A Half Day on the Deerfield

This article is a continuation of an earlier article “Conversations on Hwy 2”
Most of the trout weren’t big, but who can complain about a beautiful brookie?

Driving up Zoar Road at 6 am, I was pleased to see that all of the pull-offs next to the highly desirable pools on the Deerfield River were without vehicles.   That meant I had my choice of pools.

I knew the ones that were the favorites, but I had already decided to fish the often-ignored pocket water downstream of the picnic area.  It’s a pain to access and laborious to wade, but usually, focused fishing is rewarded with a few fine fish.  Plus, I knew I wouldn’t be bothered there by other fishermen, at least not until the other primo spots began to fill up.

Or so I thought.

I parked up at the Zoar Picnic Area and began the long trek down the road to some of my favorite spots.  I knew that in a few hours, buses full of tubers and rafters would be caravanning up the road, but for now, it was just me and the click, click, click of my wading stick on the asphalt.

I carried both my tightline rod and my dry fly rod because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to nymph fish or use a dry dropper.  When my wading boots touched the water, I finally had to decide.  The nymph rod lost; I gently tossed it up in some vegetation.  It was smiling because it knew I couldn’t dry fly fish worth a nickel.  When I turned toward the bottom end of the pool, I’d swear I heard a whisper behind me saying, “You’ll be back.”

I finally fooled this fine fish with a Griffeths Gnat

I started with a freshly tied Elk Hair Caddis with a Beadhead Hare’s Ear as a dropper.  The pool was from 1.5 to 3 feet deep, and the current was moving quickly, even with a dam release of only 130c fs. It didn’t take long to realize that the tungsten bead on the Hare’s Ear was too heavy as the Caddis sank on every drift.  After three or four casts, I changed the Hare’s Ear to a size 20 JuJu Baetis, but that was too light.  The JuJu wasn’t getting down.

About this time, I saw a splashy rise midway up in the pool.  Then I saw another one down below me on the far side.  I began casting to these rises and got a splish with no fish in both spots.  I guess they didn’t like the way I tied my Elk Hair Caddis.  They continued rising, but never to my flies.

Then my ears began playing tricks on me.  I could have sworn I heard a car door slam.  There’s no sound that carries as well as that of a car door slamming near the river.  But it couldn’t be.  There were “No Parking” signs all over the road nearby.  Besides that, with the whole river to choose from, why would anyone choose to fish right on top of me?

But before you could say “George Daniels,” another fly fisherman was in the pool right above mine, working his way downstream toward me. He couldn’t help but see me, but also the fish rising on various sides of me. I wasn’t in a charitable mood and I moved further up into my pool, marking my territory. He stopped his descent, but he was close enough that I felt like you do when you are on the Interstate and a car comes racing up behind you, getting up on your bumper and trying to intimidate you into moving out of his way.

I told myself, “Self, you got up at 3:45 am so that you could fish in this pool before anyone else did.  You have every right to fish here to your heart’s content. Unless, he pulls a gun or you start hearing the theme song to ‘Deliverance,’ stand your ground, er, your water.”

This guy passed on a Stimulator once, but gave into temptation the second time around.

I couldn’t see any bug activity except for tiny little gnat-sized bugs that I assumed were some kind of midge.  But a few more trout were hitting the surface in my little pool, and I was determined to show my nymph rod that it didn’t own me.  So I tied on a Mole Fly, and the same thing happened. Splish, but no fish.  After each one took a swipe at it, they ignored it ignored thereafter.

My next tactic was to put on a size 12 Stimulator with a size 20 Griffith’s Gnat as a dropper.  I didn’t think the Stimulator would attract any strikes, but I hate to dry fly fish and not be able to see the fly.  Maybe I wouldn’t be able to see the Griffith’s Gnat, but I’d know at least approximately where it was because I could see the Stimulator.

Immediately, I got another rise without a hookup.  I thought, “Here we go again.  These fish are initially fooled, and then they see something at the last minute and change their mind.”  But on the next cast, a nice brown rose and didn’t change its mind.  At first, I thought he took the Stimulator, but when he finally made his way into the net, he had the Griffith’s Gnat in his mouth.

This may tell you what kind of person I am, but the whole time I was playing that fish, I was thinking, “I hope that guy in the next pool sees me with this fish on.  You should have gotten up 20 minutes earlier, you sluggard.”  Of course, I don’t know if he saw me or not because I didn’t want him to think that it mattered to me whether he was there or not, so I never looked up in his direction.  Not long after that, I saw him traverse the river back towards the road.  I guess he didn’t want to test the validity of those “No Parking” signs for too long.  With my luck, he probably went straight to my honey hole.

Speaking of luck, with that one brown trout, I had exhausted all the dry fly luck that I had accumulated this summer.  I got maybe one more rise and that was it.  The rises eventually waned, and I headed back to the bank to fetch my nymphing stick.  There were a couple of deep pools beneath large rocks that usually yielded a trout bigger than my wading boot, but not today.  Maybe that stretch gets fished more than I thought it did.

The honey hole came through again, this one on a Pats Rubber Legs.

I made my way back to my vehicle and drove upstream to another pocket water section that I haven’t fished for a while.  To get there, you have to cross a shallow portion of the river and then walk the bank downstream for a little ways.  While I was crossing the shallow area, I haphazardly cast my Stimulator/Griffith’s Gnat combo and let it drift.  Lo and behold, at the end of a drift below me, a rainbow rose and took the Stimulator.

It was totally my fault that it never came to the net.  First of all, I underestimated the size of the trout.  I was thinking 12”, but after I played him a bit, was thinking 16”.  I tried not to horse him up through the fast riffles, but he had no interest in coming upstream on his own.  I should have moved downstream and tried to get below him.  Instead, I stood my ground and he kind of yo-yoed up and back.  Whenever he’d get within 5 feet of me, he’d take out 10’ of line.

Eventually he got wrapped up in the dropper tippet and became dead weight in the current.  But I think that also gave him slack and the leverage to disengage from the Stimulator.  It was probably my best fish of the day.  Isn’t it always the biggest one that gets away?

As I was fishing the Stimulator a little further downstream, I caught a glimpse of something that looked like it came off the bottom and about half way up to the surface, and then disappeared.  Was that a trout or just the way the sunlight reflected in the current?  I waited a minute, then cast the Stimulator upstream of the spot and watched as the current pulled it right where the previous cast had been.  This time a rainbow hit it hard without aplomb.

Two to the net so far, one long distance release.

I could wait no longer.  It was time to go to the honey hole.  I had about 1.5 hours until the hydroflush would come through, replacing the very wadable 130 cfs with the treacherous 800 cfs.  I brought both rods again, but I had taken off the Stimulator and put on a big black beetle dry fly that I had had success with in Colorado.

Squirmy worm eater

I began with the beetle, and even though there were several rises in the pool, none of them were anywhere near the beetle.  I switched to my nymph rod and eventually caught six trout on a Pat’s Rubber Legs, Squirmy Wormy, Perdigon, and Twenty-Incher.  Most were small, in the 8-10” range, but all three varieties of Deerfield trout were present and accounted for – rainbow, brook, and brown.

The normally understated path down to the honey hole looked like a motorcross race had been run through there, and I suspect that someone had been cherry-picking the larger fish out of the hole.  May they experience an epic hatch of caddis in their nasal cavities.

That was it for the day; I was saved again from an ignominious outing by the honey hole.

As I was driving back down Zoar Road, munching on my chicken sandwich, there was a flotilla of tubers enjoying the 800cfs flow where I had been fishing earlier.  I couldn’t help but think as I looked at the hoards, “I hope the unwashed masses never discover fly fishing.”


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8 thoughts on “A Half Day on the Deerfield

  1. Seems like that 2-hour therapy session you had with yourself on the way to the river worked pretty well. I love stories like this that make me yearn to get out on the river again. Well told, Bill, and well done. Sounds like a fun and successful trip when you catch a fish on nearly every fly and rod you took to the river!

  2. Good post. I used to love to fish the Deerfield when I lived closer and will be out there again. The hydro releases really turned me off from heading out that way though. I have arrived out there and started fishing only to encounter water rising to unsafe wadeable conditions, perhaps it is better now if there are regular release schedules and not on demand as it seemed to be years ago.

    Nothing like fishing in MA and having other anglers crowd you – it does bring up something similar to ‘road rage’ in me.

    Have a great rest of the summer and fall.

  3. I only made it out to the Deerfield three or four times this summer. I don’t fish it enough to really understand the hatch pattern. But it is fun to fish when the cfs is low. I’ve been there when they have deviated from the announced schedule and turned on the flow hours earlier than they were supposed to. It is no fun to be caught in the middle of the river when the flow starts sweeping you off your feet. Someone, someday, is going to drown because of it. A huge lawsuit would serve them right. It’s ridiculous that they can’t manage it in a sane way like they do the Farmington.

  4. Hi Bill I liked this post. You’re funny. If you’re feeling more charitable now I’m wondering if you could share with me why you choose the flies you do and what makes you change flies? I’ve been fly fishing for a while now and I’m always curious how other anglers make these decisions. How much is gut feel versus “evidence-based?” Thanks

  5. Andrea, so sorry for the delay in responding. For some reason, I’m not getting notices when there are new comments. Also, I wrote a long response yesterday and it got lost in cyberspace.

    Thanks for your question. There are other blog writers such as Jo or Joel or a charming guy named Jamie that are so much more knowledgable about such things than I am. I hope maybe they will chime in with their answer. But since you asked, I’ll try to explain my Neanderthal approach to which flies I choose and when to change them.

    First of all, a lot depends on the water conditions, time of year, time of day, blah, blah, blah. But generally, I like to begin fishing with the fly that seems to produce results whether on east coast or west, summer or winter, morning or afternoon. That’s a stonefly imitation known as Pat’s Rubber Legs (PRL) tied with coffee and black chenille. The consistency of this fly is amazing to me. The times when I get outfished by my fishing buddies are usually when I try different flies and they stick with the PRL.

    So I like to fish the PRL on the bottom of my nymph setup and I’ll usually use either a Sexy Walts Worm, a soft hackle pheasant tail, or a Perdigon as the upper fly on the tag. When I fish a pool or run that I strongly suspect has trout in it, but don’t catch anything, I’ll switch out the PRL for a beaded Squirmy Wormy or a Mop fly. Usually when I switch the anchor fly, I’ll also switch the tag fly too to give the trout something different to look at.

    I’ve heard it said that if you haven’t caught a trout in 10 casts, it’s time to change flies. I think that’s a pretty good rule of thumb when you know there are trout in front of you. But for me, if I don’t know where the trout are or where they are biting, I usually stick with the PRL until there is a good reason to change.

    I also listen to advice from other fishermen, fishing blogs, and look for insect activity to determine what flies to use.

    I know you were hoping for something more insightful, but that’s often my approach. Maybe some readers could share their approach to which fly to use and when to change.

    1. Hey Bill thanks for the reply. Sorry you had to type it up twice! Your response will be helpful for my future fishing endeavors, thank you.

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