The heat and lack of wind in Massachusetts the other week were absolutely stifling. Just getting back from the Scottish Highlands, the abrupt shift in weather was draining. But, then, recent rains provided a much needed relief for me and, more importantly, the rivers.
I had driven around looking for a river to cast in that wasn’t a tailwater, and all my thin blue lines were mostly gravel beds with holes and trickles of tepid water. The middle fork of the Westfield was barely existent.
I had been hoping that even with the heat, I could beat it for a bit in the wee hours. I was already up, since I was still adjusting my sleep schedule from the flight home. Seeing those rivers, I knew there was nothing to find that would be safe for the fish, so I turned around and drove to the main stem.
I must remind my fellow fly fishermen, the potency of the humble crawdad pattern. And, the voracity of the prideful smallmouth.
For two hours, I caught a smallmouth, on average, every third cast. None of these were beasts, no tanks, no toads, no sows, etc. Nothing topped 12 inches. But on a light fly rod, with a Stimulator on top as an indicator and a mini-crawfish as a dropper, I was having a blast back on home turf.
I probably landed near three to four dozen smallies that day. I even hooked up a holdover rainbow. Thankfully, it seemed to recover well, and I sent it on its way (if I thought it wasn’t recovering well, I wouldn’t have had any qualms about bonking it on the head and taking it home for dinner).
Shortly after that day, the first good cooling rain made trout fishing realistic again, so I went back to a couple little spots on the Westfield and tried my luck late one evening.
The water was a decent (read: safe for the fish) temperature, hiding under some trees, cooled by the rains, and dropping as the daylight did. I was letting a big foam Chubby Chernobyl float past the pool I was in when a face arose out of the depths that I thought was broad enough to belong to a striper. It bumped the white bug and in sheer excitement and surprise, I set the hook and nearly lost an eye. I knew I shouldn’t have and knew I had blown the chance on what was actually a big-looking bully of a rainbow.
I stopped, plucked the fly out of my hat, cut it off and put it back on my hat brim, alongside a collection of other flies from the last several weeks and waited. And, watched. And, watched.
For about 40 minutes, I didn’t see any rises. But, in this pool, the rainbows were pushing small schools of what I assumed were dace into the shallows on charging runs. In the UK, they use little foam white minnows cut into the shape of a stereotype fish that a three-year old draws (read: also my artistic skill level) to use as an indicator fly but also because it works to simulate distressed baitfish on the top. I figured I could do the same.
So, using a small white unweighted streamer, I picked out my location to cast to and draw across the pool after a few moments of calm water. I launched it and, to my chagrin, totally flubbed the backcast but still managed to make it to the rough approximation of the area I was interested in. With the most ear-splitting SPLAT imaginable, the line and fly came down in the calm stillness of the river. I started to pull it back in thinking once again I had scared the fish to the depths.
Instead, a rocket of silver emerged from the depths, gulping the fly like a Mountain Dew commercial. My jaw must have been as agape as it was. It managed to set itself from the speed and momentum of the strike, thankfully, because I certainly didn’t.
Once I woke back up from the dream-time, I played it as quickly as I could. But, it went on two gigantic runs into the deep pool, each time finishing off a return to the surface with an astounding display of acrobatics. Three separate leaps I was gifted with before I was able to tire it, bring it to net, and unhook the fish. We were both exhausted, but, with some recuperation in the current, it went back to the depths leaving me a richer man with a tale of 16 inches of silver come to hand. It was my only fish that day. And, it was a good day for it.
Lessons from the first trips back on home turf:
- Check the water temp and play it safe for the fish (but it seems that fall is just around the corner!)
- Crawdads are not just for smallmouth
- It’s worth watching for a second chance
- It ain’t over until it’s over, even when you seem to mess up that second chance
I should be writing to you about some fabulous brown trout fishing I was lucky enough to partake in after hours during my summer field while I was in Scotland. However, I am going to dedicate a couple posts in the future to where I was, what I learned, and some of the more interesting flies and techniques I came across.
But, until then, it’s good to be back home, y’all.