequently fish this way on larger water. The results have been similar! I have found that a buoyant dry fly is able to keep a significantly weighted nymph suspended in the water column without sinking. For example, I often fish a size 10-12 tungsten nymph under a size 12 Parachute Adams or Elk-Hair Caddis and have no problem keeping the dry fly afloat. This allows me cast further and drift longer, while still being instantly alerted if a trout decides to intercept my nymph.

 

  1. The fisherman who catches the most fish, is often the one who is most adept at a variety of strike detection techniques.

Prepare yourself for a bold statement: A drag-free drift is almost always essential to fool trout when fishing nymphs (Just kidding, everyone knows that). However, assuming you are a fisherman who enjoys hooking and netting fish, strike detection is just as important. Unfortunately, these nymphing truths run counter to each other, as strike detection relies on a slackless connection with a nymph, thus inhibiting its ability to drift naturally. Over the past 6-10 months, I have noticed my nymphing productivity double, and I attribute all of this growth to the increased focus I have learned to place on strike detection.

A few techniques I would suggest are:

  • When tight-lining heavy pocket water that requires “flipping” instead of casting, I use a tippet ring and a tag-dropper for a double nymph rig, instead of tying a trailing fly off of the bend of the hook. Put your anchor (heaviest) fly on the bottom, and keep your leader in tight connection with it, allowing your tag fly to undulate in the current. My tag will commonly be 3-5”, and I place it 18-24” above my anchor fly. Utilizing this method, I have found myself detecting strikes a few milliseconds sooner, which makes larger impact on hook-ups than you may think, particularly when fishing over pressured, fly-wise trout.
  • Another tight-lining tip is to use some type of sighter. I recently began using Loon Outdoors Biostrike Putty Indicator to give my eyes something to key on when attempting to pick up on slight hesitations in the drift. It is amazing how much easier it is to detect strikes by sight, rather than feel! Additionally, the sighter gives the angler a gauge for how deep his flies are drifting, which he can adjust by simply holding the it higher or lower in relation to the water surface.
  • When current becomes more even, and long, riffly runs develop through shallow to medium depth water, the dry-dropper combo becomes my method of choice. As detailed above, it is a fantastic suspension device that is unobtrusive and naturally draws attention to the nymph below. And if a trout decides to sip the dry-fly, all the better!

 


With as much fun as fishing the first half of 2016 has been, I can’t wait to fish the remaining months, and I hope to find six more new streams in which I can fool a trout!

Tight Lines,

Ethan

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