Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Big Fish in the Little J

Big Fish in the Little J
3/25-3/27 2016


 The Little Juniata River is like most trout waters I imagine as far as the bite goes. One day the trout could be eating now and then and the next day they will shut down like fasting on Good Friday.
 Jeff and I fished a long stretch of the Little J from 8am till just after 12 without a strike. We met three fishermen at the bridge who also never caught a thing. The day was overcast with the occasional appearance of the sun. The water was a bit on the high side with good flow. The clarity was just right, not too clear but clear enough beneath the surface the trout should be able to see a meal passing by from some distance. There weren’t any hatches going on but should have been prime nymph fishing. NOT!
 After noon we went to the campground and set up camp. Lunch was cheese, crackers and assortment of meat and some semi-dry Riesling. After lunch we discussed our plan and drove down creek to where I have fished before.
 Fishing our way, across the river, a few fish rose to the top. We searched the air and water for some kind of a hatch. A few grayish mayflies were about which looked like Blue Duns which I felt was a bit early. Jeff saw a few Mayflies with a grayish-brown body. There were a few midges about and an occasional Brown Stonefly when the sun peeked out for a bit warming the chilly air. There were two trout feeding regularly just out from the far bank, in a wavy current flow, downstream from an uprooted log jam. Doing some research, before this outing, I read that Early Brown Stoneflies and Blue Wing Olives may appear in March depending on the weather. I had tied up some Brown Stonefly dry and nymph patterns before hand. I hadn’t seen any BWO about so I decided to go with a Brown Stonefly dry. With the gusts of wind, and a #14 dry, I went with adding a length of 5x tippet to my tapered leader. I doused the dark brown body of my dry with floatant and was ready to give it a try.
 The nearest trout, behind the log jam, was coming up more often than the one downstream from him. I concentrated on him first. I had some good drag free offerings but he didn’t want what I had to offer. After about 5 showings I tried for the trout behind him.
 Despite the occasional gusts of wind, I must have timed it right and the Brown Stonefly imitation fell upon the water upstream from the trout feeding zone. The current between was a little faster but it looked as though the dry would drift into the zone drag free. As soon as I seen the splash I reared back the long length of line. I felt the rod arc and a tight line rose into the air from the tip of the rod to the swirl of surface water across creek.
“Got him” I called out to Jeff, “First fish on a dry this year.”
 I soon felt the heaviness of the trout as he turned down creek with brutal force. I squeezed the cork grip tighter and felt the muscles in my forearm tighten. I knew I had a heavy fish on and was intending on getting him to the net. Like most brown trout he stayed deep in the waste high water. He’d give a hard head tug before he forcefully swam in a different direction. I maneuvered the rod tip always trying to keep side pressure on him as he fought beneath. As he tired I would take in some line but only let out less line when he would pull away. Nearer to me I got him turned upstream and slowly backed him into the net. What a rush catching my first trout on a dry fly in March, being a heavy wild brown!

After the release I concentrated on the trout that was still feeding. I tried an assortment of dry flies and dry midges. I even threw a few emergers his way and dropped a beetle pattern in his path. He completely ignored everything. He’d rise before my offering and sometimes rose after it went by. Whatever he was munching on wasn’t anything I had he was hungry for. Jeff fished down creek for awhile but I continued on trying to catch that one or two trout on a dry. I even waded back to the van and got more dry flies and offered them to the picky trout. He didn’t want anything. Before dark we called it quits and our total catch of the day was that one single brown trout that I caught on a dry fly.
 At the campground we talked to one guy who said Thursday he caught close to 40 trout all on minnows. Today he didn’t catch any. Other fishermen at the campground claimed the same, no fish. Evidently it wasn’t us! Saturday the weather was suppose to clear up with plenty of sun. We were hoping for some good March hatches that would bring trout to the surface.


 Most people I talk to, about fishing the Little J, would say nymph fishing is the best way to catch the fish. I have fished this river some time ago and can never remember ever catching a fish on a Woolly Bugger or a streamer of any sort. I have had a few good days on dries during a hatch but other than that going to the dark side, nymph fishing, will be a better chance to catch more trout.

 Saturday morning I cooked up some bacon and eggs while Jeff heated up a pot of tea. After a good breakfast we were off to another section of the river Jeff had suggested. We found the road, between the guard rails, and headed along the road till we found a place to park. Jeff went up river to check the area whereas I walked down to the water following a path.
 The sun was up though the morning air still had a chill to it. There wasn’t as much of a breeze as the day before. The river was much clearer though it could have been just that the day was brighter so visibility was better. I found a good wavy current of water that flowed towards and followed the far bank. I knotted on a Bi-Color San Juan with a stonefly dropper. I added some weight, to get my offering down quickly in the tumbling current. With a roll cast, I dropped my offering up stream and gave the line a quick mend. On my second drift through I felt a hard grab and lifted the rod to tighten the hook set. The fish pulled line beneath and swam with the current down river a short piece. I felt I had a good fish on and had to play him against the current flow. I was knee deep in water and didn’t feel comfortable wading back to shore over the slippery loose rocky river bottom. I did back up a bit hoping to get him out of the quicker current that he swam back into. With the rod arcing downward I moved it down creek with just enough force not to strain the 5x tippet. It felt like he swam side to side, facing the wavy current, beneath the surface water with a tug now and than with his head. He finally gave in and turned down river, with the current, and than swung around facing me. A little battle ensued before I got him in the net. Not as colorful as the brown trout I caught the day before but a nice lengthy brown no less.

 After fishing an hour or so, without another bite, we decided to head to another section of the river.
 We found that fishing the slower water was a waste of valuable time. We concentrated on the wavy and riffling water with stronger current flow. Though I would try a streamer now and then by the end of the day I didn’t even take my streamer box along. Saturday we drove to different sections of the river and maybe spent an hour or two before driving to another section. We caught some trout here and there but it wasn’t an easy task and there were long periods of no strikes. Just enjoying being outside and fly fishing, with a good stogie between my teeth, kept me content and happy.

A big hatch never developed and we were left nymph fishing throughout the day. We each caught a few trout, some nice browns and some smaller trout. Jeff hooked up to, and netted, a big rainbow later in the day.
 We ended the evening with emptying another bottle of white wine after a filling dinner. We didn’t know what to expect Sunday except there shouldn’t be too many people out on the stream being it’s Easter Sunday.

 Sunday morning we ate an oatmeal breakfast and finished off a pot of coffee. We cleaned up camp and headed back to the river where we seen a few cars parked the day before. When we got there, there was only one vehicle parked. We got our gear on and headed down to the river. Right off I spotted a good riffle and tumbling water down creek where Jeff started to fish. I had to wade half way across the creek to get to a small island of pebbles and rocks. From there I could fish the nearer bank, towards the lane, that was too steep to fish from that side of the creek. I also had a small run of water that edged the other side of the bank. I knotted on a San Juan and dropped a weighted nymph beneath. Once out mid-river I started to fish my way downriver and back towards the bank.
 In riffles, no more than knee deep, I mended my cast up creek and let it tumble below the surface high sticking with the drift. I didn’t expect to catch anything in the shallow narrow run but my line appeared to stop and the fly line arced up creek. I never seen or felt a nudge in the line so I figured I got caught up on the bottom. I wrist the rod upward to loosen the snag but that didn’t free it. With a couple of soft tugs I still couldn’t release the snag. I jerked just a bit harder and the object started to move into the deeper and faster current cross creek.
 Now, if this was a piece of drift wood or a water logged piece of wood, and I dislodged it, it would have flowed with the current down river. Instead this movement was across creek and I realized I had a fish on. It stayed low and when it reached the faster current it turned down creek with the flow. I knew it wasn’t a trout but whatever it was it had some body weight to it. As my rod flexed down creek the pressure was evidently too much for the fish and I wasn’t going to give it any more line. It finally became a little livelier and put up a little tugging battle before I netted the long sucker. I guess they like San Juan worms also.

 I wasn’t sure where Jeff had gone but I didn’t plan on moving down river into the flat water. I had a nice deep stretch of wavy rough water in front of me and I planned on working it over good. I ended up hooking up with four trout but only was able to land one from the rippling current. I also hooked into another sucker on a brown stonefly nymph.

Jeff never fished the Little J near Spruce Creek so I decided to take him to a section of the river that I have fished before. For an hour and a half we fished a small section and never got a strike. There were three rises in different areas but nothing was feeding regularly. The sun was out but we didn’t see any major hatches about. Jeff finally called it quits around 2, I guessed, and headed back to Pittsburgh. I contemplated on going somewhere else to fish but decided just to fish my way down river some.
 I could see shallow riffles and looked like some deeper runs along the bank. Also it looked like there would be some nice pocket waters in the shallow riffles along the wider section as I looked down river. Besides that I had ¾th of tobacco to smoke of the fuma I was puffing on.
 With the rough water I figured a San Juan would attract attention. I didn’t have any bead San Juan worms left so I dropped a weighted nymph below the worm to get it down quicker. I also added a little weight to the leader and started down river fishing the riffles and deeper runs.
 The bulk of the water flowed towards the bank and the strong current toppled over the boulders creating a wave of tumbling water. The water smoothed out closer to the bank but between me and the bank, the water still tumbled and waved over the smaller hidden boulders and rocks below. It always amazed me how a trout can see any quick meal and be quick enough to grab it within the fast current. But they do!
 The first brown trout nearly took the rod right out of my loose grip. He grabbed the San Juan near the end of the drift unexpectedly. The yank was like two siblings grabbing each end of a jump rope and trying to yank it out of the others hand.
 The trout swam briefly into the slower water directly down from me before fighting the ‘give’ in the rod back into the rougher water. I swung the rod down creek and towards the opposite bank and he nudgingly followed. Once in the slower current he battled with uncontrolled darts like he was avoiding paint balls being shot at him. He tussled all the way to the net never giving up.

After releasing the trout I made a few more casts into the rough water. I seen the line pull outward and I lifted the rod tip, taking up the slack, and setting the hook. The end of the line cut through the waves as the trout scurried about beneath the surface. With the line tight he turned down creek and tried to hold in the small ripples just this side of the rougher water. I turned around and forced him into the shallow water behind me where I was able to net him. He also took the San Juan.

It wasn’t long after that another brown took the nymph in the tail out.

 I landed another smaller trout in the same run and lost one.
 I fished for about another hour, wading down creek, before finishing up back in the run I caught the other browns. I did catch one more brown, on a bead head pheasant tail, before I decided to call it quits.
 Back at the van I felt like an old man changing clothes and getting ready for the long drive home. I munched on some crackers and meat snacks on the way into Tyrone to fill up with gas.
 At a stop sign, before getting onto Rte. 350, I reached into my traveling humidor and took out a dark outer leaf cigar I’ve been saving for such the occasion.

 The Garo, Double Habana, looked to be an interesting smoke and had a great aroma to it. It wasn’t as strong as I would have thought, looking at it, but was an enjoyable long smoke for the ride home.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fresh Cigars, Wine and a Fly Rod

Fresh Cigars, Wine and a Fly Rod

I had the cycle already packed to take me trout fishing. At 10:00am the temperature was only 41 degrees, I opted to take the van for the hour plus drive. After loading my fishing gear in the van I packed a cooler and headed down the roadway.
 I was getting low on cigars so my first stop would be at Slippery Rock Cigars. It isn’t that far out of the way and I knew I could get a fresh box there. After I bought a box of Sancho Panza Extra Fuerte Madrid I couldn’t wait to smoke one. Before I ever left the parking lot I was already dipping into the box. After sliding off the cellophane I took a big whiff of the fresh brown bold overleaf. I graced my taste buds with dampening the Honduran Sun-Grown wrapper. After letting the sulfur burn off the match I lit the end of the 6 ¼” cigar. The flavor was bold and a little on the rough side at first but I was sure it would smooth out. After a couple of weeks in the humidor, at home, I’m also sure it will be of full flavor and more enjoyable.

 When I pulled into the parking lot, near the trout stream, there looked to be quite a few fishermen along the creek for a Tuesday. I noticed a fellow, in the riffles, with water below his knees so I decided to wear my waist waders. After putting my wading gear on I decided on my 4 weight 9 foot rod. It was a bit windy with stronger gusts so I was sure the fast action rod would be my best choice for the day. I already had all my fly fishing necessities in a fanny pack so I strapped this around my waist. I took a couple of Padilla Fumas to go as I was still puffing on the Sancho Panza.
 Down on the creek I got myself some room between the spread out crowd. It appeared they were all nymph fishing with or without indicators. I tied on a Wooly bugger and within three casts had my first rainbow tight lining it towards me! 

 After a hard strike, in the riffles, snapped the tippet at a knot, I decided to put on a fresh 5x tapered leader. After about 15 minutes of not another strike I went around the other fishermen and continued on.
 I dropped the bugger right up against the bridge abutment on the far side of the creek. I swear the bugger never had a chance to drop too deep as I felt the tug like the bugger got caught on a small drifting branch. I brought the smaller trout in without much trouble. After making sure there were no more hungry trout, under the bridge, I continued down stream.
 I stopped just up creek from a fellow fishing a tail out of a deeper pool. I watched him catch a few trout on nymphs. I couldn’t get a strike on the buggers and streamers I offered so I decided to go to the dark side and fish attractor nymphs.
 This is mostly rainbow waters and rainbows love red. I knotted on a bi-color San Juan and an early stonefly as a dropper being I seen a few stoneflies about. With a little extra weight, so the offerings would bump the bottom, I drifted the patterns without an indicator watching my fly line tip. On one drift the tip dropped noticeably and I lifted the rod for the hook set. The rod came alive with a spirited rainbow on the tight line. He had taken the San Juan. 

  Continuing, fishing in the same area, I caught one more trout before I snagged on the bottom and broke off. The guy, fishing the tail out, decided to leave and let me know his last few trout he caught were on a Hare’s Ear. With more stoneflies about I decided to fish a small stonefly beneath a Picket Pin. I waded down a bit, towards the tail out and began drifting my offerings.
 The fly line tip dropped suddenly, almost at the end of the drift as if my patterns should have been rising. I jerked the rod upstream for the hook set. The fast action rod flexed deep before I felt a heavy fighting fish in the other end. I knew this wasn’t an average trout so I played him with caution. He was a bit feisty at first, determined to throw the hook, but quit the head thrashing as it tired out. When I put my gear in the van, at home, I forgot my net. I felt the best way to land him was to get him close to the bank in the shallowest water. While playing the trout I cautiously backed up towards the bank. He gave a few escape attempts before I got him safely to the bank where I could dislodge the well placed stonefly hook.

  Changing nymphs often I caught a few more trout before deciding to continue on down creek. I knotted on a bugger and covered the water as thoroughly as I could. I caught fish in the most likely places and also in some pretty shallow water that I didn’t expect.

I was having a field day.

 Down creek some I was up creek from a fellow who was catching quite a few trout on his stonefly nymph imitation. I caught a few trout, just up creek from him, before swinging down creek below him.
 I was making long casts, trying to keep from trout’s view, in the knee deep clear water. I had taken the split shot off some time ago and letting the bugger swing and drift in the slower moving current. 

  In a faster run a trout struck at the bugger hard and I managed to safely set the hook without him snapping the line. He was holding in the riffling water with side to side swimming motions. I didn’t want to force him out without tiring him out some so I just kept tension on him until he decided to commit to an energy draining skirmish. He skirted up through the riffles and I was able to see his long silver body cresting the surface. I kept the rod, almost touching the water, trying to keep the trout underneath the riffling water surface. Once he was up creek I got him turned around and, with the help of my glove net, got him cradled in my hand. 
 My cast was up against a boulder looking wall against the far bank. It was in the shadows of the overhanging fir branches that made for a nice dark place for trout to hide. It took a sharp quick sidearm cast, to get the bugger under the branches, but I did so and I placed it pretty much where I wanted to.
 As the bugger swung through the darker water I anticipated a strike at any moment. It wasn’t till the line started to straighten out when I felt the hard tug. The rod arced down creek as the fish took off in haste. He scrambled beneath with some toughness and agility that I was afraid he would come loose. I let him have line a couple times trying to keep him on as long as possible and trying to land this durable trout. I finally got him to hand safely and realized I caught a beautiful colored hold over rainbow. 

 After catching a few more trout I decided to head up creek and fish a bit before heading out.

 I wanted to fish the faster water but there were two older gents fishing it. There were three younger guys fishing the deeper slower water so I decided to fish the lower part of the riffles. The rainbows evidently decided to put on the hungry feed. Maybe the trout decided to move up, out of the deeper section, and look for food in the knee deep water. What ever the reason I started to hook up to rainbows within a few casts for about 20 minutes or so. These rainbows were frisky and erratic beneath the surface. A few came shooting out of the water trying to throw the hook. After things started to slow down I figured a few more casts and I would leave. It was getting near 5:30 pm and I had a long drive home.

 My cast was far across the creek and I let some slack line out to let my bugger drop deep before the current swung it down creek. I had just one small shot on to get it down quicker and keep it down deep as long as possible. When the trout struck it there was no doubt, by the force and heaviness I felt with my gripping hands, that I had a lunker on the end of my line. With a couple of quick jolts and heavy tugs he muscled his way closer to the far bank. I kept good tension on him, between my fingers, as he fought in the riffling water splashing the surface as he rose to the top. He turned back towards the deeper water and tension line slipped through my fingers. Gingerly, and consciously, I backed up towards the bank. When the big trout held tight, beneath, I turned and seen a fellow watching me from the bank. The first glance I took was to see if he had a net but I wasn’t that lucky. My only hope was to tire the trout out and bring him to the bank. The bank was a short drop off and not like a smooth transition of a gradual sloping surface. Within a foot of the bank I held my ground and we watched the big trout as it settled just above the creek bed in the knee deep riffles. I figured I’ll play him like a steelhead keeping side pressure on him until he decides to waste some more energy. It wasn’t long before he decided enough was enough and he gave in first by forcing the issue of the next battle round. I kept my cool and patience and didn’t get into an abusive, forceful battle. After a short bout he tired enough I got him close to the bank to land. I know I drained a lot out of energy out of the lunker so I kept him in the water a short bit before the picture, which the guy on the bank offered, that I wasn’t even thinking about asking. There was a quick opportunity and I felt I was keeping the fish well oxygenated and lively in my grip in the water. Once the guy told me he was ready for the photo I picked up the trout and got a couple of pictures before putting the trout back into the water. I let it catch its breath and once I felt a good tail swat, I let him swim free.

That was it. I hooked the bugger into the rod hook keeper and called it a day.

 Back at the van, while changing clothes, I sipped on some wine and ate cheese, crackers and ring bologna. On the road I lit up one of those fine Sancho Panza stogies and comfortably drove homeward.

 When there’s good weather and opportunity to fish, I try to take full advantage of it!!


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Buggers, Picket Pins, Stoneflies and a few Stogies

Buggers, Picket Pins, Stoneflies and a few Stogies

 It took an assortment of offerings to get a trout to bite. It took a few stogies to bide my time between the bite in the morning to evening trout outing.
 The weather was comfortable for the first of March. Near 50 I think they said but it always feels chillier standing in cold water. The water was running a bit faster than I would have liked for this time of year but the greenish water color was perfect. With the coldness of the water and the quickness of it, in areas, I didn’t think a trout would chase a Wooly Bugger but I started off with one anyhow. I actually hooked up twice without getting either one to the net before I was able to finally net one. Getting the first one felt good. I felt I had the right offering but it ended up I didn’t catch another on the Woolly Bugger the rest of the day.

 When the sun rose above the winter bare trees upon the water, in the afternoon, stoneflies began to appear. The wind picked up some and the stones were fluttering upon the water. I was down creek, heading up stream, when I started fishing a Picket Pin with an early stonefly dropper. I didn’t like the way the indicator was moving in the faster runs so I took it off and took my chance fishing deep without it. I seen the floating line arc a little too much and set the hook. As I was starting to bring the trout towards me all of a sudden the line got weightier and started erratically moving beneath the surface. Nearer I could see two brown trout tugging on my line. I couldn’t get both in the net; I had too much line dropped below my Picket Pin. I did manage to get the top brown netted but the other trout got itself free.  

 After a few more casts my leader got tangled up with my weight and I brought it in to untangle the line. While my flies were dangling in the water I felt a tug and looked down just beyond my boots in the current. A chub had grabbed the early stone and got itself hooked.

 Back up creek I decided to fish the faster current with the stonefly where earlier I had a couple hook ups with the bugger. One trout took the stone in a soft spot behind a boulder.

 Keeping with the Picket Pin and stonefly dropper I fished it deep as I slowly waded down creek trying to cover the riffles effectively. I let the current take my imitation down towards shallower water when I got a hard strike. I set the hook and figured the trout took the Picket Pin. Fighting the fish, in the faster current, I got him nearer to me and safely netted a nice rainbow. The rainbow had taken the early stone fly.

 It wasn’t a banner day by any means but for an early March outing, in cold water conditions, it turned out not so bad. With the few stogies, and the warm sun, it was a relaxing outing and good to be out.
 I finished off the day with Romeo and Julieta for the ride home listening to some Kid Rock on two for Tuesday.