Category Archives: Freshwater

….and Novacane Runs Through it.

Dental surgery – it needs a silver lining.

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I go to a dentist about 2 hours from my house. He’s based in the town I grew up in, and where my parents live. He’s very good, and I like him, which is why I drive the two hours. Naturally,  I scheduled the appointment in such a way that I could fish the Brandywine while I was in town.

After an hour of fly shop chatter over at Marblehead, I waded into the cool river. I’d planned on wet wading in shorts, but the guys at the shop had told me it was running cool this year. Too cold after a couple of hours wet wading. Thankfully I’d prepared, and so the waders tucked into the back of my truck tightened against my legs as the water got deeper. The entire right side of my head was numb. I’d had an absurd adventure trying to eat a sandwich with the novacane still working it’s magic, and now I was standing in a river realizing how much I relied on my mouth for tying knots in small tippet. There I am, gumming away at the line with no feelings in my lips or tongue to indicate where to bite.

Only my third trip to the river, I’d yet to catch what anglers come here for – smallmouth. I’d caught a ton of panfish here, including one beautiful, vivid rock bass – caught them on streamers, but mostly on poppers – fishing the surface of the river, casting against the bank and letting the bug ride the rip or bounce off the tree branches, or stripping it back while bluegills and redears slapped and swiped at it.

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It was Wednesday, and I had the river to myself. When you round the bend south of the parking lot, you are standing in a canyon of old trees. There are a pile of boulders in the center of the river – this is where I caught the rock bass. Nothing in view is man made. You could be in Colorado, or Wyoming. But you’re 15 minutes from downtown Wilmington, where this very river will run besides a park, and in the shadow of buildings, bridges and old factories before meeting the Christina, and out to Delaware Bay, where I fish the flats.

Today, the Bluegill provided endless fun, and a little smallmouth ended the drought. Just a tiny fish, but I put the slider in the right place – just before that branch on the falling tree – just where it would ride the current around the obstruction. That would be a good place for a fish, I’d thought. And it turned out it was. I caught a few smallies in this spot, and a ton of brightly colored, hard fighting little gills. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t feel his face.

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Filed under Bluegill, Brandywine, Bug, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Poppers, Smallmouth Bass

A Small Pond.

Tucked away amongst the trees of a state managed wildlife preserve, and just a quick back-road ride from my home, there is a pond that everybody ignores. It’s not for lack of traffic – the walkers, runners, hunters and transitioning boaters pass me by every time I’m there. Many ask about the fishing. I’m honest, and tell them I catch bluegills here. They sigh with disappointment or nod knowingly, and carry on. In the year or so that I’ve been frequenting this pond, I’ve yet to share the bank with another angler.

The disappointment of the curious passer-by may lie in an unfulfilled promise, or an idea of good intention that simply didn’t take. Nearby, a yellowed and weathered piece of paper stapled to a sign board speaks of the attempts of the state to stock largemouth bass and catfish here. There is a diagram indicating how makeshift underwater structure was created to keep the bass happy, and that these would be marked with a float to both avoid snags and to point out exactly where the fish probably are. Either way, I’ve fished this water high and low and never so much as sniffed a largemouth. Perhaps the idea of marking the spot where a fish should be wasn’t the best of strategies. Perhaps the water and the bass never could quite get along. None the less, in an area with a significant population of bass anglers, they don’t come here anymore.

Quietly, and without notice, things are changing at the pond. I still come here to throw a sneaky pete from a 5 weight in search of bluegill – sunset being the consistent time to take them on top water flies – and the fish deliver. But over the course of the past year I’ve noticed them getting bigger. Certainly not those dinner plates you catch down south – though I wish they were – the pond is producing some of the larger panfish I catch in the area. They put a deep bend in a light rod and can take runs reminiscent of their largemouth cousins, and they strike a popper with determination. I’d stopped hunting for bass in this pond. It was now a place to sneak away to for an hour – a convenient puddle in which to catch a few fish before dinner – but still a valued fishery for it’s stack of tough, and growing gills. But then something happened just a night ago, fishing at sunset. What felt like the  familiar snap of bluegill on a hastily returned popper turned out to be a juvenile bass. I photographed him for proof and quickly let him go, grinning at the prospect of having found a living, breathing bass where it was believed there to be none. I cast again, and caught a second bass, very similar in size to the first. I considered the possibility that the state had once again stocked the water, and made a mental note to find out. Then, I considered the more intriguing possibility – that these bass were not the product of delivery, but perhaps the spawn of a native. Had we all been fooled?

I think I’ll keep this under my hat for a while.

 

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Filed under Bass, Bluegill, Bug, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Poppers

On the Brandywine.

I’d planned to creep into the Brandywine River a week earlier, but rain had seen to that. A storm moved across the state from the south-west, plodding it’s way out to sea and leaving behind buckets of rain. It would be a near two hour drive north an an overnight with my parents who live nearby, the river would be high and cloudy, and I wanted better conditions. A week would do it, and by the following Tuesday I was winding through the  back roads of Chadd’s Ford on my way to  rendezvous with Terry at A Marblehead FlyFisher, the best place to pick up word from the river, and to my knowledge, the only surviving fly shop in the state of Delaware. Terry had just returned from a trip up north to cast at False Albacore. He had fished for three days, casting a two-handed rod and hooking up with several Albies on just one baitfish imitation which he now kept in a Ziploc bag to show curious customers, it’s hook shank bent and dressing crumpled and abused – a spent fly.

After a round of fishing talk and an examination of his terminally damaged waders, Terry was digging through shelves of flies and pointing out what had been working on the Smallmouth Bass I had come to chase. From streamers to poppers, the only common theme was rubber legs. Anything with rubber legs. I loaded up on crayfish imitations, poppers with enough rubber legs to strangle themselves, bait fish imitations, and woolly buggers with……rubber legs. Armed with tips, directions, information and ammunition, I thanked Terry and promised to send saltwater reports from down south, and set out for river.


After parking in the wooded lot and throwing on my waders and sling pack, I picked up the trail Terry suggested I follow to a good drop-in point on the steep banks of a low running Brandywine. I found the narrow confluence I was looking for and stepped down onto the rocky creek bed. Only a few feet in, the river reached in to the alcove and I waded in ankle deep water as juvenile panfish scattered in every direction in the gin clear water. Targeting smallmouth, I started on the surface. A blue heron was at rest on the far bank, and, taking him as a good omen – not to mention an indication of fish – I cast a sneaky pete popper onto the faster moving water along the bank – a process I was to repeat in several pools and runs along the banks for the next 30 minutes without so much as an indication of feeding bass.

I waded downstream and, looking ahead, noticed an area of light ripples on the otherwise glassy river surface. The glare prevented me from identifying what structure lay ahead – it turned out to be several large boulders – but casting the popper just before the ripples and letting it drift over the turbulence prompted a soft, slurping take.  The rod bent and I thought I’d hooked into a smallmouth. Yet to catch one on the fly, and having never tried, I was anxious to hook up early, but as the fish came to hand I could see I hadn’t hit my target. None the less, I had a Rock Bass on the line. I’d also somehow managed to avoid catching one of those before, too.

I walked a good length of the river that afternoon – casting to downed trees, rock piles and rips, and still haven’t managed to check the smallmouth bass off of my list. I know they are there. I usually walk away from such an event with some inclination, or excuse, if you like, about why I didn’t catch what I was fishing for. Usually there is a condition to consider, a case of inappropriate equipment, an unavoidable obstacle. On this day, I was out of ideas. It is my inclination to blame user error, or just one of those days, but in hindsight I can’t think of anything I’d have done differently. I cast floaters, slider, poppers, streamers and bugs. I fished deep and high, fast and slow. I exhausted my options, and eventually, my time on the river.  I burned the remaining light of day casting poppers to a stack of bluegills I’d found while probing for bass earlier in the afternoon. I caught plenty of fish, but the smallmouth remains unchecked. A matter of time.

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Filed under Bass, Bluegill, Fall, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Panfish, Poppers, Woolly Bugger

Catching Up.

 

Could it really be three weeks since I last posted here? I frown on other regular writers when they do that. But perhaps I can be forgiven. Things have been hurried, real life has been engaging, and I forgot the amount of work that spring requires.

Beach Trash

After Trout season was in bloom, I’d landed some nice freshwater fish, and was content to do some other things. The Henbit, after all, had arrived. This purple flower shows up on roadsides and turns the local fields purple each spring, and it’s always a solid bet that, with the arrival of the Henbit, the first flounder in the back bays will be caught. And so it was this year, on schedule.  The spring striper run was fair, and the fish are lingering with the warmer temperatures. That’s what I hear, anyway. When I shelved the fly rod and took out my beach rods last week, I caught absolutely nothing. Instead, I used up my time by collecting a stack of Mylar balloons off of the beach, and one large trash bag that had washed ashore that made me cross my fingers and hope I would find trash in it, and not something more gruesome. If the crime shows my girlfriend watches are any indication, one of these is going to be stuffed with a guy with a questionable background and some recognizable tattoos. Any day now….

 

Roadside Henbit

 

 

Praying Mantis Hatch

Yes, spring is all around and in full swing. Along with the appearance of the usual plants, I’ve almost tripped over a couple of turtles, and the other day, I had the rare opportunity to watch a Praying Mantis hatch in my back yard. I was just in the right place at the right time. The new-born mantis are almost tan in color at birth, but are very recognizable by the all the familiar atributes; the “praying” appendages, the large eyes. They emerge from what is called an ootheca, basically a frothy mess that an adult mantis deposits, in this case, in my shrubs. This hardens, and protects the growing young until they emerge.

So, in the mad dash between stringing up salt water rods one morning, and then grabbing my fly rod the next day, and with intervals of playing nature photographer, and the annual dusting off of the lawn mower, rakes and water hoses, there just hasn’t been a lot of time for fishing and writing. I caught a nice bass the other day on a brief local trip. He bit an olive and brown woolly bugger and was cruising shallow water. Carp are appearing in the shallows, too. On an impromptu trip out to Las Vegas last week to visit my girlfriend’s family and celebrate her birthday, the chance to fish did not arise, but I did sneak off to Bass Pro and pick up some flies and tying material for the coming saltwater expeditions. Crab imitations, shrimp and baitfish, and my old favorites, the Clouser. I think I’m ready to go. Time to catch some fish….

 

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Filed under Bass, Carp, Clouser, Fishing, Flounder, Fly, Fly Tying, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Saltwater, Scenery, Seasons, Spring, Striped Bass, Sussex County Ponds

Trout Season – The Good, the Bad, & The Ugly.

 

The opening weekend of trout season on my local waters was wet and cold, windy and gloomy. If there were any anglers out, I couldn’t say, I was holed up. But, I found my way there as soon as the weather cleared. I chose Sunday for it’s sun, warmth, and lack of wind, and found a handful of anglers at Newton Pond, on both boat and bank. The boats had motors. That was a surprise. They aren’t allowed on this pond, according to the sign post on the gate.

The pond was in character – clear and unruffled -but was showing signs of a rough weekend. Trout season had been open for one week, and the number of fisherman who had visited had left a trail of trash and debris behind them. I’d been fishing here, almost always in solitude, since late last summer without the jarring sight of coffee cups, styrofoam worm containers and Strike King spinner packages strewn all over the banks.

This is a catch-to-take fishery. The state prefer you keep the fish, as they won’t live through the hot summer months, and most of the fisherman here now are interested in keeping a fish or six to eat. This is confirmed by the freshly filleted trout carcass near the trash heap. What are we to make of this? That people show up with a rod and reel to catch fish to eat, and yet litter the banks and the pond itself with all manners of garbage? Ignorance? Stupidity? Both?

No matter. I packed out what I could, and I wasn’t prepared to let a few slobs interrupt my personal opening day for trout.

 

I found the small cobblestone boat ramp unoccupied, and began casting from there. The action was not fast, but the clear water provided some great opportunities to cast to cruising fish. Casting a fly to fish you can see is just about as fun as it gets. There’s the added layer of anticipation, and a more active roll in the catch. You get to see it all happen, right in front of you.

You spot a trout, about 15 yards away, just beneath the surface. He is moving slowly, deliberately, from your right side to your left. You don’t want to make more than one false cast if you don’t have to; your line in the air above the water may spook him. You want to cast the fly ahead, and above him. You want room to work the line and animate the fly, and hope the trout thinks you are as good a puppeteer as you think you are.

You make your cast.

The line hits the water gently. The fish doesn’t spook. You begin to work the fly towards you, never taking your eye off the fish. He stops and hovers just few inches below the surface, and rotates a few degrees to get a look at the object swimming nearby. You know he’s seen it. You don’t know for sure if you should give it another twitch, or let it hang there in the water column. The wrong move may scare the fish. The right one will catch him. It’s just a few seconds, but it feels like a long time. You’re thinking “Eat it. Eat it!”, but he keeps staring at it as if mesmerized. You give another twitch, just enough to trigger the trout’s instict to eat and survive, and he lurches forward with one stiff kick of his tail. You feel the line go tight in your hand, and you pull it back, and raise the rod tip. Trout season has officially begun…..

 

 

 

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Filed under Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Seasons, Sussex County Ponds, Trout

SITREP

New Year fishing has been unsatisfactorily quiet thus far. Between the sudden cold snap, many high-wind days, and the business of life, January and most of February have not seen anything approaching my usual level of fishing expeditions. None the less, the last few days have seen warm afternoons approaching 60 degrees, and late night rains; good conditions for fresh water fishing locally. All indications are that we will see an early start to the fishing season this year. A warm fall followed by a mild winter, and what looks to be an approaching sudden spring.

Yesterday, on a warm afternoon, I took the opportunity to grab a rod and do some scouting at one of my favorite freshwater locations; Trap Pond. What I found was encouraging. There are lots of bait fish in the shallows. Huge numbers of fish. The surface was alive with rising bait and pan fish, and the splashes of breaching predators can be heard over your shoulder at any given time. Casting into some favorite honey holes was producing a strike on just about every tug of the fly, but almost no takes, indicating that; even with my smallest sized popper on the line, the striking fish were simply to small to take it.

I saw some incredible boils – hundreds of baitfish being chased by some predator or another until they break the surface in a thrashing frenzy of foam and chaos. There were no big fish to be caught, perhaps because of the sheer volume of bait, and thus, competition for my fly. The ever-cooperative Bluegills prevented a catch-less day, but I would have preferred an early spring bass or pickerel.

The warm afternoon, which required only a t-shirt and left me shedding layers, was suddenly interrupted as a wind picked up and the tall pines sounded their alarms. A storm was approaching. The surface became more active with feeding fish as a cloud cover rolled over, and thunder could be heard in the distance. I chose to call it a day. I hadn’t made it through the woods and back to my truck before the rain started, and by the time I got home, some 35 minutes later, we were sitting in full-on torrential rain conditions, thunder and lightning, and mild flooding.

I hadn’t been the only fisherman on the water, but I was the first to leave, and I’m glad I did, as I was the only fly fisherman, and in a lightning storm, one does not want to be the guy with the tallest poll.

On another note -the Division of Fish and Wildlife has announced a trout stocking of two nearby ponds with approximately 300 pounds of rainbow trout for the upcoming season, which begins at 7 a.m. March 3rd. The fish are said to have an average size of 11 to 13 inches, with some significantly larger fish in the mix. Re-stocking of the ponds will take place again on March 15. In the northern part of our state, six streams will receive thousands of fish for that season, which opens April 7th.

I’ve never fished the local ponds during opening day of trout season. I’ll be there, camera in hand, as I hear it’s a ridiculous sight to see, with all the fisherman from all over showing up to grab a few take-home trout. These are waters I fish regularly, and usually in relative quiet; the only angler around. It will be interesting to see what transpires.

Hope your early year fishing has been more productive and regular than mine, but I do remain hopeful for an excellent season ahead. All indicators are there.

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Filed under Bluegill, Fishing, Fishy Water, Freshwater, Seasons, Sussex County Ponds, Trout, Winter

The Last Fish of the Year.

New Years Day, and the wind is gusting upwards of 20mph, which does not bode well for the fly caster. None the less, knowing my chances of getting out on the water tomorrow, after I’ve gone twelve rounds with the impending festivities that lie ahead, I went to the water anyway. I could use the practice while I can still feel my legs.

 

The wind did make my casting life a little more difficult, and it was the icy cold kind of wind that slips up your sleeve, but when the gusts would let up, and I could find a second to feel the sun, it was another unseasonably warm day, especially for the last day of the year. The water was capped and frothing from being whipped up by the westerlies, but most of the fish were indifferent. The Bass stayed out of sight, and eventually out of mind, but my Zap Bug was in the water only briefly before the little bluegills started eating it at regular intervals. This is not abnormal,not surprising. The surprises of the day were that the Calico were nowhere to be found. They are usually abundant here, and it was them I was fishing for. Also of surprise was that I was also catching a good number of Golden Shiners, basically a big minnow, but to describe it like that does it a disservice. It glitters in a silvery gold, it’s red dorsal fin in stark contrast, and it fights a lot harder than calico, bluegill, and sometimes, even bass. I only learned this now, having caught a grand total of one of these fish in all my time fishing here, and today, I find five. They are a heavily schooling fish, and I can only assume the school was in shallows and therefore in reach of my cast; an unusual phenomenon here, but a welcome one.

 

 

I hadn’t set out to have a day of reflection; a mental log book of a fisherman’s year, but thats the way it goes sometimes. I thought of all the memories made on the water this year, all those willing fish. The Bluefish blitzes off of Fenwick Island over summer, where we reeled them in one after the other. The big flounder I caught from the beach at the state park. The countless bass, pickerel, bluegill, and calico from my local grounds. The occasional trout from Newtons Pond. No Striped Bass, so far. They are late. But this is another reason for optimism for the coming year, as if a fisherman approaching spring needs such a thing. My bet is that the striper will arrive early on in the new year, and if I’m right, it could be a January to remember. I plan on spending some parts of that month knee -deep in trout streams, too. So much ahead.

 

 

As the afternoon drew to a close, all too early as we often complain at this time of year, a final tug on the line produced a tiny calico, among the smallest I’ve seen. I admired him briefly, let him know he would never be a big fish if he let clumsy fisherman like me catch him so easily, and sent him back to the deep. And that is how the reliable calico, savior of winter, become the last fish of this fisherman’s year.

 

My Best wishes for a Happy New Year!!

-Neil @ Fly & Gin

 

 

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Filed under Bluefish, Bluegill, Calico Bass, Crappie, Fishing, Fishy Water, Flounder, Fly, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Pickerel, Seasons, Striped Bass, Sussex County Ponds, Winter