Paradise Lost (Almost)

There’s one pool on the Deerfield River that I can always count on – almost.  I know I’m in denial, but I’d like to think of this pool as mine.  I’ve been fishing my pool for nine years and only once have I found another fly fisherman in it.  I’m willing to believe that he was just a figment of my imagination, and that the spot is the best kept secret on the Deerfield.  It’s what keeps me coming back to the Deerfield, in spite of all the hydro-flushing and “no parking” signs.

Ever since I returned from my vacation in Georgia, I’d been looking forward to fishing Independence Day weekend.  My friends, Stafford and Drydan, both had the Friday before the Fourth of July off, so we planned to fish together.  We were thinking about going to the Farmington because it has a lot more pools that will accommodate three fishermen.

So many places to fish, but where are the really good ones?

Late on Wednesday afternoon, I found out about an unexpected conflict on Friday, and I had to opt out of the fishing trip.  Drydan and Stafford made plans to go without me. All day Friday I was wondering how they were doing, and by late afternoon I was jonesing for some information about their trip.

I was pretty bummed when I found out they decided to go to the Deerfield instead of the Farmington.  I’ve taken them both to my honey hole in the past, and I knew they couldn’t resist paying it a visit.  Since I was planning to go there myself on Saturday, I listened to Stafford’s recount of the day with mixed emotions: proud of his prowess and progress as my protégé, and yet sad they spoiled my sweet spot.

“They were wearing out the Pat’s Rubber Legs and the Sexy Walt’s Worm,” Stafford reported.  “Most of them were in the fast water. They seemed to be stacked up right in front of that big rock.  There were several big ones.  I brought eight to the net, but lost at least four.”  Drydan had a good day too, but mainly at another pool.

I was really happy for both of them, but wondering what it meant for my plans for the following day.  Would the bite be off because of the sore lips and Crossfit workout that Stafford gave the trout?  Would my go-to flies – Pats Rubber Legs and Sexy Walt’s Worm – be effective after the fish had discovered their treachery?  Would I be able to “fish the gap” between my ability and theirs?  If recent fishing trips are any indication, that gap has narrowed considerably and may now actually be in their favor.

When I first began fishing the Deerfield River nine years ago, besides getting accustomed to the unusual dam release system, I was having trouble finding some productive pools along the river.  There are tons of access points between Shelburne Falls and Fife Dam and I was having limited success identifying good pools.

One day I was at wit’s end.  I was working my way upstream through a good-looking stretch of river without much to show for my efforts.  I was worn out and ready to give up on that section, when right in front of me, I noticed a trough that was a little deeper than the rest of the river bottom. I cast my Hare’s Ear with a chartreuse Copper John dropper into the trough, and caught a feisty brown trout.  Then another.  And then another.

I caught 13 trout within an hour.  As I worked my way through that 50 foot stretch of river, I also found trout outside the trough in fast water, pocket water, and deep water. There was a wide variety of sizes and the big ones used their advantages to win their fair share of our tippet tug-of-wars.  I couldn’t believe it.  I had found my Deerfield paradise.

This brown should have known better than to fall for the Squirmy. He’ll know next time.

Needless to say, I have been back to that stretch of the river many times since then.  I’ve also shared it with some fishing buddies – hoping that they could keep it a secret.

Though I’ve only seen it once, I’m sure others have fished this area too.  For a few years, the fishing was very subpar and I suspected that it was getting fished heavily. During those years, I’d be lucky just to catch one or two.  Once or twice, I was even skunked.  During those days, when I’d talk about it with my fishing buddies, I’d call it “the hole formerly known as the ‘honey hole.’”  But it’s made a comeback in the last year or two, and I’m starting to call it my honey hole again.

Saturday morning, I left Boston at 5:45 am.  On the way to the Deerfield, as I was considering my game plan for the day, I decided to break with my normal pattern and fish my honey hole first.  Usually, I start up at Fife Dam and work my way to favorite spots downriver to make the most of my time before the dam release catches up with me.  But on this day, I just wanted to fish in MY spot.  I didn’t want to take the chance of someone else beating me to paradise.

As I came to the pulloff that was closest to my honey hole, I was dismayed to see a Honda Element already in the pulloff.  I felt sick to my stomach.  Mr. Honda Element could be fishing in any number of other pools along that stretch of the river, he could be kayaking, he could be walking his dog, but my suspicion was that he was standing in my pool.

It’s weird to me that I had such a visceral reaction to something so trivial as the possibility of someone else being in my favorite fishing spot.  Being upset about that would seem pretty darn silly to people in Ukraine right now. It pains me even more because I’ve made a lifetime vow to invest my heart in things that are eternal and hold the things of this temporal world loosely.  Yet, here I was thinking uncharitable thoughts about Mr. Honda Element.  Yeah, I know; I’m a work in progress.

As I made my way towards the honey hole, I kept trying to peer through the trees to see if Mr. Honda Element was there.  I saw no sign of him but I couldn’t see the whole area.  As I carefully wove my way through the trees and around the rocks, I could finally see that he wasn’t there.  Paradise was safe.

But would the trout be cooperative?

I have a carefully planned-out way of fishing the honey hole, much like a butcher would a side of beef.  I divide the honey hole into four quadrants, and fish each one thoroughly before moving to the next.

Even though it was drizzling, I decided to start with a dry fly.  I knew Stafford and Drydan had been nymphing the day before, and I wanted to show the trout something different.  The guys had reported seeing a great hatch up at Fife Dam, so I hoped there might be a few looking up in the honey hole too.

I had a dark colored Mole Fly on, and for the life of me, the way the morning glare was on the water, I couldn’t see it on my first 10 casts.  I hate it when I can’t see my dry fly. Finally, I caught a glimpse of it, and somehow the fly recognition system in my brain remembered it and I could spot it nearly every time thereafter.  That is, until it got waterlogged and started sinking almost as soon as it hit the water – the curse of fishing the Mole Fly.

At that point, I said “no mas” to the Mole Fly and went to my confidence nymphs, Monsieur Pat and Monsieur Walt.  Quadrant one was usually good for at least two trout, but not this day. But finally, my strike indicator paused and I set the hook and caught about 10 yards of 18 lb. monofilament.  It was a rude wakeup call that others besides my friends had been fishing in MY pool.

I had to move into Quadrant four to untangle my flies from the mono.  While I was there, I might as well fish it, I reasoned.

As I was drifting my nymph through a foam line, a large trout porpoised up and took something from the foam.  After a few more drifts with my nymphs, I put on a Stimulator that I had tied the night before.  When I saw it on the water, I chided myself for having made it too big.  It looked like a Yankee Clipper with all sails a-flying.  After a couple of drifts down the foam line, I could tell it was a poor choice and wondered what I should tie on next.

Then from below, an eager trout broke the surface and gulped the over-sized Stimulator.  My first thought was, “Did that just happen?”  My second thought was, “Wow, that’s a nice size trout.”  And my third thought was, “I will never get it to the net.”

I was standing in a current that was fast, and there was a “step-into-this-spot-and-you-will-float-a-long-way-down-the-river” current between me and the trout.  He had to come to me because there was no way I could get over to him.  But the big rainbow was obliging and swam upstream of me and drifted nicely back into my net.

Imagine a photo of a large rainbow from my honey hole here.

Hallelujah! I was on the board. But how was I going to take a picture of the big trout for Blogflyfish?  My iPhone was in my pants pocket which was inside my waders, which was under my wading belt, which was inside my rain jacket, which was under my slingpack.   I had my fly rod in one hand and the submerged net serving as a corral for the trout in the other hand.  Bottom line: if you want to see this trout, you’ll just have to use your imagination.

After releasing the rainbow, I moved my camera up to my rain jacket’s chest pocket in case another trout graced me with its presence.

My perfectly-sized Stimulator failed to attract any more attention, so I went back to nymphing.  I can only presume that the trout in Quadrant two were hungover from a wild Friday night of booze and dancing, and the Quadrant three trout were waiting in the emergency room for sore lip treatment.  Finally, a decent brown trout took notice of a Squirmy Wormy and was willing to mug for the camera.

I spent about three hours in the honey hole Saturday.  There were no easy fish.  I used about 20 different fly combinations, fishing each of the four quadrants three times. Two more rainbows came on a Hare’s Ear and a Twenty-Incher respectively.

I’ve been catching these parr-marked rainbows in the honey hole since they were 4″ long.

I was happy to have spent the morning fishing in a special place.  Thanks to Mr. Honda Element (who I never saw), I was able to learn something about myself that might help me be a better person, if I work on my heart as much as I work on my drag-free drift.

It wasn’t my best day in the honey hole, but it was a good day. Even Paradise is allowed to have slow days.

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3 thoughts on “Paradise Lost (Almost)

  1. There are an unseemingly large number of small fish (6″ rainbows) in the Deerfield this year. Not sure what MAF&W’s reasoning or intentions are, however IMO, they are nothing more than good size baitfish for the larger browns.

  2. I’ve caught a few of these too. Do you think those might be stream bred rainbows? I don’t think MassWildlife stocks them that small.

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