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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Most of the major hatches were present and decent throughout the season, including Hendricksons, Drakes, Foxes, Stoneflies, Yellow Sallies and Isonychia (which are still kicking around). I even happened upon a Hex hatch, which is not very common on the upper Credit – though, the only large fish I got out of it was a rainbow. Of these hatches, the Grey Foxes were the most reliable, at least earlier in the summer. They were present in good numbers for about a month and it seemed that every time I hit the river looking for a different hatch, it was the Foxes that ended up stealing the show. Often I was slow to realize this and as a result likely missed some opportunities to land some better fish that refused previous offerings.

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I’ve spent far less time this year fishing past dark than previous years. This is due, in part, to a few factors:

  1. Not being around during the prime night fishing times
  2. An unfortunate accident with a really hot cup of Tim Hortons coffee
  3. An encounter with a Bear, which had me spooked for some time

A few trips kept me off the river during the month of July and August, which is prime night fishing season. One of those trips was a family vacation to Florida, which (before some last minute research) had absolutely nothing to do with fishing. I’ve been meaning to dedicate a post to that trip, which was my first venture into saltwater. I’ll try to get to that post after this one.

Regarding the coffee accident… if it wasn’t apparent from the title of my blog, I really like my caffeine and I drink a lot of Tim Hortons. After a couple dozen years drinking hot coffee without issues, I finally managed to spill a HOT black cup of freshly brewed Tims all over my leg while preparing to drive home from my parents’ place in Windsor (yes, it only got my leg). That resulted in a 6 hour venture to the hospital and nearly a month of healing, during which I couldn’t really fish. I’ve suffered a lot of injuries in the past, but those second degree burns were the worst I’ve ever experienced.

Finally, about the Bear… yes, I ran into a Black Bear on the Upper Credit! I was fishing about an hour before dark by myself at a usual spot, when I noticed some bushes/trees moving on the opposite bank. As I looked closer, I saw a large dark animal walking toward the bank. I couldn’t make out the entire animal, because it was covered by a lot of brush. However, it was definitely large and wide – larger than any other animal that exists in southern Ontario – and it was black. As it walked slowly toward the bank, I began to back up. At this point, it seemed to notice me and stopped for a second, then briefly charged in my direction closer to the bank. I again stopped and this time started making a bunch a noise and shouting at it. It remained mostly still, though did inch a little closer a couple times. It managed to hide itself mostly behind some fallen trees near the bank and when I was fairly certain it was safe(r), I again started slowly backing up and left the area.

I had heard of Black Bear sightings in Caledon, though this was my first encounter – and happened to be with a bear that thought it a good choice to threaten charging. Thankfully the river separated us, though that honestly was little relief and likely didn’t add much to my safety. I believe it was a large cub and in fact, not a week later, I saw a news article indicating that there had been three sightings of the same bear cub in Caledon.

Needless to say, fishing alone in the dark freaked me out for a while after that, though I’m slowly re-gaining my courage and venturing out alone later again. Anyway, here are a couple nighttime fish from late June and one from the other night.

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I suppose the last update I have is regarding the Grand River. This is the river that introduced me to fly fishing and I have given it very little attention in the past few years. I remember in my teens and early 20’s, spending hours casting to countless rising trout on the Grand and catching stockers at will. That sight of rising fish after rising fish is something I have have rarely seen since those days. The Credit simply is not a dry fly fishery, at least not most of the time (hatches are less reliable and, honestly, the fish are simply smarter on average). I’ve even struggled to find rising fish on the Grand in recent years. Whether that’s due to bad timing, increased fishing pressure or others reason I am not sure.

However, Ryan and I did venture out to the Grand on two back-to-back nights at the beginning of July, for the first time this year. We opted to fish a very heavily trafficked section of the Grand, one that I always tend to bypass in favor of less crowed waters. What I have never understood, is how on earth a small section of river can be so heavily and frequently over-fished and yet continue to produce not only a large number of fish, but big fish. The Grand is weird that way. I guess it’s a combination of a lot of dumb fish (the stockers) and huge concentrations of food in certain sections of the river keeping the bigger fish around. Either way, in the few hours we spent fishing this stretch of water, we cast to more rising fish and had more success than I think we had combined the last three years on the Grand. No huge fish, just a lot of chunky fish and a couple larger ones for me.

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I wish more sections of the Grand fished as reliably. I want to believe they do, but in my experience, most don’t. Even when they look like they should and even when they have better water and far less fishing pressure, they just don’t. Some of the more frequent locals and guides will say “the whole upper river fishes just as good”, but almost every time they take a client out or fish by themselves, there’s back to that same spot 🙂

Anyway, absolutely nothing against the Grand or those who guide and fish it more than me. They certainly know it better than I. As much as I love the Credit and it’s wild, elusive browns, the Grand is very much a special river in its own right and is definitely a central figure to the sport of fly fishing in Ontario.

To wrap things up, I was out on the Credit the other night for a couple hours and caught a few nice small to mid sized browns. One of the fish was sipping Isonychia at the very back of a pool, tight to a fallen tree. I managed to drift an imitation back there and it exploded on my fly. I wasn’t overly big (maybe 13 or 14 inches), but it was a memorable take and an impressive looking brown to boot. It had a very obvious wild brown signature blue/black patch on its cheek.

Impressive looking Credit River wild Brown Trout.

Normally you remember catching the same big brown twice. However, while this fish wasn’t big, it resonated with me in a weird way, like I had caught it before. Then, as I was going though my photos for this post yesterday, I realized that I actually had caught it previously this season. In the same pool, feeding on Grey Foxes back at the end of May (it’s in one of the slideshows above).

Here’s the same fish again for a comparison. You can clearly see that the spots are identical and it’s the same fish. Gotta love catch and release!

The same fish as above, caught back in May!

Early Season Brookies

It’s been far too long since my last post. Fall and Winter have come and gone and another new trout season is finally upon us. If it weren’t obvious from my lack of updates, I did nothing spectacular (from a fishing standpoint) during my annual resident trout layoff. October to May has become the busiest months of the year for us, mainly due to three children becoming ever increasingly active in sports. It happens to work out perfectly though… the sports wind up as trout season is finishing and they wind down as the next trout season arrives. It helps keep the mind off fishing, when there’s no fishing to be had.

Unlike the rivers, this season has started off pretty slow for me (due the the winding down part mentioned above). In the time I have found to get out, I’ve stuck close to home – repeating my tradition of avoiding the more overcrowded rivers in favor of small stream brookies.

Fishing small streamers for brookies on a frigid opening day.

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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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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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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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