American Fly Fishing

Whitewater River, NC/SC

Never a River So Appropriately Named
By Bill Chiles

In my early days of fly fishing, the number of fish I brought to hand was the major benchmark of a successful day.

            As the years passed, though, such an arbitrary measure of fly-fishing success waned. In its place, other parts of the sport became more important, such as the vivid color on a 6-inch brook trout, the unusual spotting pattern on the sole brown of the day, or the way the rays of sun beamed through the fog early one morning on what would be a fishless day. Sometimes just standing knee-deep in a trout stream is all the measure of success one requires. And then there are days like May 23, 2011.

            Matt Canter and I were fishing a remote stretch of the Whitewater River in North Carolina. From the moment we hit the water, the fishing promised to be good. Every conceivable holding spot produced a nice brown trout eager to gobble dry flies. All of the fish were healthy, with their bellies sagging over our palms. As we moved upstream, the fishing got even better. Although I believe I was, at the time, emotionally mature enough to appreciate how special such a day is without the aforementioned arbitrary measures of success, it occurred to me about two hours into this trip that it would be interesting to know just how many fish we caught that day. I began counting.

Steens Mountain, OR

High Desert Oasis
By John Shewey

I love angling for bonefish in inches of water on ivory-white hard-sand flats. But bonefish don’t live at 8,500 feet, in a near-frozen lake, in a remote part of the Great Basin West.

            But as far as I was concerned, this was close enough: Lahontan cutthroat trout materializing on a shoreline shoal like wraiths, ghosting up from the adjacent depths and feeding on something that compelled them to venture into potentially perilous shallows. The slightest wind ripple on the water made the fish difficult to track.

            “They’re cutthroat in an alpine lake; how hard can this be?” I told myself.

            I sent a beadhead Prince Nymph zinging over the shoal. The fly plopped down, the line cast a shadow, the fish vanished. Ugh. I should have been more careful, more respectful. Hubris can carry a price.

            I waited. A trout, then two, then three appeared on the shoal, easy to see when they turned broadside, but nearly invisible when they turned head-on to where I was kneeling just 30 feet distant.

            I snipped off the beadhead, added 6 feet of tippet, and tied on a nondescript little fuzz ball that I suppose might have been a scud pattern. I soaked the fly first, then cast just far enough that the leader and tippet laid out over the light-bottom shoal, but not the fly line itself. I waited while the fly sank to the bottom. I waited some more. The breeze died and the water stilled. Two cutts approached the general location where the fly lay in wait. I twitched it once, then again, and both fish scooted quickly forward—and then wandered off, unimpressed.

            This was a lot like pursuing big, suspicious bonefish in skinny water.

Oil Creek, PA

A Trout Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma
By Ralph Scherder

One of my earliest fishing memories is of driving across the bridge in Oil City, Pennsylvania, as caddisflies plastered the windshield. They were everywhere, huge clouds of them high above the water. It was late April and the Grannoms were in full swing on Oil Creek.

            With a name like Oil Creek, you wouldn’t expect this stream to offer great hatches or quality fly fishing. In that regard, Oil Creek defies logic. Sure, it has weathered the typical environmental woes and suffered for the sake of “progress.” A look at the area’s history is enough to give one pause, and yet, despite that, Oil Creek has emerged as a quality fishery, if not one of the top fishing destinations in western Pennsylvania.

New Haven Harbor, CT

A Multi-Species Mecca within City Limits
By Tom Migdalski

New Haven Harbor is a quintessential juxtaposition of wildness and civilization. There’s something special about hooking a wily predator alongside one of the busiest traffic and commercial hubs in the Northeast. This fishing thrill occurs all season long in the waters surrounding New Haven, Connecticut, where baitfish attract bluefish and striped bass almost within casting distance of oil tankers, Interstate 95, and bustling city life. The fishery also features weakfish, false albacore, and other species, not to mention one of the biggest and oldest oystering industries in New England.

            New Haven Harbor is a triangular, 4-mile-long bay and the second-largest commercial port in Connecticut. The bay’s central location on northern Long Island Sound makes it appealing and accessible to many anglers….the fishing can be excellent even deep within the harbor and inland from the interstates.

The harbor is readily accessible from shore or boat. And it’s a reasonable run from multiple launches, including those in Milford, West Haven, East Haven, and Branford. However, unlike most of the rest of the Connecticut shoreline, which is largely privately owned, New Haven Harbor offers miles of beach and coastal access for land-based casters, and that’s its strongest point.

Lake Lenore, WA

A Chance for Trophy Trout
By Mike Benbow

Back in the 1970s, Lenore Lake was barren because its waters are too alkaline to support most fish. But in an experiment, fisheries biologists caught a few Lahontan cutthroat that that were already thriving in the alkaline waters of Omak Lake on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state and put them in Lenore. They survived.

            So Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fisheries biologist Bill Zook sent to California for some eggs from Lahontans, the largest-growing subspecies of cutthroat trout. Alkaline waters can be good for insect life, so the fish grew quickly in Lenore and fishing for them was popular, especially in the lake’s north end, where the Lahontans, in their seasonal spawning mode, gathered in spring near a fish trap that WDFW had set in an inlet creek to collect eggs. WDFW used the eggs to spawn trout, and then reared them in a hatchery, restocking the long, narrow lake with some 70,000 fingerlings each fall. The lake attracted crowds of anglers each spring, causing some to refer to the fishery as a “zoo” because of all the fly fishers crowding the north end.

            A friend of mine called the other day…he reminded me of the days 10 or so years ago when we went to Lenore and caught 20 to 30 fish between us at the north end. He said the Lahontans reminded him of a smaller version of Skagit River chum salmon. They don’t jump much, but they are a strong, powerful fish, he said.

Cottonwood Creek, CA

Dreaming of Alpine Gold
By Dave Fason

Pine needles crumble under my feet with each step. The cool air, perfumed by the scent of sagebrush and conifers, is thin and dry; breathing is more labored than I am used to. The sun is setting over the mountain ridge, quickening the onset of the evening’s cold. The water, gliding over a rocky creek bed, is a mirror reflecting magnificent hues of gold and yellow. I crouch low and hide behind a pine tree to spy on the golden figures swimming gently in the current.

            My good friend Chris Barclay is with me, and he has spotted them too. I whisper to Chris, “Do you see what I see?”

            He answers with a quick nod and a grin.

            Chris pulls a few feet of fly line out to ready himself for the first cast of the trip. He decides a roll cast will work best. In tight quarters, he gracefully delivers a Royal Wulff to the nearest trout. Within seconds the fish sweeps over and inhales the fly. After a quick fight, our first fish of our trip—a kaleidoscopic prize bejeweled in vivid colors—fills the small net. This trout is very different from what we are accustomed to back home in North Carolina.

            This is California’s golden trout country.