On Sunday, Doover2 and I took a trip to the Chesterfield Gorge to fish the most beautiful trout river in Massachusetts: the East Branch of the Westfield River (our overview here). In the seven years I’ve lived in New England, I’ve averaged five to six trips a year there, but this year with the drought and everything, Sunday’s fishing expedition was my third and final trip of the year.
And, going there is an expedition indeed. It takes about 2.5 hours to get there from Arlington, counting the slow crawl down the boulder-ridden dirt road that parallels the river.
There’s literally miles of wade-able water, and even a mediocre fisherman like me can find trout from May until mid-July when the water gets warm. Things pick up again in mid-September through early November. I’ve both hit the jackpot and I’ve been skunked on the East Branch, but most of the time I’ve been somewhere in the middle.
This was Doover2’s second trip to the river. D2 has been fly fishing for about a year in New England, and I’ve been trying to show him the ropes a little bit, which is the blind leading the blind. We went there in early May and the water was a bit too high to wade. I managed to bring a few to the net. D2 struck out, which is testimony to my ability as a guide.
This time, I was hopeful that D2 would see another side of the East Branch and come to love it like I do.
As you’ll recall, last Friday and Saturday were very cold and blustery days. We decided to wait until things warmed up a bit and arrived at the river about 10:30 am on Sunday as the temperature on my car’s outside thermometer was showing 38 degrees. I decided to start up near the gorge in an area I had never fished before. Doover2 and I started together, then he went upstream and I went downstream. Poor D2, the upstream water he chose didn’t look nearly as promising as downstream. He didn’t even ask me with what he should fish. He’ll learn.
The water level was great and the runs I fished looked really fishy. My drifts were as drag-free as silk on Teflon. I was using a perfectly tied soft hackle pheasant tail behind an irresistible Pat’s Rubber legs. If there were fish in that section of the EB, they didn’t stand a chance.
Forty minutes later I was walking up the road to find D2 to tell him it was either too cold for the fish to eat or there just weren’t any trout in this part of the river. As soon as D2 saw me, he started waving me towards him excitedly. He already had brought three to the net and had one long distance release.
He showed me the place I ought to try and insisted that I fish it while he took some lesser water. What a guy! I actually felt guilty for fishing in the best spot while the novice cheered me on. Talk about mixed emotions: I wanted like anything to get the skunk off, but felt bad about taking his spot. As it turned out, I couldn’t catch a fish there, so I moved out of the spot and watched D2 catch another. Talk about role reversal and being humbled…. I felt as low as a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.
After that pool stopped producing, we drove downstream to some of my favorite pocket water. Again, D2 went upstream and I went downstream. I decided that maybe my perfectly tied soft hackle pheasant tail didn’t look as good to the fish as it did to me, so I took a lesson from D2’s success and put on a squirmy wormy along with a soft hackle hares ear.
I fished several promising runs with nothing to show for it. In my mind, I started writing this article with headlines like “New Blogflyfish writer gets kicked off the staff because he can’t catch newly stocked trout.” “Hager celebrates No-Fish November with no fish.” “Trout Unlimited refunds Hager’s annual dues, suggests he use refund to take fishing lessons.”
Just as I was beginning to feel the gloom of realizing that I had driven all the way out to western Massachusetts and back with nothing to show for it, I felt a bump. I didn’t have time to set the hook on it, but then a few seconds later on the same drift I felt another bump and set the hook. At long last, something was pulling on the other end of my line! Hallelujah!
As I peered through the water to get a glimpse, I realized that there was not one trout on my line, but two. I hastily began to revise my article, “Move over, George Daniel”.
I managed to catch three more rainbows along that 40-yard stretch and had another one come unbuttoned. D2 had returned from upriver without success and was anxious to find another spot. We stopped at a deep slow pool. I caught a 14” rainbow on a midge and we watched some spincast guys pull a few nice ones out. Apart from those guys, we only saw one other fisherman all day.
I needed to get back on the road by 4:30 pm, so with an hour before we had to leave, we stopped at a stretch that had lots of different types of water – deep, fast, slow, riffles, pocket water, eddies, and pools – within about 150 yards of each other. It had begun to rain and was getting darker. D2 started at a spot where I had caught several trout the last time we had fished there. I started at the bottom of the area and was working quickly towards the top of it, not wanting to miss any of it before we had to leave.
By the time I got to the top, D2 had caught up with me. I don’t think I had moved a fish. There was one last thirty yard long pool to fish. D2 started at the bottom of the pool and I went up to the head. It was raining harder at that point and I was pretty well convinced that we weren’t going to catch any more fish.
After a couple of fruitless casts, I decided to move downstream a few steps. My line was in the water as I stumbled on a rock. As I regained my balance and took out the slack in my line, I realized that there was a fish on the other end, waiting for me to bring him in. Sometimes luck is better than skill. With it almost 4:30, I motioned for D2 to come try the spot where I had just scored a trout. Three casts later, he sets the hook and brings in a nice rainbow.
We left the Westfield with smiles on our faces, each having caught a trout on our last cast of the day.