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Small stream techniques produce big trout
RUMFORD -- Anyone visiting Carlisle’s Apparel and Footwear on Congress Street in Rumford might get the impression that the owner, John Soucy, has one solid focus -– top-quality clothing and footwear.
Although the easy-going shop owner does have an extraordinary understanding of what merchandise his customers prefer, much of Soucy’s free time revolves around fly fishing.
“I started fly fishing in 1978,” said Soucy, “because I liked the outdoors; hiking and exploring – fly fishing fit right in. I bought a float tube so I could access remote ponds. About four years later I even began tying my own flies.”
While touring Soucy’s store one day, I noticed fly fishing vests and fishing shirts amongst the rest of the fine apparel on the racks. While my wife looked for a new pair of shoes, the helpful shop owner and I talked about fly rods, reels, and favorite kinds of fishing.
“I like fishing ponds,” said Soucy, “but lately I’ve been fishing in moving water. I can cover a lot of territory in streams and rivers. In a pond or lake you have to move the boat to a new spot, but in a river you are always moving – hitting new spots continually. I especially enjoy fishing small brooks and streams.”
Stalking Smaller Tributaries
Plenty of anglers enjoy the same method as Soucy, sneaking along the banks of little brooks, in search of pools deep enough to hold big trout. Once the angler spots a likely looking hole, they slip into the water and get within casting distance.
It’s very much like hunting, and the trophy is just as elusive as the wiliest big game animal.
The small brook angler employs tactics similar to hunting like, staying light on the feet, moving in the shadows, and keeping as quiet as possible. There is much excitement in this fishing stalk, and often an angler’s limbs tremble with a rush of adrenaline when the ripple of a feeding trout breaks the silence of a deep and still pool.
This trembling sometimes results in a sloppy cast, causing the misdirected fly line to slap the water and scare the fish. At that point, the hunt is over until the next pool. The angler vows to remain cool and collected the next time, but there are many hurdles to leap before the “fish hunter” can claim a true trophy.
A top-quality pair of waders helps in this streamside stalking, unless the water is warm enough to go with a swimming suit and wading boots. Wading allows an angler easier access to the best approach. Sometimes it’s necessary to cross a stream to reach a spot where the back cast is unhampered, or to actually stand directly in the stream for a clear cast.
Neoprene waders have replaced the old rubber types and they’re useful in colder temperatures, but the new, lightweight, breathable types are the most comfortable.
The soles of the wader boots are of the utmost importance when attempting to walk in streams filled with slippery rocks and logs that are slick with slimy vegetation. Cleated soles help tremendously, allowing the angler a more stealthy approach.
Some folks might think that a shorter fly rod would be helpful in the cramped confines of a stream lined with thick brush and overhanging branches. Although the smaller rod might be easier to manipulate while walking through the thick stuff, the back cast isn’t any shorter when an angler uses a short rod. Once an angler is streamside and ready to cast, a longer rod is often better for reaching over or casting around obstacles.
A fishing vest is needed for carrying the loads of gear anglers use when searching for trout on backwoods streams. Little streams have a way of leading anglers far from the car or camp. It’s good to have all the useful tools right at hand. A good vest offers plenty of pocket space for fishing tackle, rain gear, a bottle of water, and maybe a sandwich or two.
Variations on the traditional vest are also becoming popular. For gear collectors like me, a small backpack designed specifically for fishing is the way to go. When a longer hike is necessary to reach a deep-woods fishing hole, the backpack can hold everything needed for a day of brook fishing.
A temperature gauge is a nice item to have when fishing any kind of water. It helps to determine prime feeding conditions; trout are sensitive to water temperature changes. Generally speaking, brook trout are more active, and prefer feeding in water temperatures below 65 degrees. Brown trout can handle it a little warmer, possibly as warm as 70 degrees.
These numbers vary depending on the oxygen level in the water. I’ve had brookies attack my offerings in 72 degree water, but the stream was loaded with rocks and gravel that churned the water sufficiently to increase the oxygenation to a healthy level.
Another item essential to fishing small streams is some type of bug-collecting net. The net is handy for collecting the various types of insects available in and around a stream.
After overturning rocks and gravel in the stream, scoop the bugs up with the net so they can be closely examined. Airborne insects can be inspected in the same manner. Compare the bugs with photographs in a good book on the subject such as the Hatch Guide for New England Streams, by Thomas Ames, Jr.
A class in fly tying will help an angler become familiar with the various insects and the imitations used to fool trout.
Basically there are four types of aquatic insects that trout fishers attempt to imitate: Mayflies (order Ephemeroptera), Caddisflies (order Trichoptera), Stoneflies (order Plecoptera), and all the others (true flies, dragon- and damselflies, midges, ants, etc.).
The hatch guidebook will become a bible of sorts and allow an angler to estimate the approximate time of year that the insects will be available. The only true way to confirm their presence is a streamside visit, hence the bug-collecting net.
Once the bug is captured and identified, then the proper imitation is tied on and cast out to the feeding trout. At certain rare times fly selection is quite obvious, while at other times it seems nothing works. When fine tuning the hatch matching, remember to first adjust in size rather than pattern – sometimes it’s just a matter of moving up or down one size that makes success.
An insect hatch involves several separate stages of growth, and particular attention should be made to determine the corresponding imitation for each of the stages. Most bugs go from an underwater nymph stage and molt before breaking the surface of the water and becoming airborne.
For some unknown reason, certain imitations will fool trout at anytime. One that comes to mind is the Wooly Bugger. It imitates something between a leech and a big stonefly, and is useful when hatches aren’t happening.
Baitfish and nymph imitations can be used in the same way. If insects aren’t surfacing, then go subsurface to connect. A super-fast sinking line is helpful in getting these selections down deep in swift water.
Reading a Stream
Identifying a few surface features on a stream can lead to an understanding of where to find big trout. Smaller trout might be found anywhere, but the truly huge fish hang out in select areas.
These select areas are usually the deepest and coolest parts of a stream that also offer seclusion. Big trout will seek the dark and deep water, especially where a rock or bank provides an overhanging shelf.
If anglers are able get their offering deep enough to pass by one of these brookie hotspots, then they had better hang on tightly. If the big trout takes the hook, they usually will head right back down to their deep-water hideout. Beware of the sharp edges on those overhanging shelves; they’ll cut a tippet in a hurry. A few steps downstream, immediately after the hookup, will aid in extracting the fighting trout from its underwater shelter.
The increased water speed on the outer edge of a sharp turn in a stream forms what is called a cut bank. The water actually cuts into the bank and floor of the stream, digging out a deep pocket on the outside part of the turn. Heavy deposits are left on the inside of the turn and it is here that big trout lie in wait, hoping that the deposits will include a nutritious meal.
Big rocks slow the water, giving fish a place to easily hover rather than struggle against the moving current. Fish can set in these areas and dart out when a meal passes by. Cast a few feet upstream from a rock and let the selection drift by naturally to lure a lunker from one of these spots.
Polarized lenses greatly increase an angler’s ability to spot under water rocks that form the refuges described above.
Reading the surface of a stream correctly will also give indication to what is happening under the water.
A seam is a part of a stream that has water moving at two different speeds and often, in two separate directions.
Big trout-like seams because they can relax in the slower part of the water and keep an eye on the faster moving water that swiftly carries their menu past them.
One telltale area that holds plenty of fish food is quite easy to spot. Foam and particulate will collect on the surface of a stream, and carry with it many of the insects that trout feed on. Certain sections of a stream swirl around and trap this floating material, marking the spot almost like a casting target.
What an angler sees happening on the surface of a stream is definitely an indication of what is happening below. Particulate that holds in a pattern on the surface indicates the same for submerged items including aquatic fish meals.
Time spent on the stream is valuable for learning any of these fishing skills. Experience will lead the angler to success, and successful fishing is not simple luck. Follow Soucy’s lead and be calm – and take the extra time required to silently stalk a wild stream. The reward just might be a stiff handshake with a strapping trout.