Bracingly-cold water during a heat wave, many fish on dry flies and a new experience.
The Mrs. and I learned a few months ago that we would be empty nesters for a few summer weeks and for the first time ever. She suggested that I take her fly fishing. She had never been.
Sign. Me. Up.
So, we just finished a long weekend up at the Trophy Stretch area in Pittsburg, NH (overview here), where I taught all of our children to fly fish. We stayed at Tall Timber Lodge for what was my 14th stay. It’s tough to beat their friendly staff, the beautiful lake views and their ridiculously good restaurant. Their sunsets are amazing.
We arrived around lunch time on our first day and immediately got to the river, where I taught Euronymphing to my wife. Whether it was luck or her skills, she landed over 20 fish in a few hours and was really happy about that.
I really enjoyed teaching her. She threw dries or wets 90% of the time and chucked a bobber almost rarely. She didn’t tightline after the first day, as the dry-fly and wet-fly action was so great and produced huge numbers of fish.
I would introduce each technique to her and then hand her the fly rod, initially offering suggestions and, as soon as possible, retreating to the bank to give her freedom. I would go back into the water to switch flies for her, untangle some tippet occasionally, and net her fish. She had a great time, and I was pleased to be of service.
Then, once she got the hang of one technique, or if the action slowed, we moved to the next one. It was interesting to see fly fishing through the eyes of a complete rookie.
At some spots, the Euro Dry Dropper method with a big fly was deadly. But, for most days, it was all about floating dries and swinging wets that were size 20 and smaller.
She caught browns, salmon parr, rainbows of various sizes, and some extremely pretty and feisty brookies. The brook trout always stole the show. They fought well, seemed the most cautious and had some glorious colors.
For lunch each day, we went to the Happy Corner Café and enjoyed their homemade desserts, too. It is tough to outdo their frozen mud pie. For a break, on one afternoon, the nice folks at Lopstick let her practice casting at their pond.
For the morning of our departure, she decided to eschew fishing and suggested that I hit the river alone. So, I arrived before dawn and waited for rises. Once they started, I cast my 000-wt. at some slow and shallow spots and landed a double-digit number on small dries. It was a joy to see a rise, creep to within casting distance and pick off a fish.
Two brook trout were the best fish of the morning.
We had a great time, and I am sure we will go on more fly-fishing trips together. This trip was really fun, and I think fly fishing can be good for marriages.
A blog reader, Jack, is going to the Trophy Stretch this week, and I thought I’d share in more detail what we saw and what worked for us. Your mileage my vary, but here are some perspectives, which I will follow up with some advice:
- The water below First Connecticut Lake Dam is heating up quickly. On one day, it was 58 °F at dawn; two days later, it was 62 °F. Further south, it was up to 68 °F at noon.
- The morning Caddis hatch was very strong. The afternoon mayfly hatch was decent. Bugs were small overall. Rises started for the morning hatch at around 5 am. Rises re-started around 5 pm.
- We didn’t find any good-sized salmon at the spots that usually produce. I think they’re closer to the dam, where the water is coldest and which we didn’t fish, or have dropped back to the lake.
- There are oodles of small rainbows everywhere and were easy to catch. The brook trout were harder to dupe.
- The shore was loaded with small Black Caddis.
My 2 cents:
- Target the colder water. Fish will be more active, and you’re less likely to harm them if the water is below 70 °F.
- Hit the river by 4.45 am. You want to be in position by the time fish start rising.
- Start fishing with dries off the bank. Do not enter the water until you’ve thoroughly fished the quiet tail outs and the slow water near the shore. Those spots look devoid of fish but are actually loaded with them.
- For the dry fly, fish small Caddis patterns. Midge patterns did OK for us, mayfly patterns did not. Roughly 50% of our fish came on dries (we did dries-or-die most of the time and even eschewed the dropper).
- For nymphing or swinging wet flies, use soft hackles in sizes 20 or 22. The Mighty Midge absolutely crushed it and accounted for dozens of trout. Caddis pupae in sizes 18 and 20 also did very well. Those two patterns, along with a Caddis dry, accounted for 80% of the fish, the more I think about it.
- Once the sun hits the water, the rises will stop and things will get tougher. Swing wets (more below), tightline the deeper runs and dry-dropper the bubbly water. Avoid bobbers, if you can; I’m convinced they spook fish now that they’re educated and associate the splash of a bobber with a hookset. Use bobbers, though, if you find extremely deep water and are trying to dupe fish that are resting and not actively feeding, which we did and quickly stopped, as it was pretty boring.
- Once the sun is up, target the deeper slots and chutes and the shaded parts of the river. Fish don’t have eyelids, as the saying goes; when the sun is up, the fish move to dark water or shady spots.
- Find long bubbly runs and swing wet flies at the tail outs. Make sure you get deep enough and don’t be afraid to lose flies. The fish wanted very slow swings, FYI. Swinging wets did well for us. I suspect 40% of our fish came from this technique. Sub-surface wise, the trout were keyed on small bugs that were swinging or rising.
- Take a long lunch and even a nap during high noon. Go back to the river in the late afternoon. Float some Caddis dries to mimic the bugs that have returned to lay their eggs. Bouncing Caddis can work, too, but has a short life span; the fish either respond right away or will not at all.