Our rivers are not suitable for drift boats. The unique design developed in Oregon in the early 1900’s quickly became iconic vessels for those with casting flies in mind. Like our rods, wooden boats transformed into fiberglass in the 1990s “democratizing” river craft, to an extent (Chris Santella, “A Brief History of the Drift Boat”). As materials for rods and boats (or guides with boats for hire) become cheaper and more available, more folks found fly fishing. The boats quickly drifted back East to the birthplace of Fly Fishing in America - the Catskills. Casting a dry fly from a drift boat on the West Branch is, to me, the epitome of fly fishing. Since I live in North Western New Jersey, these trips are few and far between. Our rivers are best traversed on foot.
We can still drift flies through summer. This may be my last post on Summer fishing, but I have found great respite from the hottest days drifting random dry flies for the class of fish known as panfish. The term is, of course, a cooking term first used in a cookbook from the late 1700s, 1796 to be exact, by Amelia Simmons who refers to panfish as any fish that fits in a pan (OED.com). From my grandfather I learned that sunnies, pumpkin seed, blue gill, and the like, are New Jersey panfish. According to him, perch were perch, but in other regions perch are sometimes included in the “pan” depending on local lexicon or lunch menu. I do not see many perch in the lakes and ponds I fish today, but I remember them in abundance as a kid and preferred perch (their tender shape and texture) to the few flat, breaded, fried bites their pan-shaped mates presented.
Warning: This is wholehearted not a temptation to try one. In the text from 1796 the author notes that fish from “shallow water, with muddy bottoms, [...] are impregnated therewith, and are unsavory.” I concur and would advise against such indulgence as Ms. Simmons points out that fresh water fish, here she is referring to trout, for the table are best caught in cold water: “they are best when caught under a fall or cateract [sic] –from what philosophical circumstance is yet unsettled, yet true it is, that at the foot of a fall the waters are much colder than at the head.”
We have shallow, warm and muddy ponds for the most part, with few falls and cateracts. This is also New Jersey - read the guidance on eating fresh water fish and posted warnings around consuming your catch at places like Spruce Run. The pdf is exactly 60 pages long, and I can spare you the trouble: don’t eat anything you catch - ever – from anywhere.
This lackadaisical quest for panfish usually follows a more intense, but often less successful, pursuit of bass with a popper. A six weight with a 4x tippet is what I use for bass. I love my Douglas rod for bigger flies and the corresponding fish. As the sun gets high around 11 am, and the sweat breaks out and the upper rim of the glasses get foggy, I kind of let it all go and this rod converts quickly to throw flies - hoppers to gnats, with a change of tippet.
Moving back up stream I select worn flies on their last legs and add some 5x tippet to the 4x daisy-chained to the leader. The length is needed for a better dry fly presentation and my six weight can send a long leader a fair distance. Pan fish, less wary and selective than trout or bass, are just plain fun to catch but are to be treated with the same reverence and respect as other fish; without sunnies we would not have larger species to chase this time of year. Their name also suggests their popularity at the table in the 1800s. Be careful of the bones and mercury if you ever try one…
Anglers with a penchant for trout have to wait a few more weeks before trout fishing in New Jersey returns in earnest. Some use the time to fill boxes with our favorite Fall Patterns best to match the naturals.
The first Fall fly up: the Giant Autumn Sedge (Trichoptera Limnephilidae Pycnopsyche; aka, the Fall Caddis; aka, the October Caddis (how Giant? #10 - # 12 and with an orange coloration). The pupae of this particular Caddis fly emerges after its larva have spent all summer ensconced in their cases. They begin to emerge in late summer when their food, falling leaves, reappears. As summer ends, larvae eat and enter the pupate stage, which for us, means that means the river is abundant with cased caddis, caddis larvae (worms) and pupae. One can expect their imitations to take fish. For reference, check out Jason Neuswanger’s site Troutnut.com for pictures like this one:
(credit: Jason Neuswange,"Troutnut.com")
As the insect continues to develop, they crawl out of the river at the banks and take to the air, where they rest, travel, mate and deposit eggs, and die. Late September and October, just in time for the Fall Stocking, Elk Wing Caddis and other winged Caddis imitations mimic the adult flies - more on them next week.
This video from Tim Flagler of Tightlines Productions offers insight on the October Caddis and how to tie one: October Caddis Soft Hackle
Consider stepping up your casting game with a new DXF or Sky G from Douglas. Nothing compares to a delicate drifting dry fly presented by an Air or Pure from Winston and Co. or their Boron III (3 wt, 10’) for nymph enthusiasts keen on sending John Collins’ Electric Caddis larva (compare these to the picture above) deep in the plunge pools.
Fair warning: there is only one more Thomas and Thomas Contact II (3wt, 10’9’’) in stock…
Enjoy the rest of August and the time outdoors with your thoughts or those closest to you. Hopefully, I’ll see you out there!