Monday, June 24, 2019

Central PA Spinner Fishing for Wild Brown Trout

Wonderful morning in central PA. We were out on the boat all day yesterday with the kids and by 9:00 I could barely keep my eyes open. I hit the hay and set the alarm for 4:00 am. I was up and out the door with enough time to see this beautiful sunrise and a had few whitetail deer observed me as I put on my waders.

I was excited to fish a stream I hit up last week but farther up as I ran out of time the last time I had fished it. The temperature on my car read 58 degrees, and the dew soaked my waders before I could even get into the stream. A few roosters were crowing in the farm close to where I ceased my adventure last week. The stream was a little lower this morning, but still held a bit of that green shade that we all hope for.

I made my way up stream anxious to see if my new higher speed reel would make any impact on the effectiveness my angling. This stream has a lot of slower semi-deep riffles with quite a few deep pools at the curves. I did back track about 60 yards from where I cut out last time to fish a run that I got snagged and alerted all on my last trip.

My first two fish were small wild browns. Feisty and beautiful little creatures with an appetite. They hit the spinner hard but were quickly brought to hand.

I continued up stream landing a few more wild brown trout along the way. I came to a curve in the stream that just looked super fishy. My first cast into this pool I felt a nice hit but missed the fish. I cast out again and soon saw a darker trout chasing my spinner. He looked like a cheetah chasing a newborn gazelle as he darted from left to right following my offering. A quick wack and I had him on my line. 

When I brought the rainbow in I noticed his dorsal fin had a bright pink accent.

My next cast into the pool I felt a strong tug and was hooked up to a hefty trout. The fish peeled a bit of drag as he made his runs. This guy was a chunky stocked brown that appeared to me to be a hold over from last years stocking. He is was what I like to call a “wormy” brown as his spots had a look of vermiculation that resembled the marks left behind on bark from worms.

I made my way up stream to a longer run with plunging banks on each side. I was reeling in my spinner on the left side and had a little hit. I cast to the right side and landed a stocked brookie who looked to be pretty healthy. When I picked him up to release him I noticed the firmness of his body and he had quite a bit of strength and he left my finger tips.

I continued upstream and found what looked to be the best looking pool of the stream. It turned out my thoughts were correct as I landed 4-5 wild browns from this pool. One of these browns appeared to be a nice buck with darker orange sides. He fought like crazy and tested the drag on the new reel.

I worked upstream until I noticed a few electric fence wires to keep the livestock in the pasture. This would mark the end of my journey up stream. I walked back down steam to try and hit a spot that I could not fish very well while fishing upstream. I flipped my spinner and worked it into the slower side of the pool. I held my tip low to keep the spinner down and felt a hard pull on my line. My last wild brown for the morning was in my hands. I decided to end the trip there and head into work early.

Such a great morning and nice mixed bag of fish to hand. Of course the wild fish took precedence to me over the stocked fish but when the stocked fish have been in the stream a while they start to take on some pretty colors and their tattered fins begin to heal.

A lot of people complain about the state stocking small fish, and that the streams are all fished out by Memorial Day, but if you get out and explore you can find many fish that have never seen the inside of a stock truck. Great morning and heck of a way to start my Monday.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip

Every Father’s Day I fish for a few hours by myself in the morning. I’ve been doing this trip since my first Father’s Day after becoming a dad in 2012. It is my time to reflect on being a father and husband. This year I changed things up from the usual wild trout fishing adventure. Most years I chase native brook trout in the shady spring fed blue line streams I love. I decided that for this year’s trip I’d target warm water fish. My main targets would be Redbreast Sunfish and Smallmouth Bass.

I slept in a little but was still on the stream plenty early enough to sneak in an hour or two of fly fishing. I opted to take my 10’ 2 weight Syndicate rod and chuck smaller streamers. I had fished this stream on Friday with nymphs and did pretty well but I felt I was missing the boat on the larger Redbreasts.

caught a few fish right off the bat so I was happy but I decided to switch up the locations on the stream I was targeting. I was fishing more backwater eddies and flat slackwater pools. I’ve been having success in these areas of the stream but believed that the larger Redbreasts must be keying in on different areas. I decided to hit up the transition between the riffles and slackwater. I know that trout sometimes like to hang out in these areas but was unsure on the habits of these sunfish. This is why chasing a new species is so much fun. It is new and exciting, and you are constantly taking in information as you fish.

I had a fish really slam my small streamer on the first cast into this area. I set the hook and my 2 weight Syndicate bent over with a strong fighting fish . I wasn’t exactly sure what I had on the end of my line, but the fish was fighting like crazy. I saw a long bright skinny flash and knew it wasn’t either of the two fish species I was targeting. After a great fight the mystery fish was in my net. It was a beauty of a Fallfish. These guys are a blast to catch while fly fishing. They hit like a hammer and fight better than a stocked trout of the same size.

I can’t understand why these fish get such a bad wrap from many anglers. I hear so many people say that they toss Fallfish on the bank, or kill them and let them for the turtles or raccoons. These fish are native to our Pennsylvania water and are a valuable part of our stream's ecosystems. They offer food for many gamefish species as well as outstanding angling opportunities when they become mature. I cringe when I hear someone say they throw these fish on the bank because the we’re eating “Their” trout’s food.

I hit the same transition again and felt a quick hit on my streamer. I set the hook quickly and could tell the fish was small. I was happy however when I brought my second Smallmouth Bass on the fly to hand. This guy was not nearly a trophy sized Smallmouth but he did let me know that there were Smallmouth in this particular section of the stream. I plan on exploring this stream a lot more this summer, and knowing that there are Smallmouth in the stream will add some anticipation whenever my streamers are struck.

I continued to target the transition zone and had a fish absolutely pulverize my streamer. I strip set the hook and could feel the fish digging hard towards the bottom. On a 2 weight fly rod these guys feel amazing. I fought the fish and it made a dash into the riffle to try and rid itself of my hook. I kept constant pressure and was able to turn the fish back into the shallows and direct him into my net. Another Redbreast Sunfish landed for the day. This guy was rather pretty and had a great amount of the turquoise blue on his sides. I love catching beautiful looking fish. The size of fish is not the main thing I look at anymore. The Perfect fins and vibrant colors of wild fish trip my trigger these days.

Once again I hit the transition line  but a little farther away this time. Two or three quick strips of my streamer yet again yielded another wack. I strip set and could see a rainbow flash under the water. It was a night and day difference from the fish I was encountering in the shallow eddies. The fish in the slow waster only lightly tapped my nymphs but these larger fish, presumably males, were smacking my streamers with vengeance. This guy was a scrapper and even took a little drag when he went out into the riffle. The fight of these guys is mainly a few explosive bursts followed by a steady pull.  I brought the fish to hand and was once again reminded of just how colorful the Redbreast Sunfish is. I’m a native brookie chaser at heart and these guys can rival the prettiest brookies I’ve ever landed.

I made a few more casts into the transition zone and did not get another take. I decided to hit an area just off of the transition zone where I could see quite a few rocks in the water. I was hoping to lure a Rockbass out his rocky home with my streamer. I brought the streamer over the rocks and and felt a quick tap on my line. I set the hook and could feel a small fish fluttering in the water. This fish looked to be a female Redbreast that was ready to spawn. I grabbed a quick photo and released her with haste.

I only had a little time left for my outing and I switched to nymphs.  I figured I’d check the shallow eddies and see if my hypothesis was correct. I casted my peeping caddis nymph with a GHOSTech indicator on to detect the subtle takes. The indicator twitched and as expected a small little Redbreast with a particularly red eye found his way into my hand.

I released that fish and cast again into the shallows. A few seconds later the indicator twitched once more and I caught another small Redbreast. I’m assuming this fish to be another female as it was much less colorful than the previous fish I landed.  I decided this would be enough for my annual Father’s Day trip and made my way back to the car. 

I learned a lot on this trip. I learned to hug transition lines of the stream for bigger Redbreast Sunfish. Bigger fish may be caught in the slack water but in my mind they are more interested in food and less about safety from predators when they grow out of their juvenile stage. I learned that these larger males can really nail a streamer and put a bend in your fly rod. I feel the 10’ 2 weight Syndicate is a perfect rod for chasing these guys as well as other headwaters warmwater fishing opportunities. I’m anxious to see how the rod performs with larger Smallmouth Bass.  I didn’t feel under gunned with this rod at all. I was also surprised how well I could cast my lead eye streamers. I have my reel set up with 3 weight line, but I could accurately place my streamer wherever I wanted it.

I made my way home to find that only my son was awake. This was great because it meant I could let my wife sleep in a little while. I hopped in the shower and was greeted by my daughters when I finished. We all ate breakfast together and let mom get some much needed sleep.

Father’s Day means a lot to me. I try to be the best dad I can be and balance my time for my outdoor obsessions with time for my family. It isn’t always easy but I do the best I can to ensure my kids are never left behind in my pursuits. I try to include them as much as I can anymore on my outdoor adventures but my short Father’s Day trips are solo missions. My kids love to fish and my daughter, Paisley, even asked me to take her fishing yesterday. I never force them to do any of the activities that I do, and I think that is why they have the desire for he outdoors that  they do. 

Sometimes as a Dad you need a little "Solo Dad Time" to reflect and getting a bend in your fly rod is a great way to do just that.

Friday, June 14, 2019

In Search of a New Species (Redbreast Sunfish Mission)

Beautiful Specimen of a Redbreast Sunfish.
Back in January I found a post on a Facebook group called "Panfish on the Fly" that showed a beautiful fish called the Redbreast Sunfish. Instantly this little beauty caught my eye. I had never heard of these fish before so I decided to do a google search to see more photos of this beautiful little panfish. When I clicked the image tab on my google search window my jaw dropped at how colorful these fish were and I instantly fell in love with them. So now what? How would I be able to catch one of these fish?

A rebreast Sunfish that took one of my Lively Legz double trouble nymphs.
I started off by searching the web with the search "Redbreast Sunfish in Pennsylvania".  The first link that popped up on google was to the Fish and Boat Commission's Website. The link took me to a page that covered a huge variety of aspects of the Redbreast Sunfish. Everything from fishing tips to species ID, habitat, and life history was spelled out for me right on the web page. I wanted to learn more about these fish and the water they live so my first click was on the "species overview, identification, habitat....." tab.  From this click I was then taken to a large overview of all panfish species within the state as well as bass. I read up a little on the fish and went back to the main page for Redbreast Sunfish.

Female Redbreast Sunfish that is full of eggs.
My next click was to search the biologist reports for streams in my area. I clicked the biologist reports link and found a map with a pile of markers and picked a few that were close to me.


After a few stream searches I found a stream that showed a population of Redbreast Sunfish. We are lucky to have access to this type of technology in Pennsylvania. Not every stream is sampled, but it can give you a reference on what streams contain what species of fish. Another Amazing feature of the map is that you can get "general directions" to the sample site. I opened the biologist report and read the results.

Screenshot of the biologist report I referenced for my Redbreast adventure.
From this survey I was happy to see that there were 58 Redbreast Sunfish caught during the survey. Not a huge number of fish, but enough that I could expect to catch a few on my trip. The survey also let me know some of the other species present that I may be able to catch. You can use this information in a variety of ways. If the stream you are looking at has multiple survey points, you can then determine which area increases your odds of catching your desired fish. If White Suckers were your desired catch this stream would be perfect. If you were chasing Smallmouth Bass you can see that you may want to search for a different stream. Had this stream had a lower survey conducted that showed 200 Redbreast Sunfish captured this would let me know that I have better odds of catching one down stream. After conducting this recon I now decided that I was going to make an effort to cross the Redbreast Sunfish off of my list of species I have caught on my fly rod in the spring.

Redbreast that took a Lively Legz Nymph in a deeper eddy off of a main channel.
After my information gathering I went back to the "Panfish on the Fly" group to learn about what types of fly patterns worked for this fish. I found that small streamers and nymphs would be effective. Now the wait was on. I am a die hard winter trout fisherman so much of my winter angling was targeting wild brown trout and native brookies. Once spring comes around and the opening day of trout is over my trout fishing takes a back seat to turkey hunting. Once spring gobbler season is over, and my kids are done with school, I no longer have to get three kids ready before I go to work. My wife is a teacher and is also off for the summer. This is my time to fish. It sounds crazy but I get up before work nearly every day and fish. I make up for lost time during my relentless pursuit of the wild turkey. This spring Pennsylvania was blessed with some above average rainfall and cooler temperatures. These conditions are perfect for the trout angler. So the first ten days of "summer vacation I spent catching stocked and wild trout on spinners and flies. I really hammered the trout lately and my quest to catch the Redbreast Sunfish came back into my focus.

Large wild Brown Trout I caught during my first week of "Summer Vacation" on one of my hand made spinners.
With having caught around sixty to 70 trout this week I decided that the time to chase my first Redbreast Sunfish was now. Last night I tied up some small baitfish patterns, a few hellgramite/leech patterns and a few crayfish. I set my alarm for 4:00 and hit the hay. It was tough to wake up at four this morning and I hit the snooze button a few times before finally dragging myself out of bed. I got a shower, and was off to chase my hitlist fish.

My first Redbreast Sunfish took a crayfish fly that I tied the night before.
My excitement of crossing this fish off of my list grew as I neared the stream I found on the biologist report. After reading the habitat section of the Fish and Boat Commissions website I learned that the Redbreast prefers shallow pools and eddies so I skipped some rather "trouty" looking water to pursue my preferred target. I started off with one of the crayfish flies. My first few casts were pretty far and I could feel some sort of fish tapping my fly, but kept missing the strikes. I had a notion that these fish were aggressive and would hammer my flies but that was just not the case. After a few failed hook sets I finally had a fish on the end of my line. I brought the fish to hand and was overjoyed seeing that my do-diligence had paid off.

A lightly colored Redbreast that fell for my Lively Legz March Brown Nymph.
I continued to fish the same pool expecting a congregation of Redbreasts and was rewarded with a few more fish. I learned that nymphs were going to be the ticket to catch these guys. I opted to put on a GHOSTech Indicator as these fish had such subtle takes. I like the GHOSTech Indicator because it cause little splashing and disturbance when it lands on the water. Targeting a fish in such shallow pools I feel stealth is vitally important. I don't feel that the Redbreast is as weary as a wild brown, but they are not an extremly easy fish to catch.

A nice Brown that was caught while exploring a riffle for Redbreast.
I was extremely happy that I was catching my target species and had accomplished my goal, but wanted to explore what else may be in these waters, and also see if larger Redbreasts could be found in other water conditions. I was fishing an eddy and decided I would add some depth to my indicator and fish the deeper riffle behind me. On my first cast into the riffle my indicator took a fast rip upstream. I set the hook and instantly knew that I wasn't dealing with another redbreast sunfish. My first thought was a Fallfish, but was surprised when I pulled in a beautiful brown trout.

A solid little Rock Bass caught in a deeper pool.
I continued upstream after catching the brown and fished a few other habitat types. I found the Redbreast along the shallow edges of banks morsoe than in the deeper pool sections and eddies. In on particularly deep pool my indicator took off and I reed in an awesome little rock bass. These guys hit hard and put up a nice fight on my 10' 3 weight fly rod. I am a huge fan of Rock Bass so this fish was a very pleasant bonus.

A downright gorgeous Redbreast Sunfish.
The warning alarm went off on my phone signalling me that I needed to make my way back to my car, but I was greeted with one last Redbreast before the alarm was snoozed. To some it may seem may seem insane to wake up at four in the morning to chase four to eight inch fish. With my busy lifestyle as a parent of young children I need to fish when I can. I take advantage of my "Summer Vacation", and the fact that I can sneak in a few hours before work to hit the stream.

I hope that this article meets those of you who may be tired of catching trout, or some other species of fish, and sparks an interest to persue the unknown. I am an avid blue line fisherman, so doing research on streams is just second nature to me. Catching these little panfish was an awesome experience and was especially excited exploring new habitats. With trout I can read the water pretty well and pretty much know exactly where they will be laying. With the redbreast I am totally green. I had a snip of information of the habitat they preferred and took in information as I fished as to where more productive areas would be. I challenge you to give something like this a try. Utilize the same tools that I did to find a new species a try. Your hard work may just pay off as it did for me, and you too may feel how rewarding it is to cross a new species off of your list.