Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day of Firsts

Long overdue, I brought my wife to the West Branch Farmington River recently for her first taste of fly fishing. I wanted her intial experience on the river to be a good one--warm sun, moderate flows, cooperative fish...but you know what they say about the best-laid plans. Conditions were tough. It was a chilly morning and the river was higher and colder than normal due to a dam release from the swollen reservoir. We went over basic nymphing mechanics and Mosey got the gist of it pretty quickly. With a few backyard sessions and another trip or two to the Farmington, she will be giving Joe Humphreys a run for his money.  The fishing wasn't easy, but Aaron managed a nice Survivor brown trout on a homemade golden stone after we left, which Tommy captured perfectly with an underwater photo during its release.

Mosey being a trooper in tough conditions. (Photo credit: Aaron Swanson)

The orange elastomer tag over this trout's left eye indicates that it was stocked last spring. (Photo credit: Tommy Baranowski)

We had better luck out of the water. On the walk back to the Jeep, a spring delicacy revealed itself as fiddleheads were poking out from the detritus. I've heard my uncle talk about how tasty they are, but I've always found them too late. Fiddleheads don't just grow anywhere and their locations are closely guarded for good reason. There is a small window in New England each spring to harvest the ferns before they unfurl.  I snipped a Ziploc-bag worth for a family dinner that night. We cleaned, blanched, then sautéed them for three minutes in a little butter, garlic and olive oil. It was only a small serving, but everyone around the table ate their first fiddleheads that day. They were extremely delicious and tasted that much better knowing where and when they were picked.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Opening Daze 2011

As the smell of campfire smoke still lingers on my gear, I'm trying to acclimate back to reality.  My favorite weekend of the year has come and gone once again.  I had a hell of a time along the Farmington River for three nights and four days with good friends.  The underlying reason we go on this annual excursion is for the traditional opening of Connecticut's trout season, yet fishing usually takes a backseat to camping, relaxing and eating like kings - and that's just fine by us.  I sometimes joke with my wife that when we have kids someday, she should pray that they don't enter this world on the third weekend in April, for I'll have a tough decision to make.  For me, the tradition stretches almost 20 years now.  For my uncle who started it for us, it's almost double that.  The group is close-knit band of anglers that, come hell or high water, get together every year on this weekend.

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Thursday was spent stacking fire wood, making camp, catching up, relaxing, and shopping for food and any last-minute fishing supplies.  The weekend meals started strong and never looked back.  That night we had a great codfish, rice and asparagus dinner and told lies around a well-stoked fire.  We had a hearty breakfast in the morning, rigged our rods and were on the water by noon.  Fishing was restricted to a catch and release area on Friday, but at least we knew there were quality fish in every run we hit.  Without consisent surface activity, it all nymphing all the time.  Action wasn't on fire by any means.  My uncle lost a beast of a brown after a long fight and the group scored a handful of stockers.  Aaron salvaged the afternoon by nymphing up two nice holdover brown trout from fast water.

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Back around the fire that night, the Guinness and single malt flowed generously as we rehatched the day and planned the next.  The annual cheese and cracker spread and fresh top neck clams from Long Island Sound were tough acts to follow.  However, the showcase dinner of the trip was next and consisted of fire-grilled steaks, steamed brocoli, and baked potatoes that were buried in hot coals for an hour.  Rightly so, good food and drink are such an integral part of the weekend.

On Saturday morning at 6 AM, I was woken by the official siren announcing the start of the season.  We wouldn't be on the water for a few more hours; there were bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches to make and a camp that needed tightening up before the forecasted monsoon coming our way.  The river was still where we had left it and we weren't bound by a catch and release area anymore.  To our surprise, there wasn't a soul at the familiar run we visit every year on this day.  The fishing remained spotty, but a handful of feisty rainbow trout fell to a smattering of nymph patterns like golden stones, pheasant tails, princes, and green caddis larvae. 

We soon changed locations and found a pod of fish that sealed the deal for an epic weekend.  One small pool produced five trout in a relatively short time, and three of those hadn't seen a stocking truck in a while.  Aaron was up first and got a stocker rainbow out of the way on his first drift and lamented that he wasted his turn on it - he was right.  I was up next and stuck a holdover brown on my second drift using a size #16 pheasant tail, mimicking the hendrickson nymphs found in our seine samples.  It turned out to be my best fish of the weekend and I was more than happy.  Derrick's turn produced a rainbow trout unlike any other we caught over the weekend; it was in top notch condition.  My uncle then plucked another stocker before the next few anglers lost rigs to structure.  When it was my uncle's turn again, he hooked what he briefly thought was a log until it started to move.  The fight that ensued was a heavy weight battle that lasted for a couple long minutes.  Derrick eventually netted the beast that was dubbed 'Tollbooth Willy'.  It was a phenomenal brown trout that had a great story to go with it.  It was not only the best fish of the trip, but of the last several opening days.  It was an awesome moment to have the whole group experience the catch and release of a specimen like that with no one else around. 

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson


Rain started to fall and everyone knew it wouldn't stop until morning.  We pressed on to yet another pool void of anglers and Derrick came tight to a fish that had been in the river for a while.  It was a beautiful brown trout that ended the fishing portion of the weekend on a high note.  The weather however, soon took a real turn for the worse.  The thermometer fell into the 30's, the wind started to howl, and the rain came down in buckets.  I won't mention names, but it was gnarly enough out there to make two of the group leave camp, and then there were three.  Natural casing hotdogs cooked over a 40-year-old Coleman grill was the last dinner of the weekend.  We kept the fire roaring and hunkered under a pop-up tent that was worth its weight in gold.  The last of the scotch gave us false warmth and a little after midnight, we crawled into our tents and hoped they would be up to the task.  By morning, it had rained over two inches and rendered the river unfishable, even though that really wasn't on the docket anyway.  Some water infiltrated the tents, but we were in good shape considering.  Drying our gear, slowly breaking down camp and eating the rest of the food filled our last day of the trip.  Each of us spends a good amount of time fishing throughout the year, yet not nearly enough camping.  There will be plenty of all-day benders on the river over the weeks to come, but it will be another year before we have a weekend like that again.  That's why we savor camp life.  

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Monday, April 11, 2011

In Situ

During a walk over the weekend, I was fortunate to stumble on a small quartz point along the water's edge. It's not the prettiest of ancient tools, but I'll take it! Artifact collectors often snap photographs of their finds as they found them. There is a Latin phrase for this, in situ, which literally translates to "in position." Usually I'm so pumped when I see anything that resembles an artifact, that I pick it up before I can take a picture of it on the ground. I saw this triangle as I was walking back to my vehicle for the day, so needless to say it made me stick around a while longer. Thankfully this spring has been to good to me in terms of finding artifacts--let's hope the lucky streak continues!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Shaking The Rust Off

With our annual Opening Day camping trip fast approaching, today was a prep and scouting mission of sorts. It had been a while since I fly fished for trout with any consistency (months of surfcasting then ice fishing will do that), so it was about time to shake any rust off. The trip was a wild success from the standpoint that my buddy Aaron and I weren't at work and we were catching fish. We plucked several fresh stockers and a few better trout using a couple different nymph presentations. 

Another good sign was all the trout food around with midge coming off in the morning, stoneflies and caddis throughout the day, and a bounty of hendrickson nymphs found in seine net sample. Water temps are on the rise and the flows are currently at a good level. The river was very crowded, but that's to be expected on a Friday. It will be nice to get a bit of breathing room when we can wander the rest of river next weekend.
Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Heron attack survivor?
Hendrickson nymphs galore

Aaron's beauty taken in fast water

Good Looking

In heavily developed southern Connecticut, it is very difficult locating spots that still consistently yield Native American artifacts. Many of the farm fields that gave up museum-worthy stone tools to our predecessors are now sub-divisions or shopping malls. And most of the places that we do have left, have been picked over for centuries. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of stuff still out there and, occasionally, we do stumble upon something nice. My friend Derrick and I have been doing much more looking than fishing this spring and it is starting to pay off. I found this intact quartz beauty last week. It was not easy to spot being caked in mud and blending in very well with the other rocks. It is a great feeling when you find a full piece after picking up so many crumbs and it is a great incentive to keep on looking.