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.
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″!
In the few remaining minutes of light, three more brook trout in the 8-10″ range came to my net from the same pool. I’m not sure if I found the fabled Brook Trout hotspot that I’d heard stories about, but I was certain that I was on the right track!
Sunday was back to more familiar waters, in what would be the last day on my beloved Credit River for the season. As expected during this time of year, there area around the Upper Credit was utter chaos. Not due to fishermen, but nature watchers. Each year, autumn brings hordes of people from around the GTA to Caledon to hike and enjoy the scenic area and changing of the leaves. It means the normally peaceful and quiet streets are booming with cars and people for closing weekend.
Of course, fishing pressure is also expectedly higher, but nothing like that of more popular rivers such as the Grand. A little legwork goes a long way though, and it wasn’t long before I was on the river by myself, passing only a single pair of anglers all day.
The weather and scenery were excellent and the fishing was challenging, but solid. I caught a number of small browns, with one larger brown hooked and lost in some fast moving water. I also hooked into what I believe were a couple baby Atlantic Salmon, which is not surprising given the stocking being done in the Credit. I’ve mistaken these little guys as brown trout in the past, but the big give away is the heavily forked tail and the smaller mouth (does not extend past the eye). If you knew nothing about identifying these, you’d know somewhat was up when you hooked one as they are absolute rockets. Way too aggressive for their own good, these little fish put on quite the acrobatic show and (as you can see below) have no problem attacking flies the size of their own head.
A friend and I spent the last two days of fishing season on the water as well. Monday was back to exploring new water, which turned out to be informative but entirely unproductive. We waded stretches of a larger river that lies between two dams, making fish passage up and downstream virtually impossible – thus greatly reducing the fish populations. Still, these sections are almost completely untouched by anglers and there are known to be some populations of resident trout in them, so it was worth at least an investigation. We waded some absolutely beautiful water, with some of the nicest pools and runs I’ve seen on any river in southern Ontario. It’s an absolute shame that this water goes almost completely unused and inaccessible to fish.
With a bit of time left to spare Monday, after hundreds of casts without a fish to show for it, we stopped off at a couple of the tributaries I fished days prior. My buddy was in disbelief over the stories I told of the fish in these waters, so I wanted to prove him wrong.
In the few minutes we spent fishing the first stream, I caught a bunch of small trout, including as a nice 9″ brookie. Ryan also managed to spook a much larger brookie from under a log while untangling his fly from a tree branch.
We then moved on to the same trib that I caught the 12″ brookie from Saturday. With the success I experienced last time, I confidently declared a guarantee of some big brookies. It was still relatively early when we got there though, with perfectly clear skies and bright sun shining down onto the stream. In the daylight, I was surprised at just how small the pool I caught the brookies from was – it seemed so much larger and deeper at night. Once again, Ryan was in disbelief that this tiny little pool would hold such fish; and I can’t really blame him.
We slowly walked up to the side of the pool, being careful to stay behind the tall grass so not to spook it. Unfortunately, a number of fish must have caught a glimpse of us and they were sent scurrying in all directions for cover, not to be seen again. The pool was spooked, but at least there was proof of some of the nice fish that inhabit it. It goes to show you just how important stealth is on these small streams.
Tuesday wrapped up fishing season with a day trip to the Grand River. This had been our regular stomping ground (when we fished together) for a couple years, but it treated us like shit this year with constantly high and murky waters and difficult fishing conditions. As such, this was our first trip back to the Grand in several weeks. The river had been a bit high (~10 cms) leading up closing weekend, but thankfully they dropped the flow down to just over 5 cms (which is about perfect) for the last day of fishing.
We expected to face some finicky browns, as they’d undoubtedly been absolutely hammered with flies for the last 3 days straight. My thoughts were that we’d either have to exactly match the hatch (with perfect presentations), or use something different – something that the fish hadn’t seen hundreds or thousands of times before.
On that note, there’s an very simple nymph called Walt’s Worm that I’d been meaning to try for some time. I recently watched this video on tying the competitive style nymph on a jig hook. What appealed to me about this fly was its extreme simplicity, as well as the weight and anti-snag nature of it (due to the inverted jig hook). I really dislike having to add weight to my leader, so having a very fast sinking nymph is ideal. I feel like most of the time, we’re tying flies to please ourselves rather than the fish. Given the mangled bugs that regularly float down the river and the fact that you rarely see someone fishing such a simple looking nymph, I decided to tie a couple for our trip.
We were on the river by about 7 am, before the sun was up. We were both casting streamers – Ryan to a hole he knows holds a monster Brown and me to a run above that. Things were pretty slow for the first couple hours, as Ryan failed to entice the big brown to come out and I missed 3-4 hits on a size 6 woolly bugger. Forgetting about the Walt’s Worms that I tied the night prior, I must have gone through a dozen flies (streamers, nymphs and wets) before finally deciding to tie a caddis dry fly on. I hadn’t seen a single fish rise all morning, but I was frustrated and wanted to have some stress free casting for a while. In fairness, it’s hard to go wrong with a caddis any time on the Grand… it may not always work, but if you have no other ideas, it’s probably a good place to start. A combination of desperation and luck brought the first fish of the day to the net.
It worked out that shortly after tying on that caddis, the river came alive a bit and some fish started rising. There were decent numbers of caddis about, as well as solid numbers of BWO. It’s hard to say what they were actually feeding on, but we stuck to caddis and landed a few more fish before they stopped rising again.
With difficult fishing conditions setting in once more, we went back to trying streamers, caddis pupa, various emergers and BWOs. Other than the infrequent hit on a streamer, the fish just weren’t cooperating. After recalling the Walt’s Worms that I tied the night before, I decided to give one a try. A couple casts later and I hooked up to a decent fish. In fact, I began regularly hooking up to fish from that moment on with the Walt’s Worm (I also had luck with the Sexy Walt’s). I was fishing it without an indicator and the fast sinking fly made it easy to keep a tight line and detect hits. I dead drifted it near the bottom and fished it on the swing – I even caught some rising fish with it!
Despite a decent number of fish landed (at least compared to previous trips to the Grand this year), it was a fairly tiring and hard fished day. After a late 2:00 lunch, the river was filling up with anglers and the fishing was continuing to slow down. We finished off the day fishing dry flies up by the 2nd Line bridge, hoping for more rising fish. I only found one such fish and it came to my net.
All in all, 2014 was a memorable trout season, though somewhat of a polar opposite to last season. While last year I focused heavily on catching large browns in well known water, this year was much more focused on exploring new waters and new techniques. I traded the fewer (bigger) browns for more (smaller) trout and easily caught some of my nicest resident brookies to date. I also caught my first steelhead on a fly, as well as my largest bass to date.
While I take a long break from resident trout fishing, I still have a few months of fishing bass, steelhead and trout ponds. Now if only Sage could hurry and return my twice broken 6 weight VXP so I have something between a 4 and 8 weight to fish with…