Natchaug River, Connecticut

May 1 – Friday – 

A bit nervous, this being my first trip with the Long Island Flyrodders.  It is a group I have known for a long time and belonged to for the last 3 or 4 years. It is dedicated to group trips to fly fishing destinations, species vary. Trout, of course, but also warm water and salt water fish including tropical ones. The group tends toward camping and joint meals planned and prepared by designated group leaders.  All this being said, I don’t really know what to expect.

I head up solo taking the ferry to shorten the drive time and miles but it is no faster, at least not usually. In fact, it may take longer given the ferry wait times and un-boarding process. Figure two hours in all and you can drive to Bridgeport on a good day in less than that. Let’s call it even.

I head up 95 to 91 and then east toward Providence to the town of Chaplin, CT. Then up Route 198 which parallels the Natchaug River, my destination. I pull into Nickerson’s Campground and find the owner in the office/lodge who has my name on a list of day-trippers; a little too early for me to tent camp, I stay at the Passport Inn and Z-Best Pizza restaurant. I didn’t attempt to verify the namesake restaurant although invited by Mike and Ken to join them for lunch, choosing to get on the river instead.

After Mr. Nickerson checked me in and collected my $18 for the weekend access, he told me of the trophy trout water and the trout park just upriver and contiguous with the campground river frontage. I stopped by the LIFR campsites to say hello and saw Howie and Rich setting up the banner proclaiming our outing. I can recall putting up the family name on our campsites as a kid with the town we came from as an outreach to other campers.  This was more of an inclusionary sign, letting us know we are in the right place and among friends.

I head up to the Natchaug State Forest and there is only one car of picnickers, the river empty.  There are a few bugs coming off. Mostly caddis but also a few large mayflies of unknown classification. The pool below the bridge looks interesting and I start there with an emerger to work out the curl in my leader. I was surprised to hit a brown of decent length and limited spirit right away. Shortly a rainbow and another brown, all on the same emerger.

On the next cast I allowed the fly to sink, well soaked in fish juice as it was, and hooked another, at least I thought I did.  When I brought it to the net there was a tangle of line heavier than my tippet, a swivel of small size and a fish, along with my fly well up the rig. I had hooked a fish that broke off from a wormer.  I tried to take the hook out but it was well down his gullet. I cut him free and released him hoping for the best, given the hardware in his gut.

This river is open to all people and all types of tackle. Very democratic. All the fish are stocked, even the “trophy” fish that are released each year to give one an opportunity to catch a monster – albeit a stocked one.

It is a beautiful river with great holding water, lots of boulders and mid river rock lines to keep it well oxygenated and interesting. The bankside trees and its winding course make it a wilderness-like experience and if you hike a few hundred yards you have a good chance of having the place to yourself. Close your eyes and open them to whatever storyland you wish to be in.

New friends Mike and Ken arrive and I give up the bridge pool to them working my way down stream. More picturesque water and scenery but no more fish – or bugs. Back at dinner, of delicious stir-fry, we all compare notes.  What flies are working and where they are rising.  I decide to fish the camp water upstream and Rich joins me but I soon move up looking for rises. After a quarter mile or so, an easy hike on a not well worn path, I set up on some boulders and work very promising pools and pockets. I consider walking back in the dark and reason that at this time of year a late date with a trout is not a sure thing so plan on heading back in daylight.

After working the pools with my emerger of earlier victory, I switch to a parachute Adams for visibility. It covers the area well but no reactions.  It is May 1st, after all, and the hatch of the day is over. I switch to a Green Woolly Bugger with a bead head. It is tied with a tan tail which I shorten and thin before launching. I work the pockets and pools to no benefit.  I look downstream and work the tail out of the run; there are several and I also work the glassy water that separates them. I let the fly sink, really sink, risking a bottom snag. Still no flash or fish.

To the right is a quiet back eddy, a very slow one. I start casting to the far end of it and stripping the fly back, slowly.  Cold water, slow strip. There are tree branches threatening to take the fly but I reason that I need to cover water that is difficult to cover if I want to find a fish.  I cast closer, and closer.  I hang up in a branch but, for whatever reason, the tree releases it. On the next cast the rainbow takes it. A soft take as you would expect. I barely strike him and wait for his run.  He comes up and shows himself and then wraps me around a rock. Ping.

I am re-energized but the dark is coming.  I make a few more casts, lose the Bugger and put on a cone-head Black Leech. A few more attempts at the pools and pockets, then back to the eddy.  Nothing. I pack it in for the 3 C’s – campfire, coffee and cookies.

Some of my motel mates make their exit and I join them in a caravan back to the room.  They have come well provisioned and invite me to join them for a night cap. Likeable fellows, we review each other’s resumes, retired as we all are. I think that there must be an easier way to tell my story than recounting all the various experiences, even in abbreviated form.  I have cut it shorter and shorter over the years, sometimes just talking of my last job as the job.

The other guys share their lives with me as I munch on delicious grapes while they sip theirs. Two more join, Armand and Joe. Out comes the scotch and Irish whiskey. The tasting goes around and discussion of preference and other libations goes on.  I think to tell them of my experience in the Jameson Mansion in Dublin or the Scottish relative who made pressure values for the distilling industry as well as the single malt scotch he brought back in 1981, but I listen instead.

Good guys. A long day, I head to bed.

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Tom's Fishing Stories

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