North Branch Potomac float
Had a chance to fish the North Branch lower C+R section yesterday afternoon and evening. Overall a great day. Between the two of us we caught 20-30 fish. Water levels at about 250cc or lower. A little slow to start with fish looking at and turning off flies and some misses from fish and us. Initially used a Stimulator with a PT nymph dropper. Swtiched later to a Crane fly and lit some up. Soem vry very agressive takes with fish cartwheeling out of the water to take the fly. Best parts were that we landed one Cutthroat. All rainbows looked wild also. Most 12-15inch in size we caught no real big ones. But none had fin clips, all were very aggressive and fought very very hard and jumped like crazy. I had a camera but none cooled off enough for a pic even. Also caught 2 wild browns near the end, maybe up from the Savage. Anyway the rainbow reproduction in the river looks strong as we did see many small fish with par-marks again.
The other thing I saw that I have never seen out there was a bunch of bug life. Lots of Slate drake, mayflies, and midges comming off the water. The fish were not really keyed in to one thing but they loved the crane fly. But good to see so much bug life to be sure as I never really saw that much before. So all in all one of those days that lifeted our spirits, especially the wild fish we caught. Other than one brown we caught early and maybe the Cutt all fish looked and acted wild. the Cutthroat was about 8inch too which is a strange size as I did not know if they stocked Cutts lately. maybe someone else can enlighten me. I heard they may have stocked fingerling a year or two ago so maybe that explains it. The days of really big fish from the stocking may be over but it seems the buglife and the wild reproduction is strong which bodes well.
Cool. What section did you fish/float? They stock a lot of fingerling trout in the N branch. A put and grow attitude. I did not know they stocked cuts anytime though. I remember 10 years ago there being quite a few but everywhere had them too, even Seneca creek in Mo. county md.
I fished the lower C+R section from Blue Hole to the before the Savage. Lots of tiny bows with par marks around. There is wild reproduction of rainbows at least. I assume any wild brown we catch is from the Savage. But that cut was strange. I knew they used to stock them but I thought they stopped actually, and an 8inch trout is a weird size too. Most likely a stocked fish but heck is natural reproduction is happening of them that would be cool too. Bug life was amazing for the North Branch at least. Bugs everywhere...
Sounds awesome, I assume you did this trip in a Kayak, if so is the stream slow enough to anchor or tie off or do you get out and wade when you want to work an area?
We were in a pontoon floatboat. We anchored some to land fish, etc. Flow 200-250 is pretty safe to float and get out and wade also. Rocks are really slick there though.
Just tickled to hear about your outing to the NBPR lower C&R segment, especially with regard to the aquatic insect life you observed and also the quality of the trout specimens you encountered. For a long time the 'hatches' were painfully sparse, really, from a bug lover's perspective. I've read and heard that natural recruitment of several trout species has been semi-sporadic, but these things can happen in tailwaters especially. May it be true here as well.
Before I forget, let me spill some beans and let folks know just how effective a crane fly pattern can be for much of the late spring through early autumn. I'd bet that few folks carry more than the single odd imitation or two, and not in a mayfly-esque, hatch-matching manner at that... more likely usually adorning their hat (like a mouse pattern) than their tippet.
In part, this may be because they are one of 'those other bugs,' the kind perceived not to merit much space in the fly shop bins by the trouting consumer masses - big mistake. In part, it may be because most patterns out there are essentially like a 'still life' very much trying to pass itself off as a 'movie', which is how the real deal commonly bumples its way into trouty trouble. And in part, it may be that the immature life stages just look too much like garden hackle than many fly flingers that having long since 'evolved' from the coffee can of backyard worms, are subconsciously comfy with. Who knows?
I know this... a rarely employed ruse which uses a not strictly imitative pattern, presented either actively or even just on the dead drift, kicks some serious trout butt here on the Yock when other standbys bring mostly finny yawns. Here and elsewhere, day in and day out (sort'a like ants I suppose) the fish are almost always seeing a few and sometimes a bunch of the naturals, and so throw caution to the currents to snatch them, despite the fact that there isn't much there there... crane-flies are not exactly meaty morsels, but more like puffed rice, yet still serve quite well as fill-in food. Maybe they taste good?
Whatever, I (and others) attribute 'strange attractor' qualities to my pattern, dubbed Don's Dancing Crane (btw, although putting my personal 'spin' on everything that leaves my vice or keyboard is the norm, I almost never go in for the vanity of naming flies, and especially those that are merely tangential spin-offs of someone else's root inspiration and creativity). It takes a wholly from-scratch design aspect, and uncommonly high grades from the fish, before I'd bother dreaming up a handle at all, much less lend it my personal tag.
Right from the beginning, the DDC pattern had its genesis strictly from what I presume to be the trout's perspective, and not with an eye to any magazine stle, A:B, side by side profiles of imitation versus natural. Actually, I do not believe the fish usually gets much of a view of the natural at all - but rather only indirectly, vaguely at best, via its activities through and upon the water surface. Thus, even in the slowest water, nobody need be counting elbows here, but rather strive for a mirage of sorts who's 'tracks' are suggestive of the genuine article... its an indirect stimulus/response phenomenon at work here, and its exploitable.
The distinguishing thing about crane-flies is MOVEMENT. As adults, they all seem to have restless leg (and wing) syndrome - big time. Even when amassed on the damp downstream face of an emergent rock or log, they practically and perpetually seethe (sp? even a real word??) and individually, whether emerging or ovipositing, nervously wobble like a seriously caffeined-up drunk, perhaps. Btw, although the book on cranes authoritatively 'sez that they characteristically pupate at the scantiest margins of the water (no doubt true enough, as far as it goes) I have happened upon too many open water emergers to still buy into that stricter orthodoxy (the genuine article apparently has never read these books!).
There is little doubt that ovipositing cranes draw the most fire from trout. After mating, the female appears to spread her cargo of fertilized eggs far and wide via extreme low altitude bombing (strafing?) runs, sometimes seeming to require 'tail' (really abdomen) -dragging (they have no tails, in the fly recipe sense). Their flight (assuming sufficient warmth I suppose) always reminds me of how a marble might roll downslope inside a slightly inclined half-pipe, at least if released from other than from a dead stop at dead center... rightleftrightleftrightleft... you'd think they'd get dizzy, but I suspect this is an evasive tactic that buys more time for the dapping of eggs before Momma becomes a meal.
There are at least a couple or three ways to animate one's imitation. In slow water a light line and fine leader can be cast down and across for 'high-stick skittering', in faster water an aerial and tailored VERY early 'S' mostly down-current cast can be set adrift and checked just as the fly begins to enter the target's window, or in faster water still the crane can be left to literally hang, in the air, from a short dropper, located three or four feet above a large 'anchoring' point fly like a streamer or dry muddler which is swung below the fish. You can then literally dance the DDC on the nose of your prey.
This ought to be banned in at least three western states and all national parks, it is so deadly! By whatever method of presentation, if you wish to try one, you'll first have to tie one yourself:
#16-18, 1x-fine but otherwise standard dry fly hook
Bright or flo yellow 8/0 tying thread
Extra fine gold wire rib
Medium grey antron wing, tied split
Pale yellow dry fly quality saddle hackle, 1x oversized for hook
Pale yellow, very fine dubbing
Small flo orange thread head
Electric beard trimmer is not essential, but awfully handy for the final step.
1) crimp barb, and mount thread to hook at eye
2) add ribbing wire just below the 'thorax' position (TP) and continue wrapping back to bend
3) thinking sparse, barely 'dirty the thread' with ultra-fine dubbing and come forward to TP
4) thinking sparse, mount antron cross ways, a la mayfly spinner style, at TP. Raise each wing to -45 degree outward (not forward or backward) angle and after combing out, stiffen bases with a spare application of cement. Oops, I said spare! Clip excess, but leave wings an extra inch or so long until the next to last step
5) switch threads, or alternatively apply permanent orange marker to several addition inches off of bobbin
6) size up, prep (strip barbs a turn's worth from the shank side of the stem) and mount hackle just behind head position, barbs leaning forward a la Catskill style, completely orthogonal to shank (this avoids stem twist issues later). Remember to remove a turn's worth of barbs from the underside of the stem, where they would have made first contact with the shank. I find it easier to first bind the prepped and initially longer bare stem firmly atop the shank with at most a pair of tight X-wraps, and then catch the clipped shorter and on a bias butt of the stem, winding the thread back just a bit just to get 'er securely leaning astern.
7) thinking sparse, firmly wind the hackle collar amidst the wing bases, and then palmer the rest to the end of the abdomen and the waiting fine rib.
8) holding the hackle firmly at first, tightly counter wrap the rib forward with just a few turns for minimizing capture of as many barbs as possible, and to keep the overall weight down. Think a tiny little splash of flash here, as well as enhancing durability. I originally used hot orange thread for a rib, but unhooking too many trout per hour too soon wore it out. Perhaps a bit of super-braid or light mono would serve well as a lighter substitute rib?
9) clip any stray hackle barbs at bow and at stern, and thinking durability, maybe spritz a smidge of cement or super glue at either end as well, with a toothpick. If desired, dub a short, sparse head and then make a small 'wet whip' finish (avoids excessive wicking of cement into dubbing).
10) remove fly from vice, and holding the fly by the bend with hemos, carefully trim the underside flat across ALL the hackling, but so as to leave gap-width stubs in the vicinity of the spear (hook point and mashed barb) and a bit more than half the hackle's original radius at the collar, up forward. We want the finished pattern to enjoy excellent, stable support, with the body itself NOT TOUCHING the water, as well as inclined upwards. Now use scissors to carefully trim the two wings at a steep bias (taller in front).
Done correctly, you cannot drop the fly onto a counter top and get it to land any way but like the elusive cover photo of the Royal Wulff dry on the Bailey's catalog cover of yesteryear... that haunted me for years as the minimal acceptable but practically impossible standard, you know, the way our flies almost never do in reel (versus photo cover) life? Expect to employ some trial and error on this fly components's dimensions and material densities to get 'er right, but boy is she worth all the attention to detail!
The overall size, fuzzy profile, general color mix, and all these spiky distortions of the surface film with streaks of light on its underside induced by the user, seem to scream,
"I'm alive, vulnerable, and predictable, even if a little harder to see clearly, like many other menu items, so why not come and get me? It's a one-time offer and I'm headed your neighbor's way next, if disinterested."
If already actively feeding, what trout wouldn't leap at that chance? In my experience over many seasons now, not many. Its like giving candy to a toddler.
Afterthought: the internet forum is a funny place, where no matter what, some will presume much (often incorrectly) about other's motives for sharing. Elsewhere I've been ticked off recently when some folks I don't even know and haven't ever met (and others who should know better) did not see my contributions to the life of that place for what they were, but as insufferable puffing-up of ego. That stings, especially if that plays no part in the reasons for posting in the first place.
I realize of course that you get all kinds in the peanut gallery, and all human communication is fraught with perils, and that it ought to be like water off a duck's back, but it sucks the fun out of participating when a certain point is reached, and this keyboard camel has had one too many errant straws leveled of late. Maybe that is just the natural life cycle of such things, dunn'o.
I took the time to share the above pattern, which is special, for one reason only... to be nice, and perhaps to enjoy hearing back from any of you (who might bother to tie it). Its now an old trick for me, so I would enjoy seeing you reporting back about how today's extra-fickle trout fall over their fins to be the first to snatch this user-marionetted bit of faux fluff.
I post not as a ploy for 'fame and fortune'; its a freebie, freely given, simply because it feels good to share a nice thing with others rather than hoard it as a perpetual secret. It will also work fairly well on a dead drift, although prompting a take with a single, well-timed little twitch on approach to the trout's window from either an across or up and across position (use a reach cast for either) is a good tactic, especially if you are seeing cranes flitting around.
Give it a try and see for yourself. Enjoy.
I was going to chat up the 'wild' thing, but am now spent.
Thanks Don! Very detailed instructions.
That fly does not need a perfect drift as you said. We got strike as we tried to mend, so we then started putting a little motion into the drift. Cool fly.
From what I've read about trout,to grow bigger than 16inches,they have to have a good supply of minnows.They burn themselves out trying to get enough bugs to eat.
This is true, generally speaking, Capt... but it varies with the trout species.
Rainbows linger the longest with their adherence to a mostly-insect diet. In some exceptionally productive rivers (the Bighorn tailwater leaps to mind as just one example), which produce aquatic insects of one kind or another in astronomical numbers practically year round, it is nothing for a 'bow to achieve 20" or more daintily sipping 'bugs' and to be fair, scuds too. In fact, those trout are all quite short-lived when compared to those in 'normal' venues... I suppose they burn instead of rust out, practicing life in the fast lane. Actually, virtually everything a rainbow does throughout its entire life is done comparitively fast. They are just plain fast movers, period. Type A's, all the way.
In most places, brookies eat, well, whatever they can. Not so choosy. This includes aquatic invertebrates of course, but they often choose rather slower and cover-rich lies from which to do their feeding. Often restricted to very small headwater reaches, they take in a wide variety of forage items, and make extensive use of terrestrial insects. There is a place in MD where insect life is not so hot, but brook trout achieve (brace yourselves now, I'm not stretching the truth one bit) 17" TL. How? Mostly on a diet of crayfish.
I have a population of brook trout which reach respectable sizes, and they have all manner of suitably sized golden shiners in their face all the live long day... but so far as I can tell they only very, very rarely touch one. Now when its a whole school of shiners, this is understandable, but I mean even when a solo twitch-glides directly over a lurking brookie's snout - no response at'all. But I know of other populations which will murder a shiner on sight. Weird... must be in the genes.
Browns are the first of the three to get off the bug kick and tackle more substantial prey, which I suppose makes them the most bass-like of the three. Even when insects remain abundant and available, at about 13" or so these bad boys bide their time by day lying low for the most part, but actively hunting cray- and smaller fin-fish after nightfall. A swimming mouse will do just as well... something a local rainbow (not an AK version) might blanche at the thought of snatching, although I'm sure it happens from time to time.
But back to browns here. I have been forced to remove them from my conservation project pond, expressly because they don't get with the program and consume too many of the small, intermediate, and even the young adults of the other two species. Somehow, they manage to successfully spawn in the pond itself often enough that affecting total eradication has proven to be difficult. This last week I discovered another batch of brown fry, and so far as I know, there were only two adults present. Just my luck, a boy and a girl... the last two years have had outstanding recruitment of brook and rainbow fry and fingerlings, so I took the 75% chance that these two would be a same-sex pair, and would safely serve to guard against possible stunting by thinning the others' herds a bit. Oops.
Right from the early fry stage, it is apparent that browns have a bit of the wolf in them, attempting to take on prey (with relish) that the other fry will simply let pass, presumably as unmanageable. This is a little surprising given that their mouths are not proportionaly any larger than those sported by 'bows and brooks at this lifestage. I think browns are just plain greedy critters and sometimes can't stop themselves from practicing the boldest kinds of carnivory.
Larger browns will continue to eat aquatic insects too of course (particularly when they are readily available), and do seem to have a special fondness for larger, basically helpless terrestrials such as beetles, hoppers, and crickets, but mostly like to lay around and belch and fart the daylight hours away in safety. They are like brookies, only moreso, when it comes to a fondness for cover, and not given to do any more cruising than necessary.... by day anyway.
Now in my pond, they do get after the golden shiners, and at evening especially seem to both actively hunt their schools from time to time, as well as lay in ambush by day to take the occasional larger ones. The Kreelex streamer (formerly the Rolex, by VA guide Chuck Kraft) seems to exploit this tendency especially well wherever browns are found, and whether or not their are golden shiners naturally present. Even browns rather smaller than 13" will impale themselves on this flashy killer. Cannibalism at work here? Jealosy? Dunno.
For some reason, none of the three make much use of (swimming) baby eastern water snakes, which you'd think would be easy enough to grab, kill, and swallow. Maybe these just excrete waste products when stressed and so taste bad? Others of their serpent kind have this nasty but effectively foul habit, although no natrix I've yet handled has stunk up my arm in this way (at a certain size, without cause, they nevertheless begin to frighten the guests, and so I relocate them). But I presume bass would not hesitate to blast such a critter slithering over the surface, so go figure!
Back when annual sampling suggested there was nearly a 50:50 mix of browns and 'bows in the Yock here, the cumulative habits of the former were such that on average, they appeared in the virtual C&R creel well under a 10:90 ratio, although this could be as much a function of the average angler's habits as anything else. Most fly flingers, most of the time, are mostly given to fishing relatively small dry flies by day, and mostly this isn't exactly the browns' cup of tea.
Then again, as I reflect on the state's sampling protocol and its timing, it may very well over-represent the proportion of browns, seeing as how at this peculiar season the largest, deepest, coldest and most well oxygenated pool reaches are inexplicably selected. For all anyone knows at this point, these places may then be serving as temporary quarters for a quite large fraction of the entire management unit's populations of trout, and this is suggested by the distributions of avian predator activity, direct observations of trout densities during winged ant-falls and the like, as well as results obtained via hook and line. At late summer, I can't seem to buy a trout anymore from the formerly productive average reach's habitat. Maybe I have forgotten how?
Nick, please know I only used your comment only as a springboard (as is my habit), to do a little composing while waiting for my morning cup of Joe to kick in, and not as any form of personal correction/criticism whatsoever. Although trained in fisheries, and a former aquatic ecologist turned toilet-scrubber, I now hang out with trout more than anyone should be able, and that's even without any tackle in sight (not counting the fishing time, which has been quite considerable over many years too). No doubt you could take me to school on any of the finer points of the saltwater realm (whenever I might venture to comment about it).
Just to avoid any misunderstanding here (seeing as how I seem able to make enemies readily enough, although unintentionally, and particularly among alpha-male types, perhaps simply by knowing too much about too little, and then also having the temerity to speak that truth with authority, which makes people nervous and even gets resented in some circles), just know I'd welcome very much having the benefit of your (or anyone else's) deeper understanding of your particular area(s) of earned expertise any old day. That's all I'd like to see getting acknowledged (if not also then dealt with, which might be too much to ask)... the truth of any matter, instead of something more convenient and acceptable. You, and everybody else here that plays nicely and honestly in the TF sandbox, and whether or not full agreement ever results, enjoy my full respect.
But I digress. This all started with the simple complimentary thought to your post (just to tie back into the thread) that the NBPR, especially below Westernport, is no bug factory, but does produce gobs of crayfish and no few minnows. If anyone slings string there, be SURE to fish a crayfish pattern in what I'll call 'the chutes', just below any of the longer riffles, where they first dump into the pools, and be prepared to hang on, too. Your string WILL get stretched. I shudder to think what might happen if this kind of pattern were presented at night, when crayfish and big browns are both most active, especially while wearing the very latest in legal wading boot soles.
Last edited by Don Hershfeld; 06-18-2012 at 10:15 AM.
finally uplaoded the one trout pic. Proved we caught a small cutthroat at least.