Summer Updates

Wow, it’s been a long time since my last post! If I had a dollar for every blogger who’s written that, I’d be a very rich man. I have mounds of photos and some half-written posts that never got published from the last couple of months, but it would be tedious to give a full recap. So instead, I’ll just give a summary of what I’ve been up to and share a few pics and stories.

There’s no better place to start than the Credit. It is still, after all, where I spend most of my time on the water. In my experience, the river has fished quite well this year (aside from some warm spells that is). The last of the large broodstock Atlantics that were stocked in the upper river a couple years ago seems to have finally cleared out and I’ve been seeing a catching a good number of both brook trout and brown trout on the main branch. Lots of smaller browns and brookies as well, which is nice to see.

Of course, there are still the small Atlantics that continue to be stocked and there are also a curiously high number of rainbows being caught this year. I would say the rainbows are the biggest difference in the river. If the MNR and CVC are concerned about brook trout populations, this is the fish they need to worry about, not the brown trout. I’ve heard they are likely still escaping from ponds in Erin, although I’m pretty sure they’re also reproducing in larger numbers as well. In addition to the usual smaller catches, I have caught a few larger rainbows this year as well, which is quite unusual.

So, unsurprisingly, many of my outings this year have had me catching 3 to 4 different species, sometimes in the same pool.

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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 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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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!

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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More Credit River Pike

It’s become a trend of mine to watch a good fishing hole decline in productivity, only to later find it was due to a Pike moving in.  That was the case again last weekend during a trip to the Credit.

I got an early morning start and decided to take my time wading a long stretch of river that I hadn’t fished in quite some time. I started off hiking in to a hole that I knew held good fish, figuring early morning would be my best bet to land a decent fish. As I swung a streamer through the pool on my fourth or fifth cast, I felt an aggressive take followed by head shakes and some serious tugging.  I hadn’t caught a decent fish from this pool in a while and judging by the way the fish was fighting (which admittedly felt very similar to a Brown Trout at the time), I was sure I’d caught the largest trout of my life.

Fortunately, I was fishing with 2X tippet, but unfortunately, when I finally got the fish to the surface, I realized it was another Credit River Pike that would easily make short work of my mono leader. This pike was quite a bit larger than the previous one I’d caught last season and for obvious reasons, I wanted to land it so I could get it out of there. These pike are Island Lake escapees and when they’re this far down, they would have had to descend the Cataract Falls. I barely prevented it from escaping downstream and managed to land it with my tippet frayed and almost broken off.

This unexpected Pike put a serious bend in my four-weight.

This unexpected Pike put a serious bend in my four-weight.

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Rise and Shine

*crawls out of a hole in the ground*

Well, we’re a month into Spring, Steelhead are in the rivers, Trout season opens in four days and I have a week of vacation coming up.  My fly tying station has been occupying a good part of our kitchen table for the last couple weeks, which is always an indication that final preparations are underway.  Things are looking up, sort of.

There’s been a lot of research and purchases of new gear again for the 2015 season, which I’ll probably go into more detail on in a later post.  It’s somewhat of an addiction I guess – no matter how content I feel with my current gear, it’s never long before I find a reason to either upgrade or expand my collection.  This year’s list includes waders, a sling pack, new fly lines, new reels and possibly a new Steelhead rod.

On the negative side, the MNR has released an updated draft proposal for changes to the Credit River Management Objectives.  This draft further outlines proposals to basically turn all clean/cold sections of the Credit River and its tributaries into purely Atlantic Salmon and Brook Trout water.  This includes removal of existing wild Brown and Rainbow Trout in much of the river.  The MNR will likely make this proposal public at some point in the near future, providing a window of time for public feedback and comments.  I sincerely hope that as many people as possible become well informed on this matter and make their voices heard.  If you’re interested in some of my initial thoughts on this matter, read this.  I’m sure I’ll post more on the subject in the coming weeks.  While I love Brookies (no comment on the Atlantic Salmon), these proposals have me going into the 2015 season with a sense of sadness, knowing that the excellent self-sustaining wild Brown Trout fishery we have in the upper river could be nearing its end.

Enough of that for now though… it’s time to dust off your gear and prepare for another season of trout fishing in Ontario!

2014 Trout Closing Weekend

Yesterday wrapped up another season of resident trout fishing in Ontario. It was an extended closing weekend for me since I took Monday and Tuesday off to spend on the river. In fact, I fished a solid 5 days in a row this year – likely a new record for me.

Friday and Saturday were spent exploring small streams close to home, none of which I’d fished before. These are tiny, virtually untouched waters that contain moderate numbers wild trout. The smaller fish in these streams are all too eager to take even a sloppily presented dry fly, but the larger fish require stealth, small tippets and perfect presentations. Of course, larger is relative to the size of the streams here, so a 12″ fish is a trophy on waters like these.

I spent a couple days exploring small, quiet streams like this one.

I spent a couple days exploring small, quiet streams like this one.

Most of these streams have a mix of brookies, browns and rainbows, with an average size of about 6″. Over the course of two days, I spent hours catching trout in these waters, bushwhacking my way through overgrown banks, fallen trees and spider webs. Before heading in on Saturday evening, I decided to check out one last spot. Years ago, a fly fisherman who grew up in the area told me that the “Holy Grail of Brook Trout” (so he called it) existed somewhere in a nearby town, but he had never been able to find it. I hadn’t really given it much thought until now – after all, he fly fished the area for decades and wasn’t able to find it, so I assumed I wouldn’t either.

After scouting a few likely roads in town, I pulled over at the entrance to a trail and double checked my maps. It looked like a stream ran fairly close by, so I grabbed my 3 weight and headed out. As I hiked further, the sound of running water grew from non-existent to that of loud rapids. When I reached the stream, I found a fairly slow stretch of water above the rapids, with a nice little pool that was now completely shaded (it was getting late).

I had a bushy size 12 Stimulator tied on, which seemed like overkill for the fish that usually inhabit waters like this. However, before downsizing, I thought I’d give it a few casts. I carefully approached downstream of the hole, knelt behind some tall grass and presented a cast about 25 feet upstream. As the fly drifted over the middle of the pool, I watched a good sized brookie dart up from below and inhale the Stimulator. As fast as it rose, it dove back down from where it came and an even larger brookie chased after it. The second fish was an honest 3-4″ larger than the one I’d caught, which itself was pushing 12″!

A beautiful small stream Brook Trout

A beautiful small stream Brook Trout

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