Big Water, Big Flies, Big Fish

It’s been a season of big trout for many fly fishermen in southern Ontario this year, at least according to those I’ve talked to and (to a somewhat lesser degree) my own experiences. It makes sense though… the rivers have had an abundance of water, keeping big trout holding in water that might otherwise be warmer, shallower and clearer. High dirty water has also kept dry fly purists at home, reducing fishing pressure on many rivers.

I won’t say it’s been a record season for me though, as I had an especially difficult time keeping big fish on the line earlier in the season. I’m not sure if I’ve finally shaken the dust off my streamer fishing skills, or if the trout have had a change in attitude (or both), but hook-ups with big fish have picked up somewhat over the last month for me. I suppose I can also attribute this to the arrival of warmer weather and the corresponding increase in night fishing success.

A big wild brown from last week, caught just past dark.

The above fish was caught just past dark on a last-minute trip to the river after work. I had tied a couple realistic stonefly patterns using some newly ordered Hemingway wings and I was hoping to give them a try. However, forgetting about the rain we had the day before, I was greeted by a chocolate colored river when I arrived.

A day in the life of a river this season – high and dirty.

The stoneflies were definitely out, but the fish were too busy dealing with the low visibility to care much. I haven’t been finding a lot of time to tie flies this year, so I’ve been keeping a vice and box of tying supplies in my truck for emergencies. My supply of articulated streamers was in shambles, so I decided to tie one in the back of the truck before hitting the river. I went with a bright color given the water conditions.

A last minute tie in the back of my truck before hitting the river.

The result was four big fish in a couple hours, although only two were landed.

Another slightly smaller wild brown from the same night.

As is usual for me, big streamers and mouse patterns have been moving most of my larger fish. I’ve had a couple nice fish on stoneflies as well on the clearer days and I know for a fact that nymphs have also been catching a lot of big fish for people this year – in pretty much all water conditions.

Most of my trout (but not all) have also been caught past dark this month, largely because my weekends have been a write-off and fishing after work often doesn’t get me to the river until 7 or 8 o’clock. The fish below was another memorable one that smashed a streamer early evening in some more off-colored water.

A good looking brown caught on an articulated streamer on a mid-July early evening.

This fish was followed up by yet another decent brown shortly past dark on the same night – and it was preceded by a slightly larger one a week earlier.

The first brown of the season caught on a mouse pattern.

Needless to say, it’s been a pretty good season this year if you’ve been willing to put away the dry flies and emergers and fish meatier flies. I don’t expect this to let up any time soon, but hopefully we’ll be treated to some good dry fly days as well.

We still have lots to look forward to in August… terrestrials, late Isonychia, the understated White Miller, perhaps some straggler stoneflies and of course, even better night fishing. If you’re a masochist, there’s also the Trico hatches.

Green Drake Hatch, 2017

Over the last several years, Green Drakes have been making a welcome comeback on the upper Credit River. Last year’s hatches were some of the best I’ve seen in recent years and it came with some pretty fantastic fishing as well. So, it only makes sense that this year’s Green Drake hatch would be met with lots of anticipation.

The weather hasn’t exactly been ideal for mayfly hatches this season, though it’s given us some really nice water levels going into the end of spring. We did get a good run of weather in time for the drake hatch though, which started promptly on the first day of June. A number of anglers and “bug watchers” were out eagerly awaiting the beginning of the hatch and all saw good numbers of Green Drake duns that evening.

A Green Drake dun from the beginning of the 2017 hatch on the Credit River.

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Catching Up

It’s hard to believe there’s only a couple weeks left of spring. I’ve spent quite a bit of it on the river this year, albeit with a somewhat different focus than normal. Some of this can be attributed to the excess of high, dirty water we’ve seen this spring – although my knee, my (sometimes stubborn) sense of exploration and Atlantic Salmon can all take part of the credit (no pun intended).

Early spring was largely spent pursuing brook trout on small, quiet streams. The MNR dumped an undisclosed number of adult/broodstock Atlantic Salmon into the upper Credit this year, including some previously brook trout only sections of river. This drew an unprecedented number of new anglers to the river – some with good intentions and others, not so much. The fact that these fish were dumped into some of the smaller brookie-only waters (which were already sensitive to over-fishing and predation) had me pretty unhappy about the state of things on the Credit, so I stayed clear of that area for a while.

A small stream brook trout from early season.

I never get sick of the colors on these fish.

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The Wait is Over

Another winter has come and gone and the 2017 trout season is finally here. It’s been a quiet off-season for me on the blogging front, but otherwise one of the busiest of my life. I had ACL reconstruction on my knee in October of last year (just after my last post) and the recovery and physiotherapy nearly consumed my life for the last 6 or 7 months. I knew it would be difficult, but I did not appreciate the commitment and length of time it would require. It’s hard to believe I didn’t plan the timing of the surgery to coincide with trout season though… but it certainly worked out.

My leg and knee have gained back most of its strength, though I feel there’s still a ways to go before it’s completely normal. At least I’m walking without a limp, back to jogging and bike riding and most importantly: ready to get back to hiking and river wading. Physio has dwindled from several hours a day (at its highest) to an hour or so every other day, so there’s finally time to get back to the other things I enjoy.

Sadly, I don’t have a lot to report yet on the fishing front. We’ve had a lot of rain leading up to opener, which surely put a bit of damper on many peoples’ weekend as lots of rivers were still blown out. It looks like the Hendricksons have started though and with the rivers dropping a bit and calming down, this week should be pretty fantastic in comparison.

I picked up a new toy last weekend – one that I’ve been wanting to acquire for a long time. I was very close to purchasing a new Outcast pontoon before coming across a used Streamer XL-IR in decent shape for a fraction of the cost. It still needs some cleaning up, but it seems to be in great working order and I’m excited to use it this season on everything from river drifts to still water to (small) lakes.

My new (used) Outcast Streamer XL-IR.

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The Unsung Heroes of Fly Fishing

I spent the duration of the 2016 trout season fishing without an ACL in my right knee. It took nine months after injuring it last January to get an MRI, be referred to a specialist and have reconstructive surgery scheduled. If any good came of the long wait, it was that my surgery was scheduled for October 5th – just five days after the end of trout season.

For the last week, I’ve been confined to a couch in my living room where I’ve relocated my computer and enough conveniences to keep me entertained. The first couple weeks of post-op will be mainly resting and icing my knee in between physiotherapy, leaving a lot of time to waste watching Netflix and messing around on my computer. It’s a long healing process, but if all goes well, I hope to be back on the water for trout opener next May, not missing a beat.

With lots of time to waste, I’ve been going through and organizing some of my old photos. As I browsed through my mess of fishing pictures, I realized how much we favor celebrating larger fish, with the smaller ones rarely making it into the spotlight. It’s understandable how we’re all drawn pictures of large fish, but it’s the rest that keep us entertained on slow days. In fact, we spend the vast majority of our time on the water catching small fish, helping us learn and fine-tune our fly fishing skills so that perhaps one day we’ll come back to catch grown-up versions of the very same fish we release.

So this post is dedicated to this season’s smaller, often overlooked unsung heroes of fly fishing. Without these little guys, fly fishing would a whole lot more dull. As it happens, these fish by and large inhabit the most picturesque environments that can be found. In Southern Ontario, our Brook Trout are the real gems of our cold water rivers and it’s no surprise that most of the fish here are Brookies.

Colorful small stream brook trout caught on a new budget Echo Carbon 2wt rod.

Colorful small stream brook trout caught on a new budget Echo Carbon 2wt rod.

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The Night Bite

There’s never a dull season fly fishing in Southern Ontario, for better or for worse. This year began with moderate temperatures, average water levels and lots of bug activity – just about perfect conditions for fly fishing. I was casting to big Brown Trout rising to large bugs on the surface and our local streams were teeming with native Brook Trout. Unfortunately, a severe lack of rain (the worst I can recall in recent history) and high temperatures led to low water levels and few insects for the second half of the season. My beloved Brookie streams were reduced to mere trickles, where the only signs of life were leftovers from the tens of thousands of hatchery raised Atlantic Salmon juveniles that had since taken over. Even Smallmouth Bass were struggling on many rivers.

Still, on the upper Credit River, solid numbers of both large and small trout were being caught throughout the season. Cool evenings and the many cold springs that feed the Credit kept temperatures safe for much of the season. Of course, in extremely low, clear water with little bug activity, fishing becomes difficult during daylight hours. More often than not, the fish are completely inactive – hiding in undercut banks, vegetation and under logs, waiting for the cover of dark. This is especially true for Brown Trout and it happens to be ideal conditions for night fishing.

Fishing past dark on a brighter than normal evening, thanks to a near-full harvest moon.

Fishing past dark on a brighter than normal evening, thanks to a near-full harvest moon.

For the most part, my night fishing has become less intentional than in years past. Aside from a few planned late-night outings with friends, most of my night fishing has simply been the result of fishing a couple hours before dark, then refusing to leave after that magic half-hour window when the action just starts to pick up. Some years are better than others and I can recall a couple seasons ago spending a significant amount of time fishing past dark with little to no results. This has been no such year.

A large Brown Trout caught after dark on the closing day of trout season.

A large Brown Trout caught after dark on the closing day of trout season.

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Pike Pool

If you follow my blog, you probably know that the special regulations trout waters of the upper Credit River have been host to the occasional Northern Pike. These toothy fish have continued to escape from Island Lake on a regular basis, but I’ve noticed my catch rates steadily increasing in more recent years. It’s possible that my findings are inconsequential and due to either (bad) luck or an increase in targeting big fish. Whatever the reason, it’s somewhat disturbing knowing how many Pike are lurking in the deeper holes of the Credit.

Not too long ago, I was out on the Credit for the last couple hours of daylight. The weather was decent and I had hoped to have a run-in with either some Isonychia or some leftover Hexagenia. I encountered a decent hatch of the latter on some Brook Trout water a few days prior, but hadn’t had the luxury of fishing them to Browns yet this year.

A Hexagenia Atrocaudata spinner from a few days prior.

A Hexagenia Atrocaudata spinner from a few days prior.

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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.

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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

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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.