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31 July 2005
Suburban Stream [July 30 2005]

Evening Browns and Cedar Waxwings

B and I visited a relatively suburban stream on the west side of the state last night for an evening fishing outing. We should've tried to hook up with Speytrout, but I guess we weren't planning far enough ahead. This trout stream is small (normal flow for this time of year is about 130 ft3/min); the best upper stretches are a series of well-shaded riffles and pools that run over a bottom of gravel, rubble and sand through privately owned, fairly dense lowland hardwoods.

We arrived at the river at about 7:00 PM and found a single angler packing up his rod and leaving. This is a rather popular stretch to fish and we felt lucky to be the only anglers present. We didn't assume it would remain that way, but we never ran into any other fishermen during the evening. We quickly rigged up our 5-weights, hiked down to the water, waded in and began fishing downstream; B hiked down the bank a ways and waded below me, out of sight.

I didn't really have a strong feeling about an appropriate fly to begin with. For lack of a good idea, I tied on a light-colored terrestrial/hopper imitation, though I didn't have any confidence in this choice. In fact, I felt no confidence or inspiration at all about how to approach the water before me. I thought this was sort of strange; I'd fished this water enough times. "Hmmm....oh well, just start casting and go from there," I told myself.

There were a few risers here and there - seemingly smaller fish. And I couldn't really tell what they were rising to. I casted to a few and provoked no interest in my big fly, so I switched to a small, light colored Wulff pattern. I had noticed a small variety of flying insects - a few light caddis, even a couple of whiteflies. Whiteflies already? There was no single insect that seemed to predominate, so I was left to continue my unfocused, unconfident approach. I quickened my pace through a short, featureless stretch toward a particularly fishy area, but I saw no rises or a change in insect activity as I approached it. I casted through seemingly likely seams and holding areas here, but ended up wading right through it without turning a fish.

It was now dusk-ish and I came to a shallow, riffly bend. I figured I'd find B fishing below, through a long, straight series of riffles and exposed stones and stumps. I also noticed a good omen at this bend - about a half-dozen cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) furiously flycatching back and forth, and up and down the river. They were flying low to the water, so I suspected I might be stumbling into a section of hatching insects, rather than waiting for a fall of insects high above the water. Maybe they were eating the gatrillion mosquitoes that were buzzing around. I'd be OK with that too. I didn't notice any big change in surface bug action, though there were still a few surface disturbances. I switched flies to a soft-hackle hare's ear. Maybe I could find fish feeding just below the water surface. Perhaps the fish were feeding on something small, like BWOs, and I couldn't see them. I saw B way downstream and hollered to her. She'd not had a lot of luck with her ant pattern, but had stimulated a few short strikes.

I began swinging and lifting my wet fly and after only a few swings, I hooked a reasonable fish and lost it after only a few seconds. OK, this is an improvement. A few more downstream paces and swings and I hooked and lost another little one after a brief tussle. Two tugs and the sudden transformation in my confidence was so remarkable that I took notice. Isn't it amazing that I could go from an entirely aimless, unsure, stab-in-the-dark guessing game to a just-keep-doing-what-you're-doing-and-it'll-work feeling in a few minutes? Now I knew what I was doing when a few minutes prior, I didn't have a clue. I think I spend a lot of time in this state of Vaguely Clueless while fishing. Maybe we all do. I don't know.

A canoe passed by with 2 dads on the paddles and 3 little girls stowed between them. They were apparently having a deep discussion during their paddle. I overheard an inquisitive young voice ask "Dad, are there people in Japan?" And B reported later that a little blondie asked "Dad, what is that lady eating?" after they passed her while she was blowing on her fly to dry it off. I caught a couple of little 7-inch confidence boosters before B and I turned around headed back upstream. I switched to a brown, Wulff-ish isonychia pattern. We fished upstream a ways, which was not easy for either of us. We've both become downstreamers - apparently more comfortable with swings and active presentations than with dead-drifts. We casted dries to a few risers and got a few more splashy short strikes. Short strikes were developing into a theme for the evening too. I caught a nice 9" brown that had been rising regularly to something but required several casts to take my fly.

It was now 9:30-10:00, the sun was well down and we figured we should be wading an impediment-free, roomy backcast, likely big-fish stretch when darkness settled in. We hiked up to a typically high-yielding log jam and waded back in. B fished below me and we both were secretly hoping for a small hatch of just a few straggling Hex (Hexagenia limbata mayfly) to turn on some big brown trout. I think we saw 2 Hex on the evening - not quite a 'hatch.' We both switched to big flies - B tied on a black Gartside Gurgler, and I chose a large Muddler Minnow. I had only one strike on my Muddler, (not counting a muddler-eating tree branch over my head) but it was a nice one. I landed a feisty, slim, colorful, 13" brown. We ended our evening in heart-pounding fashion. B had been working a particularly active area above a logjam against the bank. She caught a couple browns and a rainbow, and several more fish had smashed her Gurgler without being hooked. One fish, that seemed especially large, hit it 3 times on a single retrieve. She finally hooked him a bit later; he was a biggie. I happened to have my headlight on and aimed downstream, and I saw the splash as he jumped. He was big. We never got a clear view of the entire fish, he threw the hook after a violent, 10-second fight. I would guess that he was probably in the 16-20" range. It was about 11:30 and we decided to end the night on that fish. B's heart was still pounding on the walk back to the car.

Main features: short strikes, milieu of bugs, psychological and cardiac exercise
Angling satisfaction (on a scale of 1 to 10): 9
Wildlife sightings: belted kingfisher, great blue heron, cedar waxwings, baby canoers
Equipment review: bright, 3-bulb, cap-mounted headlight from Gates' AuSable was a very good purchase; the Gartside Gurgler is a great, underappreciated pattern
Did I get to use a spey rod? No
Enjoyment grade for the day: A

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