Guided Fly and Spey Fishing Trips for Steelhead and Brown Trout with
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|Posted on October 10, 2020 at 2:40 PM||comments (60)|
Perfect fall steelhead on a blue and purple spey
Despite the very low and clear water, there are decent numbers of fish. With flows this morning hovering just north of 100 cfs, I figured early would be the game. Started a nice mid-river stretch of pocket water, good early season floating line water, with a traditional blue and purple spey pattern on a size 4 Alec Jackson. I started out with a 14' clear floating poly with about four feet of 1X, but after a while I decided to shorten up to a 10' floating poly but lengthen the leader out to about 7 feet tapered down to 3x. I liked the initial length I was fishing, but I was afraid that with the shorter leader, the poly would be right on top of the fly and the fish might still see it despite being clear. So I switched it up and started working again.
After I made about ten casts, I looked down and saw the head of a big, usually moderately fished run was open and with the sun cresting over the trees, it was still in the shade. My plan was always to work down through all the pocket water and riffles and fish that run, but I started thinking that people usually fish that run and I don't see people fish the choppy water I was casting to. So why not book down there, fish the run first, then come back up and fish all the water through again. Made sense to me.
So I got down in position and started fishing high on the head of the run. The run is set up on a gradual river-left turn with a riffle up top and a trough that forms against the right bank on the other side. It's not a crazy deep trough in the head, particularly in the flows we had this morning. But about four feet off the right bank puts you somewhere around mid-thigh deep. And there are a couple boulders right near the bank on the other side. It's good water.
As I was fishing through, I was making a conscious effort to not hold the running line against the cork. I wanted any fish that took to be able to pull line from the reel if it needed it. 3x is 3x after all, and I've had many fish break off on the take alone. Lesson learned. When fishing a floating line and super light tippet on the swing, let them take it from the reel. Right as I got into that trough and the current evened out, the fish absolutely annihilated it. It was somehow thrashing on the surface while screaming line off the reel at the same time, even before I lifted the rod. People ask me why I fish the way I do. That's why. You will not find a harder hit than light line on a floating tip on a scandi or long belly. None of the energy is absorbed by a weighted tip so it all goes to the rod.
The fish fought the way you hope an early fall fish does- long, fast runs with a few jumps thrown in for good measure, and it even briefly got around a mid-river snag as I did my best to lose it. But the hook stayed buttoned, my line held, and I was able to bring it in. Not huge, perhaps four or five pounds, but as pretty and clean as can be with perfect fins. Sometimes you can just tell.
After that I spent the rest of the morning jumping around to spots and switching it up between a riffle hitched muddler and a foam waker, but none wanted to play all the way up top. But that didn't matter. I got my fish. I could go another year if I have to, but a sink tip won't be on my line anytime soon.
Check out a few extra pics.
The fly that did the damage
|Posted on October 8, 2020 at 12:00 AM||comments (59)|
One of the coolest things I find about steelhead fishing is the absolute variability in flies that one can catch them on. Sure, it's fun to have old standbys. Finding a confidence pattern is like finding a twenty on the sidewalk- money in the bank. Those are the patterns to tie on your line when you need to feel like you're still a somewhat capable steelheader. Whether that's fishing in slightly off conditions, trying to break a dry spell (we all have those), or simply fishing a new stretch of water where you're looking for feedback as quickly as possible- confidence patterns have a crucial place in a fly box.
But as fun as it is to catch a steelhead in general, I think if it's possible, it might be even more fun catching one on a new pattern or profile scheme or color. Part of the reason behind that is until a fly pattern is proven, you just don't know if it will catch a fish. I've tied lots of flies I thought looked great. But it's not me those flies have to catch, and sometimes the fish don't share my opinions. Maybe that's due more to confidence- again until a fly is proven you don't know how a fish will react, and the longer you fish it without a fish the more you can second guess whether it's a good pattern or not. It is often right about then that I find myself switching out to a proven pattern and relegating the previous to my infamous drawer of misfit flies.This coming fall, however, I've set out to add as much variety to my steelhead game as possible. So of the flies I've been tying, while many are old standbys, perhaps even more are new patterns.
To accomplish variety, in the leadup to fall steelhead, I've put quite a lot of emphasis on tying different patterns with different materials. And one material I've recently rediscovered is bucktail. While I've always had a few hanging around in my fly tying supplies, I haven't really used them for tying steelhead flies. That changed recently. I've gone on a bit of a bucktail kick, tying everything from templedog style patterns to muddlers and I have to say, I'm really impressed with the results. But more importantly, though I've only got out once so far, I had a nice fish eat a natural bucktail bugger. Now I can't wait to go through my bucktail lineup.
|Posted on October 5, 2020 at 10:55 AM||comments (14)|
My dad working the head of a familiar run
Well made it out for the first time this year, if only for a few hours in the morning with my dad. With drought conditions towards the second half of September, while I thought there'd be a fish or two somewhere, wasn't sure how many fish would be in. And overnight before getting out we got much needed rain, but it dirtied up the river quite a bit, while not adding excessive volume to the flows. But my dad doesn't get as much time to fish as either of us would like, so you have to make the best of it.
Went to an old standard for me, and we worked it over. With visibility somewhere around 14", it wasn't prime, but it is a spot that holds fish. My dad worked it through with a light tip and bigger fly and didn't get so much as a bump in the money spot. Then a good fish rolled a couple times. I fished through with a long belly, floating poly, and a smaller wet in blue and black but didn't get bumped either. Then I put on a natural colored bucktail minnow. The fish rolled a couple more times in the bucket. I swung out there and got a grab. I didn't set on it because I didn't feel weight on the line, but then he was still on there and trashing the surface with rolls so that when I finally did set it was too late.
Trouble with fishing light lines in slow water is sometimes without good water current pushing your line, a fish can grab and still be on the line but all you feel is the sharp pluck, especially from a good distance away. My casts were out there, so there was a lot of line between me and that fish. I can sit here and armchair quarterback what I did wrong. But getting a nice grab on the floating line is fun, and having a fish take in off conditions that way is even better. Seems like every year I feel more confident fishing that way. To be sure, the fly was lightly weighted, but it would still have been in the top half and not scaping bottom. Then a bit later I got the consolation prize of a smallmouth. And right after that my dad hooked and lost a fish at the head of the run.
We checked out a couple other places. Cast a bit, but we only had a few hours and had to call it before noon. But still, was a great time. Glad to see some fish have made it well upriver even before the rains came. Should only pick up from here.
My natural bucktail minnow
After the take
Decent smallmouth from 90 feet away
|Posted on September 15, 2020 at 11:20 AM||comments (77)|
Matt with a solid smallie
As I sit and write this, the morning temperature was 44 degrees. You can just feel it in the air, that regardless what season the calendar says it is, fall is here. The heavy dew on the grass, the crisp morning air that stings your hands a bit. It's just all good stuff. With the change in the seasons, our thoughts are changing too, from stream trout and smallmouth to our favorite target- steelhead.
We spent the last few days playing around with PA smallies and trout. They're still there and still eating. But the trip we just took will probably be the last of the season for them. All around the river temperatures are starting to dip, though most remain low and clear. We could use a few days of steady rain, the soaking kind not the runoff kind, to get things moving. We had a wet start to the summer, but since about mid-July we've been pretty dry, and the rain we did get came in big, pounding spurts. In some cases, inches of rain fell over the course of an hour or two. Glad we get the rain, but when it comes like that it just washes off. We need slow and steady rain for two days.
On the PA trip we had fun. We hooked smallmouth swinging trout speys, stripping streamers, and popping bugs. They really are a fun little fish and it's pretty clear why many anglers are showing them love now. We didn't find any huge ones, but we saw a few fish up to around 17" or so. Also found a partial hellbender skeleton which was super cool. Havent seen an alive one, but finding the skeleton was awesome. As for the trout, they're still acting trouty even in low water. Again nothing huge, but the biggest went to about 21"- a solid wild brown anywhere.
As for steelhead, getting a few reports of early runners. I havent been out to check it out just yet but like most seasons this time of year I expect there to be a couple poking around the lower reaches of creeks. Looking ahead, we have a scattering of days forecasted to get into the low-mid seventies over the next two weeks. That kind of sunny day can get the creeks and rivers up into the mid to upper sixties. If you go out, fish early and keep a thermometer with you. I say it every year, cut your fishing short if you see 65 degrees. These fish are too cool to be caught only once.
As for a fall forecast, over the last few years we've been seeing a trend of fewer fall steelhead. Not that the fishing has been bad, just that the numbers we've seen were on the lower end of the average spectrum. I think that's probably what we have in store again consisent fishing throughout the season with drawn out runs. So far this fall things are running low. September has been very dry for most the area. We just got a small shot of rain, and we have rain in the forecast so hopefully things will be picking up. Hopefully we see that first good push happening any day now.
Its about time to get out there and take a look.
Hellbender skeleton I found recently
Matt wrangling his smallmouth
|Posted on July 2, 2020 at 9:45 AM||comments (124)|
Kyle with a recent moused up brown
Fishing your favorite trout stream at night is a totally different experience. It's dark. There are strange noises around. You get that eerie feeling where the hair on the back of your neck stands up like all the time. The bushes are awfully close. Frustration can run higher than normal when fishing in the daylight. But the trade off is that the biggest fish in the stream will feed under the cover of darkness most of the time. And if finding out what exactly your trout stream has as far as big fish in it is your goal, then fishing at night is the best way. And there is no way more exciting and straight up awesome as tossing a mouse around. Here are some tips to get you started.
Fish the small streams
While big rivers certainly hold big trout that feed at night, they tend to spread out over large distances under the cover of darkness. This means that you may fish an entire stretch of big water and shown your fly to exactly zero big, feeding trout. Small streams concentrate fish near adequate daytime cover. Find a good short stretch with a few deep pools and fish the water around them. Plus smaller streams with better canopy will have better water temps than the big drainages over the summer when night feeding occurs. Finally it is safer. Wading at night is challenging and big water can get you into trouble if you aren't intimately familiar with every stone on the bottom. So if your goal is to find big trout at night, target small water (10-30 feet wide) and you will be surprised to see the size of the trout that come out of it.
Tailor your fly to fish present
Browns eat differently than rainbows. Rainbows chase, nip, and turn on the fly making mouse flies with trailing stinger hooks very effective for hooking up. Browns broadside center mass of a mouse. It is a T-Bone attack. Mouse flies with a standard mid-body hook result in more hookups.
Wait to feel weight
Just like swinging for steelhead on a spey rod, you can't set too soon. There must be weight on the line. Many times a fish will miss on the first attack only to come back a second or two later. If you set on the first attack (and trust me you will hear it) you pull the fly from the fish (best case scenario) or sting him and put him down (worst case). Wait until the line is tight and set firmly upwards.
Use heavy leaders
I use twenty pound maxima. You want to be able to pull that fly out of the bushes when you send a shitty cast sailing into them. Plus you want it to hold up to a violent attack and then be able to muscle in a two foot trout that isn't too pleased about having a hook in its mouth. Twenty pound maxima.
Take no chances
Fishing at night is not the time to be stupid. There's never really a good time to be stupid on a river or creek, but of all the times night is the worst. Know the water you are fishing, your entry route, exit routes and any emergency pull offs if you do get into trouble. Browns like log jams and the water around them. You do not want to end up underneath one at night.
So if you're really looking for trophy trout, check out your local stream at night. Looking at the weather, the next few weeks isn't gonna be the time to do it. But when the heat passes and the creeks cool off again, the trout will be hungry. Get out there and fire some mouse patterns to the bank. This time of year, with the colder water they possess, the little streams throughout the region will give up some surprisingly big trout if you ask them the right way.
|Posted on June 24, 2020 at 11:55 AM||comments (51)|
Just a run of the mill trout
Trout fishing in North-Central PA watersheds has been very consistent over the past several weeks, with good numbers of fish ranging from 12-20" and maybe just a bit more. In early June, evening hatches produced excellent action with a mix of March Browns, Sulphers, Light Cahills, and even a few Hendricksons around, along with some drakes and a ton of caddis. The spinner falls seemed to bring up the biggest trout, and at times long stretches of many of the systems we fish were boiling with trout feeding aggressively.
As of now, the water is warming to sustained highs in the upper 60's and even low 70's on many of the trout systems, as we approach the brunt of the warm summer weather. Picking your moments to fish carefully from now to the end of summer becomes the game. Early mornings will have the best water temperatures, though bugs are more active in the evening, the same time when water is the warmest. Look for cooling trends in the weather to fish the summer evening hatches and remember that for stream trout, water of 67-68 degrees or above should not be fished.
Other options this time of year include resident smallmouth bass found in many of the same trout drainages. These guys are a blast and in lower summer flows tossing poppers around rockpiles or log jams can bring out the smallies in a hurry. Wild brook trout streams also provide summer angling opportunities. Most of these are small, mountain creeks with good canopy and steep drainages that rarely see 60 degrees, let alone 70.
|Posted on May 13, 2020 at 10:40 AM||comments (142)|
An obviously stream-born fish
I've been asked before on numerous occassions whether or not wild trout are truly different than stocked fish, and my answer has always been resondingly yes. In nature and appearance, wild fish are different and should be held to a different standard. I've seen anglers post pictures of giant trout with worn fins from a creek that, if left to its own devices, would struggle to produce even an upper teens fish. I've heard anglers brag of fifty fish days from single pools that without man's hand should hold in total perhaps ten fish scattered throughout. I've driven past lines of cars parked next to a stream because the hatchery truck was just there a day or two ago. These are the obvious answers to the question. But it might not be the only perspective to use.
Fishing wise, I find that streams that offer wild trout fish better throughout the year, season in season out. There's a reason to it. Stocked trout, particulary stocked catchable adults, are a put and take fishery. The hatchery truck puts them in. Anglers, including feathered ones and other predators, take them. And the stream is once again largely barren. When the state stocks even high numbers of catchable fish in a stream that isn't protected by catch and release regulations or gear restrictions, it doesn't take long for the stocked fish to vanish.
While it is true that long term holdover trout can take up residence in a stream, even a system that experiences heavy pressure, and offer some fishing opportunities once the bulk of the fish are removed, there are fewer of these fish than the wild trout densities in even moderately productive wild streams. All you need to do to confirm this is fish a stretch of stocked trout water in late June or early July, water that looks on the surface very productive to trout. Rocky bottomed, in-river structure, feeding lanes, perhaps even bugs coming off in the evenings. The only thing that's missing is the trout.
Wild stream trout, however, need to maintain resident populations sufficient enough to populate a watershed, meaning that in systems where wild trout are, wild trout are present somewhere in the system every day throughout the year. They offer fishing opportunities long after the the local stocked systems peter out from catch and kill. This is what truly makes these systems special, and worth protecting- the wild fish in these systems are worth more swimming in the river than frying in a pan. Though it is true that without the stocking efforts, opportunities for fishing trout in our general region would be more limited, places where trout are thriving without stocking efforts adds to overall angling opportunity. This is what truly makes wild trout different than a stocked fish- they live in the watersheds that are healthy enough to provide productive, though perhaps challenging, angling year round, not simply in the days or weeks after the hatchery truck drove by.
|Posted on May 4, 2020 at 8:00 AM||comments (6)|
Solid low-20's on meat
Got everything opened up at the PA cabin over the weekend and hit the river hard. It was worth it. The trout were acting trouty. Throwing the big stuff we moved probably fifty good sized fish. Lots of follows. Lots of swipes. Some real nice eats. Saw three bears on the river (didn't get a picture as it was a quick sighting unfortunately). I even caught two nice ones- one wading the first evening I was up there and a second that broke my rod on the hookset. Jeff and Matt all stuck really nice fish, including a couple really good rainbows. We'll be running trout trips in May and June. God I love trout fishing.
Good one on a double Ry-Snack
Rainbow close to 20
Matt with a pretty brown
And a solid rainbow
We floated through a snowstorm of caddis and picked up some hitchhikers
Jeff stuck the biggest fish on a double deceiver
This was a rod-breaker
The red on this adipose fin
|Posted on April 30, 2020 at 8:40 AM||comments (42)|
Old man from the sea
It's hard to believe that it's April 30 and we have another season in the books. Like every year, this past season had its highlights and challenges, it's peaks and low points. So like we do, as we reach the end of steelhead season, we like to look back and offer a critical analysis of what we saw, our observations both on and off the water. On the whole, '19-'20 was what we expect fishing-wise. There were not any significant anomalies we saw in fish trends or numbers across the board.
Early in the fall, the Catt fished decently. The flows throughout the month of October were very stable, if a tad low at times. Fish numbers built throughout the month, being sparse in the beginning and growing to numbers I'd say were on the lower side of average, but not alarmingly so. Most days by the second half of October and through November we were finding between a couple and a handful of fish swinging streamers. As usually, the whiskey hangover took most our fish. I don't recall any lights out days where our hookups approached double digits on the swung fly, but it seemed like working water well lead to consistent success.
Honestly I'll take that every time. Those years where we seem to see a handful of crazy days spey fishing in the fall also seem to have more days where we work hard to scratch out a single fish, and maybe not even that. I think this is because to have those crazy fishing days means a higher percentage of the run is entering the system at once. When you find that ball of fish, it's a blast. But they move on, and perhaps there are fewer fish following them up over the next few days or week. A slow and steady stream of fresh fish pushing in seems to lead to more consistency in the long view. All in all, and comparing to how the Catt fished (or didn't fish for that matter) for almost the entire 2018 fall season, 2019 was a blessing.
Whereas fall 2018 was the year of the lake run brown, 2019 was the general mixed bag. Like always, we spent a portion of our time up on the Ontario creeks. Brown numbers were nowhere near what they were in 2018, but the fish were there. It seems like every 5-7 years we just get a mega run of browns. Before 2018, the last year I can remember with a comparable run was 2011, though 2011 if I remember correctly even exceeded it. 2019 was the same steady flow and consistent fishing, most days hooking around a handful of lake runs between two people with steelhead and domestic rainbows in the mix as well.
One thing I did notice on the Ontario creeks was the lower numbers of Pacific Salmon but the higher numbers of Atlantics. Though I don't often fish the Oak, the boys made it over there a few times in late October and early November. Some days they had multiple Atlantic hookups, and I saw a handful on the other creeks throughout the fall as well. I really hope that program continues to develop. The lakes are changing. The forage base is shifting and likely will have a disparaging and disproportionate effect on king salmon. Atlantics and trout are more adaptable than kings, which are nearly solely reliant on alewife as a food source.
Over the winter, we had good fishing. The rivers never really froze up, and many times in January and February there were pleasant days of above average temperatures, great flows, and good fishing. By late February, the bulk of the spring run started. Before then we were finding late fall and winter fish, fish darkened from time in the river. By the end of February we started seeing more chrome, fresh run spring fish. Then the virus hit, almost exactly coinciding with the start of peak spring steelhead. And it was a shame. We had a beautiful spring with very consistent conditions and great numbers of fish. Particularly in the second half of April, I was seeing fish between about 28 and 32 inches fairly consistently in the mix on the big river. Most of the large fish were fresh run hens, a bit of a trend that I've noticed over seasons past- a final push of large female fish.
So here it is the last day of April, and we're turning our focus away from steelhead. I do the first trout trip this weekend to the cabin to scout things out. We will be running trips in May and June, and probably throw some smallmouth in the mix too. Here's hoping that the worst is past us now and we have nothing but good fishing ahead.
|Posted on April 27, 2020 at 11:10 AM||comments (43)|
Still some beautiful chrome, pre-spawn fish around
Hard to believe it's gonna be May in a few days. Seems like each year the season passes by quicker and quicker. I might sneak out one more day sometime in the next week or two for steelhead, but we're mostly geared up to do PA trout trips now. For anglers still wanting to catch steelhead, there are still quite a few around. The cold temps recently and decent water flows have kept them in the rivers. By now most fish are spawning or downriver fish. If you're looking for pre-spawn fish, look in the upper half of rivers. Most fish down low are downriver fish.
Was out a couple days ago. Swung up four, of which two were dime bright, prespawn fish, including one that went 31". Was nice to see some larger fish around, as is usual this time of year. Two of the others were between 27-29". Both fresh, prespawn fish were does. Seems like a trend I've noticed that signals the end of the season is quickly approaching- a last shot of larger female fish that push quickly upriver. The two bucks were colored up and battle scarred. I was about 28 miles upriver. Also swung up a big smallmouth, somewhere around 5 pounds. By the size I'd say was a lake run fish, but usually they don't make it up that far.
I still think my projection last week will hold up. We probably have a couple weeks of decent-good steelheading, and it looks like water levels and temps aren't gonna be an issue. If we start seeing 70's soon, keep an eye out. If the first half of May is like the second half of April, with days fluctuating between the 40's and 60's and intermittent rain, there may even be a decent number of fish around by the third week of the month, though I doubt very many will be fresh, and tired fish and warm water aren't the greatest combination.
Check out some more pics.
This bright upriver fish was too hot to touch. Easily cleared the water half a dozen times! I just reached down with the hemos and unbuttoned her.
Colored up warhorse of a buck that went airborne with the take. Super cool!