The last three days I’ve gone to the same stretch of Black Earth Creek, around the same time every morning, trudging through thickets of tall grasses and working my way back upstream to the car. I’ve never hit a stream of water so systematically before. I thought it would be a good study in small-scale changes in fishing conditions, but more importantly I just wanted to catch some fish.
I didn’t learn anything earth-shattering: fish are fish, and they behave in ways you can’t always predict. I never did catch a fish in the same exact spot twice. Only once did I see a rise in the same spot two days in a row. New ones appeared, along the same bank or near the same structure. Minor details like that.
I learned more about the structure of the stream itself moving through it. Rocky patches, silty muck, seams choked with submergent vegetation. I was surprised with how much added integrity the veggies provided to the streambed: areas too mucky or soft to wade earlier in the season were much more navigable now that new roots had taken hold.
I made an adversary of the local wildlife, becoming a bit of a nuisance to the red-winged blackbird that called this stretch of stream his backyard. He eyed me warily from the roadside as I geared up, and as soon as I made a step through the tall grass he excitedly took flight and began an series of alarm calls while circling above me. After about fifty yards he seemed content that he made his point and veered off, back to his post at the edge of the highway.
I discovered that sometimes a change in technique works for inexplicable reasons. Fishing a section of rocky streambed on the third day, I watched the development of two rises off the right-hand-side bank alongside a submerged boulder. I had yet to see any significant bug activity on the water, so I went through a progression of dry flies:
Orange Stimulator: worked here yesterday, but not today.
Elk Hair Caddis: I like this as a general attractor pattern in addition to a Caddis imitator. But not today.
BWO Sparkle Dun: Whatever they were feeding on must be fairly small, I figured, so I tried an 18 Sparkle. Nope.
Yellow Sally: Because at this point, What The Hell?
I then decided that maaaaybe these fish are actually more tuned into emergers in the film than adults at the surface. So I trailed a beadhead emerger from a Stimulator– I figured it was a good hi-vis indicator– and tossed it out.
Fish on! Well, I guess that little beadhead was the trick…
…no, wait, this fish has a Stimulator stuck in the corner of its mouth.
Hmm… okay. I put him back throw out a few more casts. Fish number two! I bring him in and same thing: the ‘bow hit the Stimulator rather than the beadhead. The same Stimulator that failed minutes earlier.
So the beadhead worked, kinda. Even though it didn’t. What else to explain the sudden interest these two fish had for a fly they rounded rejected moments prior? Maybe I wore them down, or they realized the Stim was the largest meal they were gonna get.
On the second day I took out my new rod for its maiden trout voyage, a 6’6″, 3-weight fiberglass rod that I wrapped myself from a blank I obtained from Mountain Brook Rods late last year. I was looking for a glass rod to add to my stable, and I really liked the honey-yellow color of the blank: with some red and black wrappings it would make for a killer-looking throwback rod. With hardware the total price came in at around $100, which is a steal of a deal for a little stream rod. It weighs 2 ounces and pairs well with my Battenkill II reel (though I suspect it would do a little better with a Battenkill I).
I’m still getting used to the sloooow action on this baby. It’s hard, because I’m the kind of guy that gets aggressive with tip-flex graphite. Fiberglass is a beautiful reminder to slow down and enjoy every moment on the water. Two things I did different on this rod, and worth a mention: 1) single-foot guides; and 2) cork reel seat. I don’t know if I would do either in another rod build: the guides are more difficult to properly wrap and don’t function appreciably different than double-foot guides (I bought them for shaving weight, but honestly the ~0.1 ounce I saved isn’t worth the trouble), and the metal rings on the cork seat have a tendency to let go of the reel at inopportune moments (i.e. in the middle of a cast).
I broke-in the rod earlier this year on some panfish, but this rod was built to deal with trout (I even named it after REDACTED Creek, the place I had in mind while building it). Luckily I was able to pull out a few fish on its first day or work (only one proved to be very photogenic/non-wiggly).
At the end of the third day I was getting frustrated watching trout rise with abandon while doing their best to completely ignore every dry I could throw at them. During a brief spell where I switched to a two-nymph rig, I began to untangle one helluva wind knot when I looked down at my waders and saw a hitchhiker: a small (size 18-ish) mayfly with a green body and slate-gray opaque wings. Immediately switched back to a BWO Sparkle Dun and began working the tailout of a meander. Two casts in there is the rise and tightening of line. It was a little guy but he sure fought a lot harder the rest of the rainbows. When I scoop him up my net I was surprised to see a brown trout, not a rainbow.
It was a welcome sight and one too rare this year on Black Earth Creek. A small guy, too, which gave me hope that not every young fish in the stream was killed off through the winter. I don’t think the DNR has given any definitive timetable for BEC’s recovery for this year’s first kill, but I think a few years is a good bet to re-establish normal numbers.
At this point I’m feeling conflicted. This is my second full season is fishing Black Earth Creek and I’ve done rather well. Last year I could count my season catch total at BEC on one hand; this year the numbers aren’t crazy, but I walk away having caught fish much more often than being skunked. Nearly all of them are stocked rainbows though, and I’m reminded that my fishing success is at the expense of the wild brown fishery that should rightfully exist in these waters*.
The rainbows have turned what was a very frustrating fishery last year– one that I actively avoided in favor of easier-fishing streams much further away– to a place that I very much enjoy fishing. With every rise they’re also giving away every hiding spot on the stream, for which I am also thankful. Hopefully the browns will return to the same stream in the future, but I know they will not be facing the same angler.
Three days in and my car smells faintly of fish. And not the good Friday-Fish-Fry smell, but rather that Bradford-Beach-is-closed kinda thing.
*Yes, technically the browns are supposed to be there, either. But sometimes the right to exist trumps nativity.