It’s been a long winter. The Pandemic coupled with the brutal storm systems, that have ravaged this country, are now giving way to an optimistic spring. Opening Day, in many places, is just around the corner; however, despite this optimism, you will now need to prepare for another unexpected surprise. Enter the legions of early season fly fisherman and worm dunkers, who are out and about following the stocking trucks in hopes of fulfilling their own idle winter dreams on your favorite river. This was certainly not what you had planned! It will be difficult to stand shoulder to shoulder avoiding the chaos and tangled lines especially during early high water periods. Fortunately, with just a little research and some local investigating, there is an alternative.
Consider fishing the headwaters. You’ll have the whole place to yourself. This country has more wild trout streams than you can count. Many unnamed. As an example, eastern states such as New Jersey and Connecticut, which are densely populated, have many wild streams close to large cities and not many people take advantage of the fishery. The scenery within these little gems is beautiful and wildlife is often abundant. Social distancing is never a problem because few people bother to make the effort to cast a line into these areas. Aside from the solitude, fresh air and a little exercise the rewards of fishing the headwaters are numerous particularly as the season progresses. Stocked trout will migrate toward mouths of tributaries and into the headwaters as temperatures begin the climb out of the high 60’s. At times, you will be surprised to land a trout larger than you ever expected. The smaller wild fish that inhabit these waters are beautifully colored, will often congregate at the base of the cascading pools and some areas could be like fishing in a barrel! Another additional advantage is that these little streams are very fishable even when the main rivers are running high and/or are muddy.
Pictured above: An assortment of 2021 catches
Simplify your tackle options. Rods of 6’ 8” to 8’ designed for 3 to 5 wt. floating lines are perfect for these ventures. Fly selection is simple. A few of your favorite dry flies, worm patterns and nymphs will do just fine. Dry/Droppers are good choices. Wet flies will work. Beetles and hoppers are great in warmer months. Try using barbless hooks as most fish will be wild. You don’t need a ton of flies. Shorter leaders should be considered because it will help avoid hang ups in the overhead branches and vegetation. Keep the tippet to 4 or 5 x as you will need to get into some tight places in order to turn the fly over. Fly floatant, split shot and indicators can be useful. Hip boots or waders are essential in early season. Later, you can wet wade in the warmer weather and enjoy the cooler water (another nice advantage of this type of fishing as the season progresses). A shoulder sling or hip pack and hand net will also help keep the weight off as you hike from pool to pool. Sunglasses can be helpful, but the likelihood of seeing a hidden trout from a distance is low. Go as light as you can. As for presentation, you’ll be doing a lot of roll casting as well as a few bow and arrow casts. Small areas can be challenging as well as rewarding and the 6’ 8” to 8’ rods are good choices despite what you may have read about shorter or longer rods and lesser line weights. Drag can be managed efficiently with quality rods of these representative lengths – you can browse such quality rods like ADG Titanium Fly Rods here. And, while upstream presentations may make the most sense, sometimes a downstream approach is the only way you can present a fly to a particular area. Also, try to keep your distance when approaching a small stream pool and be mindful of the overhangs and obstructions. This is a totally different environment than the typical “wide river buff” is used to and adjustments will need to be made with the casting stroke. It’s a very short stroke with the wrist. And, don’t be afraid to shoot the distance. The worst that can happen is that you lose a fly. Most of the time
you’ll be surprised how well you can actually lay out a fly in close quarters and at the same time be rewarded with a quick flash and take of a lively wild trout.
Pictured above: Ready to sneak up on unsuspecting fish! While socially distancing...
As I alluded, social distancing will not be a problem in these areas. You should carry a mask in case you encounter another unlikely angler. That being said, there are some other important items that you should always have on hand with you when fishing headwaters: (1). A wading staff. The water may be shallow but it is very easy to crash and burn on a slippery shallow boulder strewn stream. The wading staff also serves as your four wheel drive as you climb higher into the tributary. (2). A map, compass and/or a navigation device. (It’s easy to get lost when you walk through a hole in the bushes and then wander a couple of miles with no visible path out. I’ve done it; it’s not fun especially when it’s getting dark). (3). A phone to call home or in case of emergency. Keep it in a zip-loc or waterproof bag. Also, before you depart on your excursion, let someone know where you are going and what time you plan to be heading home. You will be entering some places that are off the beaten path and you may often be alone. (4). Insect repellent. (5). Water bottle. (6). Time piece. Keep an eye on your watch. It’s easy to lose track of the day within an overhanging canopy that could be teaming with wild trout. These kinds of places can get you “pumped” but you don’t need to be totally lost in the moment as the time flies by. Unless you brought provisions for an overnight, you’ll eventually have to head to back to where you started before it gets dark. You can explore other sections of the headwater on your next excursion. Remember, you generally will have the whole place to yourself… unless you tell the rest of the world.