Balmy Memorial Day Weekend

We all look forward to the official start of the summer season and the beginning of fishing summer 2016. This year we were treated to the impending threat of Tropical Storm Bonnie, which despite of the risk of rain, brought some welcome hot weather to bookend our cool spring. The increasing temperatures livened up the action on the Paulinskill and other Trout streams throughout the preceding week.

Snapping Turtle
Snapping Turtle

Timing

I took off Friday from work and used both Friday and Saturday to work on my house project. Sunday was planned to be the day for fishing, an important choice because it is also the day of parades, limiting the foot traffic on the rivers. On warm to hot days like what the weathermen were predicting, the key to catching fish is to go early in the morning or late in the day. We started around 6AM in order to get in the holes just as the sun was rising.

This time of year, the river offers all the seclusion that you need.
This time of year, the river offers all the seclusion that you need.

Technique

This time of year is always a good time to break out the color green on the Paulinskill and other local waterways. You can use leverage either Woolly Buggers or Trout magnets. Knot Just Flies in Blairstown has even had a few custom flies spun up specifically for this time of year. A four or five weight Fly Rod or ultra-light weight spin tackle is all you will need.

Nice Rainbow caught on a Woolly Bugger.
Nice Rainbow caught on a Woolly Bugger.

Results

The Trout and Smallmouth have moved from there early and mid season holding locations. The heat is forcing them to seek springs, deeper pools and more oxygenated water. Unfortunately, we even noticed some dead Rainbow carcasses; these fish likely expired from the heat.

Nice Smallmouth caught on the tube.
Nice Smallmouth caught on the tube.

Plying the deep pools slowly and areas known to have cooler waters due to overhanging trees and brush yielded results quickly. The stocked Rainbow Trout have grown since they were first put in here; some of them are pushing over fourteen inches. The growth in these Trout is always nice to witness, as the strong ones tend to become holdovers lasting the entire year.

All of the spring 2016 broods are growing up!
All of the spring 2016 broods are growing up!

Some of the Smallmouth are still watching nests in the river; others are firmly in post spawn hunger mode now. The Smallmouth Bass in the river were sitting in more oxygenated and cooler pools. Looking for the bubbles in the current was a good indicator of potential holding locations. Mark also found that locating a nest was they key to landing a large one.

Formerly a stocked Rainbow that is now growing well.
Formerly a stocked Rainbow that is now growing well.

Let’s all pray for cooler and wet weather to keep the water comfortable and the fish eating.

A fawn hiding on an island in the river.
A fawn hiding on an island in the river.

Spring Rises

If you live in the New York metro area, Trout fishing in the Catskills is a traditional rite of spring. Specifically, many of us head up to “Trout Town USA” or Roscoe, NY on most modern maps. Roscoe has been famous for Trout fishing since the 1800’s when the Ontario and Western Railroad brought people up here to Fly Fish. The first dry fly fishing in America happened on fabled streams in the area. I had been to Roscoe on opening day in order to attend several events including the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum’s, “Catskill Legends Dinner” along with their first cast event. The following day I attended the “Two Headed Trout Dinner,” hosted by the Roscoe Chamber of Commerce. At that event I was the winning bid on a silent auction for a weekend at a guesthouse in Roscoe. All of these events are a fine time and I recommend checking them out next year.

Mark practices casting his new Cabela's Fly Rod on the banks of the West Branch.
Mark practices casting his new Cabela’s Fly Rod on the banks of the West Branch.

The West Branch

This fine stream, starting out in Stamford, NY and running all the way to where it meets the East Branch at Junction Pool in Hancock, NY is one of the best wild Trout fisheries in the State of New York. The river was dammed in the 1960s to create the Cannonsville Reservoir, storing additional water supply for New York City. Though it cost Trout anglers many miles of stream the dam created a steady cold-water release on the Delaware. The East Branch is also dammed to create the Pepacton Reservoir however; the releases from this branch are less consistent because the clean water is more highly valued for drinking purposes.

Always use the rubber coated net to protect the fish's protective coating.
Always use the rubber coated net to protect the fish’s protective coating.

Mark and I secured guide Ray Ottulich through The Beaverkill Angler Fly Shop in Roscoe, NY. We met around 11AM at the shop and motored on up the 17 Quickway to a boat put in on the West Branch. This was the first time I floated an eastern river since my trip with dad up to the Andro in Maine a few falls back. I peaked with excitement at the prospect of floating the West Branch for Trout instead of plying the Main Stem for Smallmouth from shore. Fly Fishing from a drift boat is a superior method of fishing as far as I am concerned.

Seeking the Hatch

The Catskills are renowned for their Dry Fly Fishing; this does not mean that deploying the dry fly is the only way to prospect for Trout. This may sound sacrilege however, I remind you the reader; I convinced Mark a spin fishing only man to hang up the ole bait pole and give Fly Fishing a chance. He did, point of the story, sometimes you need to be open minded about fishing. Prime hatches occur on cloudy days or in the morning and evening, this forces us to go down deep with nymphs or fish streamers in rising water when there is no hatch.

First fish on the dry fly and Fly Rod ever!
First fish on the dry fly and Fly Rod ever!

The fishing reports all indicated March Browns and some Blue Wing Olives at dawn or dusk. Setting out a noon is standard procedure in these parts to ensure that you secure the productive water at dusk when the hatches do go off. I started plying the deepwater edges with a streamer to no avail. Then we all switched over to pheasant tail nymphs in the shallow fast water, where the Rainbow Trout stage to eat the Blue Wing Olives nymphs. Mark managed to hook one repeatedly working a stretch of fast water. This period of time did allow us all to hone in our casting for when the actual bugs started coming off of the water.

Sometimes the captain needs to back row to keep you in productive water.
Sometimes the captain needs to back row to keep you in productive water.

Pods of Fish

The sun began to cast long shadows and the noses of Trout touching the top of the water brightened our smiles. Sporadically at first, you could detect feeding Trout by a feint splash or a glint in the water. Tying on the March Brown and an emerger enticed strikes from wary Trout. A few more missed hook ups and we pulled the boat next to a trailer park, boom Mark hooks his first fish on the Dry, a 15-inch Brown Trout! While Mark was busy fighting his Trout I was busy not landing Trout. For some reason I had a major mental block to actually set a dry fly…very frustrating.

Mark's second fish on a Fly Rod, lucky guy!
Mark’s second fish on a Fly Rod, lucky guy!

We continued our leisurely float down the West Branch, picking up speed through some rapids; unfortunately the bug activity was much lighter than expected. This season has been a strange one, very warm in March followed by a snowstorm on opening weekend that has kept the water very cool and delayed the season. As our boat rounded the Hancock 191 Bridge we again were treated to intermittent rises. Again Mark hooks a 17-inch Brown Trout on the dry fly! Lets talk about beginner’s luck…

Famous Pools

The Beaverkill along with the Willowemoc are two of the only undammed major Catskill streams. All of the other’s have had some sort of influence by man, negative (the Esopus) or positive (the West Branch tail water). The Beaverkill northeast of Roscoe to its source is a pristine valley, is less populated and less industrialized than it was one hundred years ago. The public water is limited, sometimes forcing you to wait your turn, however even on a busy fishing weekend in prime season, glorious lonesome water was found.

A Wild Brown Trout from the Beaverkill River.
A Wild Brown Trout from the Beaverkill River.

Saturday was a cloudy day with a bit of humidity and intermittent sprinkles. Perfect weather for a Blue Wing Olive hatch and we were treated to one. Arriving at a secluded though popular pool in the upper Beaverkil we were treated to an empty parking area. I quickly tied on some Blue Wing Olives I had purchases twenty minutes before and the fish were keyed on. Again, I had a lot of action but they fish kept getting a clean release.

Things to Do

Combined the towns of Roscoe and Rockland have plenty of entertainment for anglers when they are not on the river. Rockland has three great establishments we stopped in the Trout Town Brewery, the Rockland House and the Courtyard Tavern. Roscoe has a the popular diner aptly named the Roscoe Diner along with a bistro and a Pizza place. There are five fishing outfitters (fly or spin) in this town and some nice cabins for rent throughout. We are looking forward to the next summer adventure up this way, which will likely be a camping trip.

The Trout Town Brewery in all of her glory.
The Trout Town Brewery in all of her glory.

 

Fly Fishing Pre-Spawn Bass

Well hello there readers! It has been a while since we have been on this blog to update it with fishing and adventure stories. We have been busy setting up our Fly Fishing lessons and Guide Service out of Knot Just Flies in Blairstown New Jersey.

The lake spreads out before us.
The lake spreads out before us.

As has been the case with every spring in the last few years that I recall, the weather has been a tad bit wacky. After a warm winter we greeted opening weekend of a Trout with an all-day light snowstorm. Opening day did go well for fellow Moose Knuckle blogger Mark Beardmore with his over seven pound Rainbow Trout. I unfortunately have had few opportunities to get out and Fly Fish this spring due to Fly Fishing 101 and working on The Lazy “K” Ranch. Mark and I made some time to get out this weekend and check in on those Bass.

Mark landed the champion of the day in traditional tackle.
Mark landed the champion of the day in traditional tackle.

In the “wilds” of Northwest Jersey we are blessed with little farm ponds and larger Eutrophic Lakes that produce unbelievable quantities of Bio Mass consisting mostly of sunfish and Largemouth Bass. The commencement of Trout stocking signals the arrival of spring and the official beginning of fishing season. However, the good Fly Fishing really gets going about a month later once the smarter stocked fish have figured out how to actually eat flies. Right at this moment, the Bass start to move into pre-spawn or early spawn mode. .

Seasons of The Bass

Bass have distinct holding patterns and feeding tactics from April through June revolving around water temperature and spawning status. Bass commence feeding in the spring as the water temperature approaches fifty-five degrees. At this point in the season, Bass move from their deep holding positions to the shallows and begin aggressively feeding. If you have ever ice fished for Bass, you will recall in the winter, the deepest holes will contain a Bass if you catch any at all. Bass will at this team strike slowly fished streamers; this is all dependent on the temperature. As a general rule of thumb, the warmer the day, the more active the Bass tend to be.

Making Fly Fishing Great Again One Bass At A Time.
Making Fly Fishing Great Again One Bass At A Time.

As the spring continues, the air temperatures stay consistently warmer during the day and night. At this time, the Bass begin staging at the edge of drop offs. The spawning season continues and Bass become more aggressive. They will defend their spawning beds, in the shallows as well as engage in some feeding to support the spawn. True spawning begins when the water temperatures approach sixty-two through sixty-five degrees. Remember be ethical and release all fish caught during the spawn.

The lake produced many fine looking specimens.
The lake produced many fine looking specimens.

Where to find them?

During the winter, Bass seek the deepest location to survive and stay warm. The Bass is not a cold-water fish. As the water warms, during the pre-spawn and early spawn the Bass are located at the edge drop offs or cover. They will seek warmer areas, possibly the parts of the pond with darker soils. Early on you can look in areas of shallow cover, for example weed beds, creek channels, timber, brush piles and pilings. As the Bass begin to spawn, they will concentrate in water depths of one to four feet. Preferably in areas free of weeds with a firm bottom. Silt covered bottoms run the risk of smothering the eggs which the Bass will attempt to avoid.

This one was just sitting around, getting ready to spawn.
This one was just sitting around, getting ready to spawn.

What to throw at them?

Non Fly Fishers are always surprised at the smaller things that Bass will eat when tied up in fly form. To a Fly Fisherman it is not at all surprising; Bass are aggressive predators and fear not catching their next meal. Be it a juicy damselfly nymph, a worm or even a frog, Bass have a voracious appetite. Early season and during the spawn, Bass will not eat the poppers that they do in June or July. However, they will eat an assortment of flies. Below is a list of the flies that I tried during the last weekend:

  • Green Simi Seal Leech
  • Jan’s Carp Tickler
  • Large Woolly Bugger (Beaded or Non Beaded)
The Bass all had very strong coloration.
The Bass all had very strong coloration.

The issue with the smaller flies is that I find you catch a preposterous amount of Sunfish as by catch. Specifically, the Simi Seal Leach and to a lesser extent Jan’s Carp Tickler seemed to be Sunfish magnets, however the Carp Tickler was a favorite of the Crappie.

Other Fishy Friends

Crappie are great fun on a Fly Rod.
Crappie are great fun on a Fly Rod.

The lake I was fishing in these pictures also contains Crappie in healthy numbers. Crappie are larger than their cousins the Sunfish, they also put up a muscular fight on the fly rod. Similar to Sunfish and Bass, they spawn in shallow water, preferably with a little cover and a solid bottom. As opposed to Bass, they will take whatever spawning ground they can locate. Crappies are one of the first fish that can be caught on the Fly Rod in the early spring. You will need to fish for them when they are in the shallow waters and not following a school of baitfish into the deep water. Woolly Buggers work generally well to catch a Crappie in the shallows, I also experienced luck with Jan’s Carp Tickler when it was allowed to sink.

Key Takeaways

In lakes and ponds, timing your Fly Fishing to the seasons of the spawn will yield fishy results. During the Pre-Spawn, on warm days, after ice out, the fish are hungry after a frigid winter. The lake or pond water gradually warms during the Pre-Spawn period and the Bass and Pan fish begin to feed even more aggressively. Once the water reaches optimal spawning temperatures, your quarry will head out to its preferred nesting environment. In the case of Largemouth Bass and Crappie, these are shallow waters with some cover. Post-Spawn the fish will eventually leave their nests and seek cover in weedy areas. This is the time of year, when the water is in the 70s that the Bass will start to feed aggressively on poppers.

More to come when this happens…

Knot Just Flies Sportsman Open House

In honor of the one year anniversary of Knot Just Flies located in Blairstown New, Jersey on Route 94 at the Valero Station they will be hosting an open house. This event will be held on March 26, 2016, rain or shine from noon until 3PM.

The shop crew at one of the winter Fly Tying 101 courses.
The shop crew at one of the winter Fly Tying 101 courses.

Event Times

  • Fly Casting Clinic – 12:30pm to 1pm
  • Sporting Dogs – 1:30pm to 2pm
  • Trout Tactics Seminar – 2:30pm to 3pm

The Last Frontier Angler, located at The Lazy K Ranch, in Frelinghuysen, New Jersey, KJF’s guide and casting instructor will be on hand to quiz about Fly Fishing on opening day.

North Jersey NAVHDA will be present to discuss sporting dogs and wingshooting.

Val will have hot dogs and refreshments for all that come to the event. Come cure your cabin fever and join us to discuss and practice our fishing skills prior to 2016 opening day.

Countdown to NJ Opening Day

A Warm December

“Walk On, don’t look back, don’t ask questions, don’t you try to understand.” John Hiatt

Tiger Trout caught in Wood Duck Pond at the Lazy "K" Ranch.
Tiger Trout caught in Wood Duck Pond at the Lazy “K” Ranch.

Egg Gobbling Bows

Late autumn in New Jersey opens up a wide world of outdoor sports for our densely populated state. The state dumps over fifty thousand breeder Trout into our small stream and rivers. Not to mention the holdovers which have been particularly good since the rebooted stocking began in earnest last fall. The local holes are teaming with eager Rainbow Trout that have been feeding actively since the spring or are former brood stock set loose. These Bows have a particular affinity for juicy eggs or imitation fly eggs.

Rainbow Trout caught by Brenton on the Big Flatbrook.
Rainbow Trout caught by Brenton on the Big Flatbrook.

The two rivers we at MKFF frequent the most are the Paulinskill and The Flatbrook, these two watercourses situationally exist in the last frontier of New Jersey. A land still graced with farm fields and forests within an hour of Manhattan. These two freestone streams, typical of of the mid-Atlantic region both flowing into the Delaware River, offer a surreal retreat from the Megalopolis.

My Bow caught in the Paulinskill.
My Bow caught in the Paulinskill.

If you confine your fishing to the best of day, ten AM to two PM and then take a lunch, you will be pleasantly surprised out here. The weather has been unseasonably warm, I suspect due to a congregation of factors (El Nino) and two brutal winters in a row. Needless to say, the recommendation is to tie on a size eight or ten egg fly, add some weight, tie on an indicator and locate some pools. The Bow’s are fattening up for a winter that may never come and gorging themselves on eggs.

Christmast Eve was a washout due to the Chocolate milk conditions.
Christmast Eve was a washout due to the Chocolate milk conditions.

Fly Tying Courses

Moose Knuckle Fishing is proud to announce the formation of winter fly tying courses at Knot Just Flies in Blairstown, NJ. The two-hour sessions will be held on most Sundays (11AM to 1PM) during the winter. They will be progressive in nature, starting with the simplest Brassie, moving through the Hare’s Ear and Pheasant Tail nymph. The courses will culminate in March with dry flies.

These fly tying courses are geared to the beginner and will be helpful to intermediate fly tiers as well. Though the courses will be progressive it is entirely possible to miss one and come to the next course. The textbook to follow through this course will be Charlie Craven’s, “Basic Fly Tying.” We recommend picking up a copy at Knot Just Flies once the course gets started.

Please contact Knot Just Flies for details. The cost for these courses will be $20 to cover supplies and materials.

Knot Just Flies

Phone: (862) 233-9229

Address: 61 State Route 94, Blairstown, NJ 07825

Time: Most Sunday’s 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM

Instructor: Christopher Kuhn (MKFF) and guests

Cost: $20

Schedule

Sunday December  6th 2015 – 11:00AM to 1:00PM – The Brassie

Sunday December 20th 2015– 11:00AM to 1:00PM – The Black Beauty (Zebra Midge)

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Feathers, Flies and All Things Unimportant

I must have been eight years old when I first witnessed a fly fisherman, plying the placid waters of New Hampshire’s Lake Sunapee. I watched in amazement as his line danced through the sky and his casts landed eloquently with the precision and purpose. I quickly asked my father what the man was doing and was told that he was fly fishing. I was truly intrigued and, in my vigor to learn, asked my father how the man was able to catch the flies he was using for bait. With a strange look, my father simply shook his head and walked away. Thus began my romanticism with feathers, flies and all things unimportant to the rational world.

As a young man, I was ready to take on fly fishing full steam. My father purchased a cheap combo from the local department store, assuring that if the wand or my spirit had broken early in the foray, he wouldn’t be out a significant sum of money. My flies consisted of poorly tied blobs of fur on a hook, little foam spiders and a few of my own creations, which were nothing more than sewing thread hanging off a hook. Needless to say, between my belabored casting technique and my fly selection, fishing became more of an attempt not to hook myself or anyone else within casting range.

SteelheadI was blessed to grow up on the banks of the Passaic River, at the time the ninth most polluted river in the United States. The fishery was diverse, with carp, catfish and car parts as my quarry. Although I could not get any of the behemoths to take my flies, I did occasionally slip a piece of crusted bagel on the hook to entice fish to look at my offerings. This was fly fishing at its finest.

Next came the finer points of entomology and the three main classes of aquatic insects; mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies. Well, not to get ahead of myself, my classifications were more loosely defined as green bugs, brown bugs and black bugs. When in doubt, a combination of all three was thoroughly explored.

My thirst for knowledge was boundless and I sought out the writings of greats like Art Flick, Joe Brooks and Lee Wulff, all who seemingly could go into great detail about which goop would allow your fly to float the highest or sink the deepest and which color fly line would deter or attract the greatest amount of fish. And I thought fly line color was all about personal preference.

Then came the feathers….those magical materials that cost so much but could be found near every duck pond in New Jersey. There were necks and capes, roosters and hens and flanks aplenty. Then came the grades.

I did fairly well in school and knew that a grade of A was certainly better that of an F. I also knew that I was rewarded when the grades on my report card came back higher than anticipated but found this logic flawed when it came to feathers. Those D grade feathers that littered my bag seemed much friendlier to my wallet than the snobbish A grade feathers hung so high up on the shop’s wall. Perhaps they were like the rare A plus I brought home on one of my many math tests, which hung high on my parent’s refrigerator so proudly for many years.  In any event, I was happy to have my mallard feathers, goose quills and dog tail, a proprietary shop mixture, to adorn my hooks.

Somewhere along the journey, my technique was refined, insects were identified by their Latin names and goop became dessicant powder. My flies began to take on more of the size and shape of the naturals and I even had a few fish willing to grace me with their presence.

In near 30 years of fly fishing, I’ve been lucky to have some wonderful equipment and stand on some majestic banks of a few famed rivers. I have caught some grand fish and lost more than I care to remember. I have met some wonderful friends and mourned those I have lost silently out on the river.

All those years ago, I took up fly fishing as a way to become a better fisherman, to challenge myself, test my abilities, my patience and my sanity. All these years later, I realize that fly fishing has made me a better man. It has taught me to appreciate what I have, it has made me realize that catching the fish is not the sole objective, it has reminded me that all living things around us have meaning and purpose and has taught me to be humble and accept what life has to offer.

Some of my fondest moments were trying to take random knowledge, mismatched materials and salvaged tackle to have some fun and catch a few fish while doing it.

My life is still filled with feathers, flies and many things unimportant but it is also those very same things that remind me what is.

Enjoy your passion and find passion in what you enjoy.

All the best!rod and reel

Rippin' Lips Stream to Stream

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