I’m not in the business of looking a gift trout in the mouth. I’ve learned my lesson. There was a time when I lived within a few minutes’ drive of some of the best spring creek and mountain trout fishing in the mid-Atlantic. And I pined for more solitude. A hundred yards to myself wasn’t enough for me, apparently. Now, I’d give half my flies to have that kind of luxury again.
But there is something to be said for wanting to branch out. Whether it be due to a popular fishery in decline, crowded streams, or reduced access, you may find yourself looking for new angling options as this season begins to heat up.
There are some things you can do to break out of your rut of hitting the same stretch of special regulation water for the hundredth time. Chances are your efforts will simply be rewarded with new challenges, a learning curve, and that desired privacy. But just maybe you’ll find a hidden gem: wild fish, beautiful scenery, and yes, solitude.
Chart Your Course
Siri and her kin have rendered the map practically useless. But what a GPS can’t give you turn-by-turn directions to is a wild brook trout stream. Maybe you’ve heard all about this “blue line” business? Well, topographic maps actually have blue lines on them that represent even the tiniest of trickles. With the slightest bit of cartographic skill, you can figure out the run of a stream and what access will be like.
Couple that ancient skill with a guidebook or two, and you’ll start to play Sherlock with the hydrological chances for encountering fish. The guidebook will complement the knowledge you have of the predisposition of certain streams’ ecology. The map will reveal waters that you may have never knew were right there.
Live in a region with limestone substrate? Creeks that materialize or rapidly expand in low gradient areas might be spring creeks. Do you have a favorite brook trout stream? If there is a nearly identical blue line on the map in the immediate vicinity, it might be worth checking out.
Of course, you’ll also need to have private property in mind. Also, steering away from the typically longer seasons of special regulation waters means checking on local regulations.
Put Your Blinker On
Rivers and roadways are quite similar. The main drag is busier, flashier, and more popular. But do you necessarily want to live on the highway? Are the best restaurants right past the off ramp?
You might not even have to go bushwhacking into the mountains to find new, less pressured waters. I know that I am sometimes a slave to the special regulation signs. I assume that the state knows best, and that the waters they post are the only ones worth fishing. That is patently untrue.
And often, some of the best alternatives flow into or out of those waters. Tributaries, feeder creeks, and other streams in the immediate watersheds of popular rivers carry fish. Again, you’re likely subject to fishing in unregulated water, but chances are that the fish don’t know that.
In a smaller creek, a fish like a mature trout is going to find its own pool in which to be the boss. If a fish finds that a few riffles up a side branch, it isn’t going to reject its new home because it isn’t on the main stem. Fly fishers need to have that same mindset. The waters will likely be smaller, but that is the tradeoff. You’ll also be leaving crowds and pressured fish.
Warm Your Feet
While it is hardly revolutionary these days, fishing for warm water quarry is always a great alternative to crowded catch-and-release trout streams. The great part is, species like smallmouth bass thrive just downstream of where the trout live! Like fishing the tributaries, warm water angling means altering your location ever so slightly.
Of course, you’ll probably want to change most other things too. Your rod and line will likely need to jump up a weight or two. Even with today’s emphasis on streamers for trout, bass flies can be a whole other ballgame. Get downstream enough, and you can leave your waders at home. Even the chilliest tailwater or spring-influenced rivers will become tolerable to wet wade in late spring and summer.
And let’s be honest: fishing for one species will inevitably lead to catching others. For fish like smallmouth and trout, which share an edge in their respective environmental preferences, your bass “bycatch” might be a rainbow.
There are, mind you, some more extreme measures you can take to find your own private stream. Paying to fish a private stream, for one. Flying into Kamchatka and floating down a virgin rainbow trout river would be another option. But for most of us, one or a combination of a few of the possibilities listed above are a bit more realistic.
Like so many other parts of life and fishing, thinking just slightly outside the box can lead to some good – even great fishing. Along the way there is the joy of discovering new water, honing a different set of skills, and, that always important element, being by yourself.