Browns ‘N Bugs

I’ve been getting behind on my updates this season, partly due to starting a new job, but also because I’ve been fishing rather than writing in much of my free time. I’ve shifted my working hours a bit earlier as well, which has given me more free time after work for fishing and family, but less free time for writing. Things are finally starting to normalize again though, so I expect to resume a more normal frequency of updates going forward.

Since the Green Drakes in early June, I’ve been back to the Credit just a handful of times to fish for browns. I went into lots of detail about the Green Drake hatches in my last post, so I won’t reiterate that here. However, I did manage to fool one more nice brown on a Green Drake spinner during the tail end of that hatch. It was a stronger, heavier and more colorful fish than the previous ones I’d caught during the hatch – and it put a nice bend in my 4 weight.

A large Brown Trout from the tail end of the Green Drake hatches on the Credit River

A large Brown Trout from the tail end of the Green Drake hatches on the Credit River

Speaking of my 4 weight… I managed to break it last month while fishing the Credit. I was never particularly gentle with the rod (Hardy Zenith #4) and I suspect it may have suffered some prior damage where it broke. It’s been sent back to Hardy for repairs and I’m hoping it won’t take too long to return, as I’m left to fish with a 7′ #3 and 9′ #6, neither of which I’m overly fond of for brown trout on the medium sized rivers I fish.

When I caught the above fish, the Drakes had thinned out considerably. There were a few still kicking around that evening and some big fish (like the one above) were still keying in on them, but it was the last I would see of the Drakes for 2016.

A Coffin Fly from the end of the Green Drake hatch

A Coffin Fly from the end of the Green Drake hatch

Gray Foxes provided some opportunities when the Drakes were less active. During one such window of heavy Gray Fox activity intermixed with some of the larger insects, I tied on a very old Gray Fox dry fly that a friend of my Dad tied for me back when I first started fly fishing. It had barely been fished and was still in great shape – and while the hook seemed sharp after all those years, I managed to pull it out of the jaws of another large trout that it fooled and momentarily hooked.

A Gray Fox Dun, from a short-lived but thick hatch that brought up a few fish

A Gray Fox Dun, from a short-lived but thick hatch that brought up a few fish

By mid-June, temperatures had risen and there was much less insect activity on the water. We were in between hatches on the Credit and although I was hoping for Isonychia, a small to moderate number of large stoneflies were the main morsels that were now providing opportunity for feeding trout.

A large stonefly from the Credit River

A large stonefly from the Credit River

On the evening I broke my 4 weight, after walking back to my car to exchange the broken rod with my 3 weight, I fished back down through some water that failed to produce even a sign of fish earlier. In typical fashion, as daylight faded, water that was seemingly devoid of trout hours before suddenly gave way to rising fish. The brown below took a size 8 stonefly dry from such a spot just before calling it a night – giving me at least one memory other than a broken rod to leave the river with.

A Brown Trout taken on a size 8 stonefly dry just before dark

A Brown Trout taken on a size 8 stonefly dry just before dark

A few days later, I returned to the same location with my trusty 3 weight and had a similarly quiet evening of fishing with little bug activity. In an attempt to salvage the outing, I decided to chuck some large streamers (because, that’s what 3 weights are made for, right?) through a big pool that failed to produce any fish on the previous trip. After casting downstream and across didn’t work, I switched to casting upstream and stripping down to fish the streamer deeper. The result was another hefty Credit River brown with a heavily damaged jaw – but otherwise beautiful.

Credit River Brown Trout with damaged jaw

Credit River Brown Trout with damaged jaw

I haven’t been back to the Credit since the heat wave and severe lack of rain moved in, though I did night fish the Grand for the first time a couple weeks ago with a friend, where I caught an unexpected Walleye (apparently they are quite common on the Upper Grand) and a 17″ Brown. I’m planning to head to the Credit tomorrow for a night fish as well, which I imagine should be fairly productive given the warm days we’ve been having.

Return of the Drake

If this wasn’t a fly fishing blog, you might think this post was about our fellow Canadian rapper/musician who shares the same name. Come to think of it, the title of his hit song Started From The Bottom is surprisingly appropriate for the topic at hand. Maybe he was thinking about aquatic insect hatches when he wrote it… or, maybe not.

Of course, I’m referring to mayflies here, the Green Drake specifically. If you fly fish the upper Credit River, you probably know that the Green Drake has been going through a rough time. Once a prolific and highly anticipated mayfly hatch on the Credit, it underwent a rapid decline in the past couple decades and had all but disappeared. Dr. Henry Frania, an entomologist with the Royal Ontario Museum, has been studying the Green Drake issues for many years and rather than reiterate his findings, you’re better off Googling it yourself. Essentially, it had been found likely that the nymphs were dying due to ingestion of a toxic substance (chemical or organic). As a result, very few nymphs were reaching the adult stage, leading to the Green Drake being (for the most part) functionally extinct on most of the Credit River.

Fast forward to 2016 where (as I indicated in my previous post) the season started with some of the heaviest Hendrickson hatches seen in years. Blue Winged Olives were also in good numbers, followed by Sulphurs, Yellow Sallies and Gray Foxes. Next up was the infamous and ever-absent Green Drake. I was told they made a half decent showing in 2015 (relatively speaking), although I managed to miss them entirely. In serious need of a break from work and feeling optimistic with the number of bugs so far this year, I took a few days off in hopes of witnessing some of these giant mayflies. As it turned out, the weather and timing were perfect and I was able to spend three evenings among what was possibly the largest showing of Green Drakes since their decline many years ago.

A slightly beat-up Green Drake Dun from the Upper Credit River

A slightly beat-up Green Drake Dun from the Upper Credit River

In the 12 years I’ve been living in the area and fly fishing the Credit, it was the first time I was able to truly experience what a real Green Drake hatch is like on this river. Many long-time veterans to the river (who are all too familiar with the careless behavior these big bugs bring about in large trout) were also there to partake in the action, along with a number of others there simply to observe and take notes (Dr. Frania included).

When I arrived Wednesday evening around 5:30 pm, it was clear, sunny and warm, with a few Yellow Sally stoneflies fluttering about. Still too early to expect any major bug activity, I tied on a yellow sally and casually fished upstream, keeping an eye out for signs of Green Drakes. In about an hour and a half of fishing, I caught a couple small browns and a slew of another fish that I imagine many unknowing fishermen believe to be tiny browns: stocked Atlantics. Fishing smaller water for average sized trout has become extremely difficult on the Credit due to these fish… when there’s not a larger trout to chase them away, they simply  take over the river, virtually eliminating any chance of catching a wild brown or brook trout. They’re also twice as aggressive (and dumb) as the wild fish, meaning they’re usually the first to jump at a potential meal.

Around 7:00 pm, I peered up into the trees and noticed a good number of large mayflies fluttering about, still fairly high up but slowly making their way down. They seemed far too large to be Gray Foxes and I was hopeful they were the Drakes I’d been waiting for.

Large mayflies that appeared to be Green Drakes spotted in the trees overhead

Large mayflies that appeared to be Green Drakes spotted in the trees overhead

Less than 5 minutes later, they began descending rapidly towards the river and I confirmed that they were indeed Green Drakes. They were spinners in fact – and there were lots of them! The duns would have emerged a day or two prior and it meant there was a good chance for some hungry browns to come out from hiding.

Green Drake spinner (a.k.a. Coffin Fly) descending onto the Credit

Green Drake spinner (a.k.a. Coffin Fly) descending onto the Credit

Thankfully, I opted to skip the Dun imitations and instead tied a few spinners earlier that day. They seemed to be a decent match to the bugs I was seeing.

Green Drake spinner imitation, tied earlier that day

Green Drake spinner imitation, tied earlier that day

As most fly fishermen know, even when the stars align, the conditions are just right and the fish are rising – it’s still never a free ride. You need to work for your fish and you have a limited time window to do so. The urge to rush should be resisted – it’s best to observe and be patient before making hasty casts. Fooling a large wild brown trout on a dry fly is no simple task, even when they have Green Drake tunnel vision.

Such was the case as I fished to a pool of trout rising to these large mayflies. My first fish was easily the largest of the night (and of the season so far). I watched it rise violently under a large overhanging tree branch… the type of continuous rises that I have very rarely seen the likes of. After several such rises in the same location, I carefully placed a cast a couple meters upstream and watched in anticipation as my coffin fly imitation floated over the target zone. The rise was even more violent than the previous ones as it leapt a foot out of the water with my fly. It was a large, dark fish, but sadly it was a short-lived battle that I lost as it thrashed back and forth while performing another aerial acrobatic.

Thankfully, it didn’t take long for another fish in the pool to forget about the alarms and dangers it had just witnessed and it graciously took the same fly. This time a smaller fish, around 12″, but satisfying nonetheless.

My first Brown Trout caught (and landed) on a Green Drake Spinner

My first Brown Trout caught (and landed) on a Green Drake Spinner

The drakes were fairly constant from about 7:00 pm until past dark, along with a fair number of duns that I spotted emerging. The spinners were bouncing all over the water, depositing their eggs on the surface. I became fixated on another large fish that was rising but simply was not interested in my spinner. I’d noticed a few duns coming off in the vicinity and while I didn’t have any dry fly duns, I did have a couple Green Drake wet flies that I decided to try. It was to no avail however as the fish eventually suspected my shenanigans and was put down.

I had another fish snub my fly at the last second and I pulled the hook out of one more before finally hooking into a better fish. It wasn’t as large as the first brown that I lost, but it was a good size and very healthy and strong. It’s hard to beat catching wild browns like this on a dry fly. On that note, someone please remind me why we’re stocking millions of 3-4″ atlantics that will either die or at best make it out to the lake then die (and never contribute to the upper river fishery), when we have wild browns like this in the river?

A nice, clean 16-17" wild Brown Trout caught on a spinner

A nice, clean 16-17″ wild Brown Trout caught on a spinner

This was my last fish of the night, but I stuck around for a while to film some of the drakes and rising fish. With two days of vacation still remaining, I left the river content, having experienced what I hoped to. The drakes were very thick at times, so much so that a few even bounced off my fly rod while I was casting – a feeling that was similar to casting a bead-head streamer and having it clip my rod.

The resurgence of the Green Drakes this year has certainly been encouraging and it makes one wonder whether mother nature has begun sorting out the issues that plagued these insects for years past. As great as it is to see the bugs making a bit of a comeback though, it’s not all silver lining. There are still sections of the river that remain devoid of the Green Drake, where it was once abundant. There’s also other ongoing threats, such as declining native Brook Trout numbers, over saturation of the river with stocked Atlantic Salmon and MNR imposed threats to the remaining wild Brown Trout. For now though, I think this is one win that’s worth celebrating.

Happy Hendrickson Day

Actually, it’s Mother’s Day… but damn those Hendrickson hatches have been thick lately!

Trout season kicked off a couple weeks ago and I’ve been uncharacteristically slow to take advantage of it. I injured my knee over the winter (torn ACL) and thanks to our great free healthcare system, I’ve made little to no progress in getting it treated or even looked at yet. I’m sure those who know me are sick of hearing me complain about it. Anyway, it’s had me sidelined and will no doubt continue to affect the type of fishing I’m able to do this season. That said, I’m pretty stubborn and have already found myself scaling beaver dams and hiking terrain much more rugged than I should have been.

My few outings so far have once again been dedicated to brook trout on small streams, something I just never get tired of. For me, the allure of these fish lies in their diversity and in the environments they inhabit. Small, cold, clean headwaters streams that are often overgrown and difficult to present a fly to provide a constant challenge. Every fish is a treat as no two are alike and while the smaller fish are usually eager to take a fly, the largest southern Ontario brookies are truly elusive.

I fished the last couple evenings and at times the Hendrickson hatches were very thick. In fact, they seem to be the thickest I can recall in the last several years. Unfortunately, I haven’t been on the water for a really good spinner fall yet, but the fish are keying in on them nonetheless.

Hendrickson from a fairly thick hatch on a small stream.

Hendrickson from a fairly thick hatch on a small stream.

Each evening has produced a dozen or so trout, with many missed rises and brook trout juveniles attacking my fly with reckless abandon. At times the abundance of smaller fish can be detrimental to catching a larger fish that is holding in the same water, since the smaller fish will dart to your fly without a second thought. The result is the larger fish being put down after hooking the smaller one. This has certainly been the case a few times already this season for me.

An average, colorful small stream brookie from the weekend.

An average, colorful small stream brookie from the weekend.

I also had a run-in with yet another Pike in a large slow hole on one of my favorite local streams. I was casting to brookies when I noticed something very large swaying back and forth at the bottom of the pool. From its long slender body, it was immediately obvious that it was a Pike: around 5-6 lbs. In an attempt to remove it from the stream, I cut the tippet off my leader and managed to sink a large streamer in front of the pike’s nose and hook it. It wasted no time in abusing my flimsy 3 weight and excess fly line slack and wrapped my line around a sunken tree. Needless to say, it’s still terrorizing the brookies in that hole.

I’m hoping to get some Hendrickson spinners tied in the next day or so and get back out while the hatches are still good. I may need to pack a heavier rod as well and pay that pike another visit.

Credit River Woes

Anyone who’s had the fortune to discover the beauty and allure of fly fishing the Upper Credit River for wild Brown and Brook Trout in years past surely has a heavy heart when they consider its current situation. The Upper Credit has always been a touchy subject. For decades, merely saying the name around those who fished it would result in a visible tightening of their lips. Today, you’re more likely to trigger a two hour rant about how the MNR and other groups have decimated the river with their misguided Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program and lack of focus on restoration and maintenance of the existing wild trout fishery.

A peaceful stretch of water on the Upper Credit River

A peaceful stretch on the Upper Credit River, now overrun with 4-6″ Atlantic Salmon juveniles.

In an effort to start things off on a more positive note, I want to share a couple great videos that my friend Steve Noakes compiled, sharing some of his fly fishing experiences on the Upper Credit River over the years. He’s a strong advocate for protecting what we have on the Credit River today and has been heavily involved in numerous conservation groups and restoration projects. If you ever doubted whether the Credit has a wild Brown Trout fishery worth protecting, Steve’s videos do a good job convincing you it does!

I’ve already written a bunch about the issues the river is currently facing, some of which you can read here. There’s also an interesting thesis on the subject, written a few years ago by a University of Waterloo student. April Vokey even made a stop at the Credit River during part of the first episode of Shorelines last year, where she interviewed and talked with several key people on the subject. Although you won’t find a lot of political debate or side-taking on the show, I’ve heard from at least a couple people who have exchanged words or email with her, that it was shocking how many strongly opposing voices were encountered during the process.

I find it interesting that after so many years of having such a high quality resident trout fishery, only now are people starting to talk about it publicly. In fact, The New Fly Fisher even aired a show on fly fishing for Brown Trout on the Credit recently, something that I believe would not have happened during the river’s tight-lipped past. I can only wonder whether part of the inspiration for airing this was to raise awareness of the river and the great wild trout fishery that exists, at a time when the river has little left to lose (i.e. Atlantic program and proposed Brown Trout culling by MNR). I could probably write a whole series of blog posts on the subject of naming rivers, but the long and short of it is: perhaps things would look differently today if there had been less secrecy, more awareness and more voices to speak up.

All is not lost (at least not yet), but if things don’t change, it will be. I mentioned the proposed Brown Trout culling above and also in previous posts. The unfortunate truth is, even though this is only still a draft proposal, there is already culling going on in secrecy. There is evidence of at least one occurrence of a number of large browns being lifted out of a section of the upper river. I’m not sure where they were taken, but my guess is they either died during the lifting/transfer process or they were dumped somewhere into the lower river where they will die shortly afterwards (and where there is no suitable spawning habitat).

It seems that every time I write a post on this subject, I have to cut out three quarters of what I want to say just to keep things on topic and interesting. Rather than having all this information eventually get buried in old blog posts, I plan to add a new top-level page to this site that’s dedicated to the topic and more easily accessible. If you have pictures, videos, information or simply ideas you’d like to share on this subject, feel free to let me know and I’ll consider adding it to that page or linking it.

Despite the gloom, I’m very much looking forward to getting back on the river when the season opens and making the most of what we still have. Only one month left until opener!

No Water? Stillwater!

Lack of rain and low water has continued to be a problem for the last several weeks, putting a damper in any chance of successful fall Steelhead fishing close to home. We did finally get a decent rainfall a couple days ago, with a bit more in the forecast, so hopefully more fish are making their way into the rivers and things will pick up.

In the meantime though, I’ve gotten out for some stillwater trout fishing at my usual spot. On calm days at this time of year, trout are cruising the shallows and stripping small unweighted streamers has been both fun and productive. It’s a nice change from having to fish an indicator setup or a sink tip line to deeper fish in hotter weather.

Stillwater fly fishing in the fall is about as peaceful as it gets.

Stillwater fly fishing in the fall is about as peaceful as it gets.

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2015 Trout Season Closer

Another trout season has come and gone and while mine ended in a traditional fashion, the majority of the season was anything but traditional here in southern Ontario. In an effort to keep this post positive and prevent it from derailing into another rant on our poor fisheries management in Ontario, I’ll simply say that 2015 will be remembered by many here as the demise of the resident Brown Trout. Yes, I’m mainly talking about the Credit River, so this isn’t a blanket statement (yet). However, some quick research into Ontario MNR fisheries management priorities should make it pretty clear that no river is safe in the foreseeable future, unless something changes. I’ll leave it at that for now, but I’ll be posting a longer rant on this in the upcoming days / weeks.

Now, on to the good stuff. As is customary, I spent the end of the season targeting Brook Trout on small rivers and streams. Even if our Brown Trout rivers had been fishing well (or, at all…), I’d still choose to target Brookies at this time of year. The waters they inhabit are scenic, have very little fishing pressure and the fish are in full pre-spawn colors at this time of year.

A nice, colorful native Brookie from closing day

A nice, colourful native Brookie from closing day

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Mousin’

Just when it seemed that summer was on its way out in Southern Ontario, it crept back in again and hit us with a wave of intense weather. Combine this with the low clear waters of late and it’s no time to be out on the river for trout.

However, these hot humid days mean the trout are hiding and expending as little energy as possible during the day and waiting for the cooler, dark of evening to feed. This is especially true of the largest trout in the river, which are nocturnal by nature. While I wouldn’t recommend fishing on evenings where water temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels are below safe levels, the right conditions can bring out some absolute monsters on nights like this.

It’s been a while since I wet a line after dark and I made a last minute decision to give it a go last night. I arrived during the last few minutes of sunlight, got familiar with my surroundings and downsized my leader to prepare for the impending dark. It didn’t take long before I hooked into my first brown. Unfortunately, an acrobatic jump (which I don’t see browns doing very often) resulted in losing the fish. I managed to get a good look at it and while nice (around 18″), I knew there were bigger fish to be had.

A few casts later, to a section of water that was yet undisturbed from the previous fight, proved me right as I hooked a much larger fish. I finally got a chance to break in my new Hardy Ultralite DD reel and hear what the drag really sounds like when it’s screaming.

Big brown trout taken on a mouse pattern after dark.

Big brown trout taken on a mouse pattern after dark.

A Change of Scenery

I don’t often travel too far from home to fish, but the constant reminder of local river politics and declining conditions has given me the itch to fish elsewhere lately. So, a couple weeks ago, I ventured out for an evening of fishing with a friend.

We drove for a couple hours to a river that has been on my short list of must-visit spots for this season. I hadn’t been on this particular river in over a decade and never to the section we were heading to. The water here was stunning… a great combination of riffles, runs and pools with lots of depth and variety. It was some of the fishiest looking water I’d seen in a long time. Unfortunately though, as the temperature continued to drop, the conditions were not quite ideal. A few Isonychia duns could be seen flying about during the early evening and eventually, as the daylight dwindled, they were replaced by a moderate number of spinners and a few stoneflies.

This was a last minute trip and I’d been slacking on replenishing my fly boxes once again, so I was pretty low on fly selection. When my limited number of Isonychia patterns weren’t doing the trick, I decided to try a small yellow sally stimulator, as I’d seen a few flying around. I spotted what appeared to be an average fish rising in some slow water on the other side of a seam and I presented my fly slightly upstream with enough slack to drift over the fish before drag set in. The gulp that followed was shocking.

An unexpected, colourful 22" brown trout to finish off the evening.

An unexpected, colourful 22″ brown trout to finish off the evening.

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Stillwater Sweetness

I was planning to spend Thursday evening on the river, but thunderstorms once again threatened to disrupt my fishing. As 4:00 pm approached, I stared out the window at my desk, watching the wind pick up and clouds roll in. The forecast was calling for a 60% chance and it certainly looked like a storm was in the making, but I decided to take my chances anyway as I left work and headed north in rush hour traffic.

I was hoping to do some stillwater fishing for a change and when I arrived there was only a single person on the water. The winds had picked up again and the sky was still looking grim. By the time I geared up, the sole angler had paddled in and was headed home. He mentioned the fishing was slow and considering the current weather conditions, I was headed out with fairly low expectations. I paddled to the far side of the pond, set the anchor and tied on a tandem rig: a leech pattern and nymph. When I looked up, ready to take my first cast, I realized the wind had dislodged the anchor and pushed me to the opposite side of the pond. This happened twice more in the next few minutes, before my luck changed for the better.

With 3.5 hours left to fish, the skies started to open up and the winds calmed. Fish were starting to become active and it wasn’t long before I hooked into my first Rainbow of the night.

My first Rainbow Trout of the evening, took a good old Pheasant Tail nymph.

My first Rainbow Trout of the evening, took a good old Pheasant Tail nymph.

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Spring Rains

It seems that all the rain we were wishing for at the start of the season has finally caught up with us. The Grand River has jumped from a steady and measly 4cms to over 40cms for the last several days and other rivers in the area, including the Credit, have been running high and dirty. It’s put a bit of a damper on fishing some potentially great hatches, but I suppose that’s to be expected at this time of year. The good news is that it looks like some excellent fishing conditions are just around the corner.

Between the untimely thunderstorms, rain and other life commitments, I haven’t been able to spend much time on the water lately. Two or three hours after work, one or two times a week is about all I’ve managed. Most of my outings have been for Brook Trout and well… there’s not much to see there. Just a bunch of average but equally beautiful fish, as are all southern Ontario Brookies.

An average small stream southern Ontario Brook Trout.

An average small stream southern Ontario Brook Trout.

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