Thank you to all participants and spectators at this weekend's events at Shannon’s Private Waters at the Raritan Inn. The fish and weather combined with excitement and suspense to make for a memorable year. For Saturday’s Army - Navy competition, the West Point cadets edged out the Naval Academy midshipmen with some impressive catches from both sides. This was an open-box competition, and most anglers used an indicator over an egg or a mop. During the finals, the top 2 cadets and the top 2 midshipmen fished, with the two cadets bringing in a total of 88” of trout in just 45 minutes! Sunday’s New Jersey Fly Fisher of the Year was slow until the water warmed up, but a hatch around 2 pm increased activity significantly. The sun led the anglers to fish in the shade, and most used some sort of pheasant tail, hare’s ear, or egg pattern. Dick Smith won the one-fly, representing the Raritan Headwaters Association - congrats Dick!
It is November and 2023 is winding down. Reports from this past week had some good and some frustration. The Fall stocking came and went and folks are either finding them - or they are not. I am among those who are not. That being said, with no luck at my usual haunts, I keep looking and have been lucky to fool a few in far flung places.
Watch out for redds! (Here’s an informative article from Hatch Magazine with stunning pictures) Trout create a nest for eggs and for males to find and then the spawn is on. Short story, short: don’t go near them. Avoid them. Walk around them. Don’t fish them. We like to see a variety of fish reproducing in the rivers and this is where that happens.
Below the redds you can find feeding rainbows who love eating the eggs that get knocked loose. Pink seems to be the popular color in the South Branch. One important idea that I was reminded of is that a nymph, midge, or eggs represents food for trout that spends this period of its life just near the bottom of the river bed. I happily watched my offering twist and turn and tumble in the water column, eight to nine inches from the bottom, when I remembered these things do not swim in that fashion. I added more split shot and watched again. This time, something moved.
When the levels are low and clear enough to watch my fly, I do. The undercut banks, riffles and runs, and the pools I find fishy are short in length and my drift is short in duration. Another minor epiphany I had watching my drift is to make my approach from further away and I resist the temptation to walk up to the target area and drop my fly in. This would be folly, I realize, as the fish are wary and skittish in these conditions. They look cute when they dash and dart away in a panic, but that’s less than ideal behavior if you’re looking to catch them. After I fish a likely place, I may go see what is going on there and run a fly through. Look to the next place and see if the environment is similar and fish accordingly. On the way back to the car, approach in a manner that fish can not spot you and try again.
Ample weight sinks the fly and the deeper it stays for longer, the better chance to put it in front of that brown you know is right there. This works for hitting pocket water around boulders and piles. Rather than a slow arc to the bottom only to be lifted back up in a parabola with the current, super heavy flies plunge and the angler kind of picks it back up and into the current from below. The fly should travel in a straight line through the strike zone. The ol’ lift at the end is still a good idea, but few flies are making that ascent to the surface right now - it's just too cold! The fish do not want to move much, if they can help it, so it is more important than ever to guide the fly to them. It’s time to break out the Euro Rods and rigs, if you are not a devotee. The extra reach in the rod and the straight line to the river bed helps keep the fly where it needs to be.
I will do the dad thing and remind everyone to dress warm and bring extra clothing. Those breathable waders are awesome and offer freedom of movement but do nothing to keep us warm. Layer up and tuck everything in - fleece pants to socks, long underwear shirts to waistbands, and wear a hood or scarf, for goodness sake! Gloves and hat can make your outing longer, so don’t try to be rough and tough. We have a few undergarments on sale (25% percent off sizes XXL and XL) and Frog Togg Fleece fingerless fishing gloves at regular price. Be careful if you have to look up and when you turn around. Step slowly and deliberately.
Finally - the Winter Stocking is coming up! South Branch Outfitters continues the Winter Stocking on the South Branch and last minute donations will only add to the number of new trout to our local water. The Winter Stocking will include a tagged Bubba or two - bring the tag back to the shop with proof of release and win a guide trip! In addition, The Ridge and Valley and Hacklebarney Chapters of Trout Unlimited invite you to sponsor a trout to stock in the Musconetcong TCA! Yes - you can buy a fish, or part of one, and know that your contribution has a direct impact on the quality of angling in New Jersey. Here is the link: TU Sponsor a Trout
Swing by the shop for the last of our 25% off Fall Sale. Lamson Reels and three packs (reel and two additional spools) are still available while supplies last. Gather up materials for Steelhead and trout flies. Say “Hi,” and help get rid of our leftover Halloween Candy.
See you out there - Roy B.