Trout Education: Learning How to Read Water

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome when I first started fly fishing was being able to successfully “read the water” – i.e. being able to predict the areas where trout hold in streams.  Years of bait fishing for catfish and largemouth, and tossing Texas-rigged watermelon Yamasenko worms into deep creek holes for smallmouth had created a pattern of mind-numbing repetition that left me clueless when it came to trout fishing.  My previous experience told me that fish held in deep pools (which is only partly true).  So for a long time, I would hop from one deep pool to the next, skipping all the water in between.  Needless to say, I passed up on a lot of fish in those early days.  It wasn’t until I ran into another fly fisherman nymphing a riffle, that I started to learn more about trout holding areas.

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Riffles are shallow, rocky sections of streams with fast/broken water.  This riffle on Tohickon Creek holds good numbers of trout during spring and early summer.  

As most trout bums know, trout behavior and survival is largely dependent on water temperature.  In water temps below 45 degrees, the trout become lethargic and don’t feed very often and usually hold in slow, deep pools.  As water temps rise in the spring, the metabolism of the trout increase.  In water temperature between 68 and 70 degrees, the fish will still actively feed, but they will generally hold in broken/fast water because of the higher oxygen content.  If the water stays between 50 and 65 degrees, and there is adequate food, trout can be found in all types of stream environments – pools, riffles, runs, and pocket water.  Water above 70 degrees is dangerous for trout, and trout struggling in these water temps should probably be left alone.  If the trout have any hope of surviving the high temps, they need all of their energy reserves and the added stress of being caught by a fisherman will likely be fatal.

In faster water, objects like large rocks or trees obstruct the current and slow it down via friction.  Where the current meets the object, an area of slow, slack water will form on all sides of the object, allowing a place for aquatic insects to gather without being knocked downstream by the current.  It also provides a place for a trout to rest out of the current, and close to a food source.  Pocket water, which is fast water with a lot of obstructions creating heavily broken surface water, can be extremely difficult to fish, but it can also hold a boat load of trout.

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Many small mountain streams, contain lots of pocket water.  They can be tricky to fish, but they are also usually full of brook trout.  

On the flip side, areas that appear to lack adequate cover, such as long, flat pools, can be very productive during a heavy hatch because it is easier for the fish to spot and intercept insects on the surface in slower water.

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Slow flats like this one, can be very productive during heavy hatches.  But sections like this will usually require long leaders, thin tippet, a stealthy approach and good presentation.  In flats like the one above, it is easier for trout to spot food on the surface, but it is also easier for them to spot an imperfection in your fly or presentation.

Don’t make the same mistake I did when I first transitioned to fly fishing for trout – don’t be a one dimensional fly fisherman.  Use your knowledge of trout survival (water temps), trout food sources (hatches/aquatic insects), and stream characteristics to make educated guesses on where you should target.  I think you will find an increase in the number of trout brought to net (coming from a guy who spent years throwing casts to the wrong areas!).  And remember, there is no substitute for time spent on the water.  Get out on your favorite stream and experiment!

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Deep runs like this can be fished effectively by tight-lining with a tandem nymph rig.  

fall-bow-1Robert Fravel grew up in Pennsylvania, where he started fishing local streams and lakes at a very young age. During his college years, Robert spent the summers working as a whitewater rafting guide in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. As an avid fly fisherman and fly tier, he enjoys exploring backcountry streams in search of untouched wild trout waters. He currently works as a lawyer in Dublin, Pennsylvania.

 

 

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The Snobby Fly Fisherman

Not too long ago, while perusing my local fly shop, I came across an individual who preached to the lovely lady working the register about how the only type of fishing he does is “on the fly” and the only fish he thinks are worthy of pursuit are “Trout, Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon”.  I listened from a distance for a couple minutes before I eventually got sick of listening to his dissertation on the “sporting qualities of fish”.

I have heard and read many folks classify fly fishing as snobby, elitist and describe it as an “old boys club”.  However, I have to say that throughout my years as a fly fisherman, this was the first time I ever experienced someone who represented this stereotype.  Before I go any further, I would like to say, that I do not know this gentleman and I do not wish to pass judgment on his character.  However, I felt that these statements were worthy of a soapbox stance on my end.

Admittedly, I am primarily a fly fisherman and I primarily pursue trout.  Hands down my favorite type of fishing is chasing native brook trout in the mountains on dry flies, short rods and light tackle.  But, with that being said, I could not disagree more with the statements of the man in the fly shop.  I now choose to spend most of my time on the water fly fishing.  But I wasn’t always that way and that may change in the future as I evolve as an angler and person.  Some of my fondest fishing memories were created using spinning gear and/or live bait.  Chasing smallmouths on small creeks with texas-rigged worms is a blast.  bass 2Night fishing for channel cats on warm summer nights with a friend is something that I dearly miss.  And it doesn’t end there.  Drifting for fluke, tossing top water for largemouth or musky, trolling for walleye, searching for schooling bait during striper season, wade fishing for blues off the surf…the list goes on and on.  All of which were cherished experiences essential in my fishing career, and essential to the angler growth I’ve experienced thus far.  In the early stages of fishing, it is incredibly important for the angler to stay interested in the sport and to have fun while engaged in it.  Otherwise, fishing will not be a priority for long.  And on a semi-unrelated topic, I also believe that the more fun one has while fishing, the more passionate one becomes about fish and fishing.  Once the passion arrives, the concern for conservation follows shortly thereafter.

I didn’t start fly fishing until I was in my late teens, and even then it took me years to catch my first trout on a fly.  Had I not developed a previous passion for fishing through non-fly fishing methods, I would not have had the patience to stick it out.  In a sense I owe my transition to fly fishing to those methods frowned upon by a small number of “snobby fly fisherman.”

My point is this, all fishing is worthwhile so long as you enjoy it. rob and fluke Try as many different types of tackle set ups as you like – fly, spin casting, bait casting, hand-lining, noodling, whatever.  And pursue as many different species as your area and budget allow.  Once you have put in enough time on the water and gained enough experience, you will start to narrow your search and find your fishing niche.  But until then, don’t worry about it.  And certainly don’t let someone else tell you what kind of fishing you should be doing, because clearly that person has forgotten the reason why we picked up a fishing pole in the first place.

Robert Fravel grew up in Pennsylvania, where he started fishing local streams and lakes at a very young age. During his college years, Robert spent the summers working as a whitewater rafting guide in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. As an avid fly fisherman and fly tier, he enjoys exploring backcountry streams in search of untouched wild trout waters. He currently works as a lawyer in Dublin, Pennsylvania.

 

 

Q & A with Shawn Washinger of Susquehanna Rod Company

Many anglers (including myself) dream of one day being able to earn a living working in the outdoor industry, either as a guide, pro staffer, or making products associated with our passion.  Shawn Washinger, is following that dream through his new business – Susquehanna Rod Company.  Recently, I caught up with Shawn and spent some time chatting about his custom rod building company, fly fishing, Pennsylvania trout and beer.

What follows is my interview with Shawn.  To learn more about Shawn and his company, check out SRC’s website www.susquehannarodcompany.com.

  1.  Can you give me a brief bio of yourself?  

My name is Shawn Washinger and I am 35 years old.  I have been fishing for the last 30 years.  I have loved fishing since the first time I picked up a rod and reel.  I have been fly fishing for the last 10 years and almost only fly fish now.  Whether it is for trout, sunfish, smallmouth bass, or anything else I am able to cast to.

  1.  Tell me a little about your company, Susquehanna Rod Company.

I have always wanted to work in the outdoor industry in some facet.  Custom rod building has always been something that I enjoyed so I thought, what better way than to build great custom rods for other people.  Because I am solely a custom builder I have not come up with any product lines or models.  I am currently working on creating an inventory of rods that I will have for sale. However, each rod will still be different and unique in some way.

I not only build fly rods, I also build: spinning rods, casting rods, and I am working on some deep sea rods.  I try to use the best materials I can in rod building and can customize to a specific length, brand, or action.

Something else that I am trying to do at Susquehanna Rod Company is to give children and veterans the opportunity to get out and fish by offering casting lessons, mentoring programs, and information of upcoming events sent out through our Facebook page.  I am actually working with Valley Streams Fly Fishing and we are going to try and bring our two companies together to provide more of these opportunities.  So keep an eye out on both of our social media pages for more news, events, and give-a-ways.

  1.  How did you get into custom rod building?

When I started building rods it was because I was tired of going to stores and always seeing the same rods just by different brands.  Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of good rods available but none with the unique look that I was looking for along with being a great rod.  So I started by building my own rods and loved it. I wanted to bring the joy and uniqueness to other people so I started my business, Susquehanna Rod Company.

  1.  Pennsylvania has a lot of famous trout waters.  What is your favorite water to target trout?  

You’re right there are so many amazing trout waters in Pennsylvania it is very hard to pick just one.  But I would have to say that one of my favorite waters to fish is LeTort Spring Run.  I love the LeTort because it is a small stream that is tough to fish and has some amazing fish. I love fishing small streams for native trout.

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Be sure to follow Susquehanna Rod Company on Insta @susquehannarodcompany
  1.  If you had to choose, what would be your go-to tackle setup in terms of rod, reel, line and flies to chasing PA trout in the summer?  

 My go to rod and reel for PA trout is my 7’6” 3/4 weight fly rod which I custom built with a Taylor Enigma reel.  My 7’6” rod is the very first rod I ever built years ago.  I love it and it has never let me down.  I do still have the ability to make these rods with the same blanks.  It is by far the favorite fly rod that I own.

  1.  Besides trout, what other species do you enjoy targeting on a fly rod?

My favorite species other than trout would have to be smallmouth bass.  I love fishing for bass on the Susquehanna River.  Before I even started fly fishing I was always on the River fishing for smallies.  Although the Susquehanna isn’t the river that it once was it is still second to none when it comes to smallies.

  1.  Can you describe your most memorable fishing experience?

Can I describe just one would be the real question.  I have had so many unforgettable fishing trips it is very hard to pick just one.  But the fishing trips that are always in my heart are the ones where my best friend Justin, his dad, and I would float our canoes down the Susquehanna River for a few days.  We would camp on the islands and fish throughout the day.  We never had a bad trip even though there were rainy trips and blazing hot trips.  Talk about fun. Always trying to figure out what lures to use throughout the trip and then just hammering the fish all week long.  I still talk about these trips at length with friends and colleagues.

  1.  If you could fish anywhere in the world, where would you go?  Why?

Right now a realistic trip I would love to take is to Mosquito Lagoon in Florida.  I listen to a podcast called “Fly Fishing After Dark” (It’s awesome, check it out!) and they are from the Mosquito Lagoon area in Florida.  They run charters for redfish out of the Lagoon. But just listening to them talk about the fishing down there has made me want to go down and fish with them.

But a trip to anywhere in the world is a tie between New Zealand for big browns or a trip to Mongolia for big Taimen.  My New Zealand obsession came from a YouTube video called “Once In A Blue Moon”.  It’s an amazing little video about fishing in New Zealand with mouse flies.  I think that would be absolutely amazing.  I know a few areas around here that I would like to try mouse flies also.  Mongolia has been a trip that my buddy, Dusty, from work and I have talked about for a few years now.  We always thought it would be fun to go overseas and catch the world’s largest Salmonid.

  1.  Every angler I know has a story about “the one that got away”.  Tell me about yours.  

I remember it like it was yesterday even though it was more like 28 years ago.  I used to go to summer camp but I hated it.  Lucky for me there were always plenty of grasshoppers around for me to catch for fish bait so that my dad and I could go fishing later that day.  Pinchot Lake was our “go to” back then and we always had a blast.  I had my jar full of grasshoppers after summer camp and dad had the boat ready to go when I got home.  We put in at our usual spot by the ranger station and slowly motored across the lake to our favorite spot right by a little clump of lily pads that always seemed to be there (even to this day I still go to that spot when I fish there).  I knew exactly which grasshopper I was going to use first because it was probably the biggest one that I had ever caught.  So I hooked it and cast it out as far as I could with no weight, no bobber, nothing.  So needless to say it didn’t go very far.  It couldn’t have been on the water for more than a few seconds when POW!  It got slammed by a huge bass. Now I was only seven so I think I was probably so excited I couldn’t contain myself.  I fought the fish for about a minute when it swam under a rock (I saw it do this because the water where we were in was pretty clear) and the line snapped.  I was devastated!  I tried for another hour or so just thinking that the fish still had to be hungry but to no avail.  We left after a little while because we had to get home, but I always remember that fish.

  1.  Favorite brewery in the Mechanicsburg area?  

There are a couple good breweries in the Mechanicsburg area, but we just got a new one on the Carlisle Pike called Ever Grain.  Right now that is probably one of my favorites due to the great atmosphere and eclectic beer choices.  It is a place that my wife and I go to for our date nights.

 

 

fall-bow-1Robert Fravel grew up in Pennsylvania, where he started fishing local streams and lakes at a very young age. During his college years, Robert spent the summers working as a whitewater rafting guide in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. As an avid fly fisherman and fly tier, he enjoys exploring backcountry streams in search of untouched wild trout waters. He currently works as a lawyer in Dublin, Pennsylvania.

 

New Water: Little Schuylkill River

Lately I’ve fallen into a predictable routine of fishing the same few limestone creeks that are the closest to me.  These streams only have a limited amount of public water, so I end up fishing the same runs and pools time and time again.  Sure my methods might change from time to time depending on hatches (or lack thereof), water clarity, water level, etc.  But overall, my fishing had become stagnant.  I wasn’t advancing as a fly fisherman.  I wasn’t reading new water, identifying unfamiliar aquatic insects, placing myself in new/uncomfortable casting positions or simply enjoying some new scenery.  Hence the birth of my “New Water” series.  The New Water series is designed to push me to explore unfamiliar streams in unfamiliar parts of the state, outside of my home stream comfort zones.

Over the holiday, I was able to get out and wet a line in some new water: the Little Schuylkill River.  schuylkill countyThe Little Schuylkill is a picturesque stream located in Schuylkill County, that averages about 30-40 feet in width (at least in the DHALO Section).  It begins in the lower Pocono mountains around the town of Tamaqua and flows for about 25 miles before joining the Schuylkill River below Port Clinton.  This region of the state was once an epicenter for coal mining.  And like many streams in the area, the Little Schuylkill suffered tremendously from the ill effects of the mining industry.  Silt, and acid runoff polluted its waters and decimated the stream.  In the 1960’s, a stream survey showed that the Little Schuylkill was completely devoid of aquatic life.  Thanks to the dedicated efforts of outdoor enthusiasts, conservationists and concerned citizens, sixty years later the Little Schuylkill is once again full of life.  The stream boast a healthy population of both wild and stocked trout, a steady supply of caddis flies, otters, minks, blue herons and supposedly harbors some bald eagles as well.

Early in the morning on July 4th, I loaded up my waders, fly rods, and chest pack, grabbed a cup of coffee and headed up to Schuylkill County.  I originally planned on fishing just above Port Clinton, as I had driven by the parking lot for this area dozens of times before.  However, when I got there, the parking lot was full.  So, I decided to continue to drive upstream until I found an access that was less crowded.  Eventually I reached the Delayed Harvest section of the water around 8:45 a.m.  To my surprise there was not another soul in the parking lot, despite it being a holiday.

Apparently, that area had gotten a fair of amount of recent rain because the ruts and holes in the gravel parking lot were full of off colored rain water.  Before putting on my waders and rigging up, I took a walk down the water’s edge just to take a look.  The water level was slightly above normal, with just a hint of murkiness.  Clear enough to see the bottom in three feet of water, but skewed enough to make the finer details invisible.  There was a small island to the right of where I was standing, blocking my view of the upstream landscape.  After putting on my waders and rigging my 9 ft. 5 wt. St. Croix Rio Santo, I made my way around the island via the near bank.  When I rounded the tip of the island, I found a long, deep, fast moving run that extended upstream for about 40 yards where it met a set of shallow rapids.  On the far side of the rapids, was another long, deep, fast moving, picture perfect run that had my mind racing about the number of trout contained therein.  IMAG0094Initially, I had a size 16 tan deer hair caddis tied on, but upon seeing the deep runs, I decided to tight line my way upstream and switched to a tandem nymph set-up with a size 14 hare’s ear on top and a size 16 caddis larva dropped off the bend.

The fast moving, broken water combined with the tinged water clarity allowed me to stand fairly close to the runs without spooking the fish.  On the second cast, I brought a 12 inch rainbow to net.  As I slowly worked my way through the first run, the fishing got better.  By the time I got to the end of the first run I had already netted 10 trout, about half of which were wild browns, and I probably lost just as many.  The second run provide to be almost as fruitful as I netted more browns, all between 10 and 15 inches.

By 11:45 a.m. I was getting ready to call it a day.  While I would have loved to stay and fish till dark, I unfortunately did not have that luxury.  As I was walking back downstream, I decided to make a few more casts into the tail end of the first run.  At that point the Little Schuylkill offered up her finest treasure of the day, a stunning wild brown with some spectacular coloration. IMAG0137

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With this royal farewell, I made my way back to the truck, whistling Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and wondering what new piece of water I’ll explore next.

Happy Birthday America.

 

DIY Portable Fly Tying Table

When it comes to fly tying, I am about as organized as a toddler.  In the (not so distant past) I had my vice set on top of a desk, surrounded by stacks of papers (which are unrelated to fly tying), and my tying materials were spread across multiple rooms usually encased in some sort of paper or plastic bags.  So as you may have guessed, when I sat down to crank out a dozen flies at night, I wasted a lot of time searching for my materials.  Simply put, it was a mess.   One night a while ago, while trying to tie some flies for an upcoming weekend trip to fish Slate Run and Little Pine Creek, I decided I was fed up with my lack of organization.  I needed change.  I was going to make fly tying great again!

In the past I have seen Instagram posts of beautifully crafted table-top fly tying tables.  Unfortunately for me, those beautiful pieces also came with a hefty price tag.  So I decided I would fashion my own, out of scrap wood laying around the garage.  My material list was such:

  • One 2×6
  • One 2×3
  • One 1×4
  • One section of a 2×4 that was previously ripped down the middle
  • One 12 inch piece of a dowel rod, that happened to be the perfect diameter for my tying spools
  • All pieces were secured using a nail gun and 1 ½ inch nails

Once I had a rough idea of the dimensions I wanted (I made it roughly 21 x 24), I constructed the outer frame using the 1×4.  I also angled off the front corners of the two sides pieces, simply for aesthetic purposes.  Once the outer frame was done, I measured, cut and secured the five storage spaces.  Next was the base.  For this I used four 2×6 pieces and one 2×3.  Once I had the boards arranged to my liking (I put the 2×3 in the middle to keep the piece symmetrical), I nailed them all in place.  Afterwards, I secured the ripped 2×4 to the front, to contain the tying area. IMG_20170623_104530_162

Lastly, I cut the dowel rod into eight even pieces and pre-drilled eight evenly spaced holes into the cross piece just below the storage areas (see feature image).  I applied some wood glue to the dowel rods and secured them in the pre-drilled holes (for added spool storage, use longer dowel pieces that can accommodate more than one spool of tying thread).

Once the build was done, I gave the whole piece a thorough sanding and vacuuming, then added two coats of oak stain.  Now I have a designated tying space with material storage incorporated into the design, and the piece is small enough to take on a weekend fly fishing trip for some stream side tying.  I don’t think this piece is going to revolutionize the fly tying furniture industry or sell for hundreds of dollars, but it certainly has helped increase my tying productivity.  So when all said and done, it has served its purpose.