This might be remembered as the Summer of the Brown Water. Storm after storm, front after front this spring has caused heartache and destruction.
It feels a little selfish to complain about the trout fishing when this crummy weather has caused so many real problems. Still, we look forward to our outdoor recreation, and the sparkling streams we daydream about all winter are among the casualties of this relentless pattern of downpours.
There is a silver lining here: This kind of summer isn’t much fun for fishing, but it’s good for trout. They have plenty of water, and it’s a flowing feast, full of all the insects they usually eat and much more.
So if you can’t bring yourself to fly-fish in a torrent of what looks like mocha cappuccino, you can at least console yourself with the knowledge that, barring a dramatic change in the weather, next year’s trout will be plump and plentiful.
But over the weekend, I was reminded that brown water can be successfully fished.
I was covering another fly-fishing competition, a recreational one this time — that is, no connection to Fly Fishing Team USA, just points in the Trout Legend league.
Part of what these competition fly-fishers enjoy is the challenge of being assigned a “beat” of water and having to make the best of it, whether or not it’s the kind of water they would normally want to fish.
And if the stream — in this case Nine Mile Creek west of Syracuse — is double its normal volume and more than a little off-color, well, that’s just part of the challenge, and all competitors have to contend with the same conditions.
And so I saw close to 40 trout pulled out of a creek that I may well have taken one look at and decided it was unfishable. That’s close to 40 trout by two anglers — Loren Williams of Westvale, near Syracuse, a former Salmon River guide well-known in New York fly-fishing circles, and Jeff Minnich, a Syracuse University junior from Colorado Springs, Colo.
Both men fished simple, bead-head nymphs and caught trout after trout from water that probably had less than 12 inches of visibility. There was nothing fancy about the fishing: They used nymphs heavy enough to sink quickly and fired them into every eddy, seam and pool.
They caught everything from tiny young-of-the-year to a fish that Williams hooked and none of us saw, but was obviously an absolute beast. It broke him off.
Of course, most of the anglers were using the standard competition rig: a 10- or 11-foot rod (the Sage ESN, for Euro Style Nymphing, seems to be the most popular model) with a leader at least 20 feet long, fitted with a neon pink and green “sighter” above the tippet. The actual PVC fly line pretty much stays on the reel, and there is no false-casting, just a quick flick to the rear to lift the flies from the water and another flick forward to send them to their next target.
It looked a lot like tenkara fishing. In fact, once I’d taken enough photos and left for the day, I stopped at Chittenango Creek, which was even muddier than Nine Mile, and fished with a tenkara rod for a while.
I tried fishing the same way as the Trout Legend competitors, but the creek was quite swollen and didn’t still have pockets the way Nine Mile did. I finally found a little bay, where the current was moderate with a nice little patch of soft water alongside, and sure enough got into trout. Five hooked, fewer landed, handsome browns and rainbows.
I tried other likely looking spots and found them empty, or at least empty of fish that would bite a Frenchie on a jig hook, so fishing a swollen brown river is hardly a sure thing.
But it is worth a try.
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