A New Season on the River

By Jim Holland

April 2009

"Perhaps the greatest satisfaction on the first day of the season is the knowledge in the evening that the whole rest of the season is to come."- Arthur Ransomme "The First Day at the River from Rod and Line 1929

In our region, no season is more anticipated than Spring. Although many of us have been on the water since the short days of January, many more have been at the fly tying bench dreaming of warmer days. Certainly it dominated most of the discussions as my partners, George Cassa and Eric Hildebrant led our free Sunday morning fly classes. Winter angling, though productive, is more a somber and fleeting experience; that time we can spend in pursuing our quarry is limited by wind, snow and ice. The storms of March and early April often raise stream levels and the increased flows through the riffles create the impression that the river is almost laughing, imploring us to shake off the effects of Winter's reticence.

There is much to celebrate this year. Two organizations are celebrating key anniversaries. Trout Unlimited is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Founded in 1959, this organization has a long and impressive record of conservation in New Jersey's Highlands. You can find more information at www.tu.org. If you are not already a member of this great organization, get involved!

Another great group celebrating a major anniversary is the South Branch Watershed Association, currently led by Califon's own Bill Kibler. On Tuesday, April 19, 1959, at 8:00 p.m. at the Art Center in Clinton, New Jersey, the board of trustees of the South Branch Watershed Association met for the first time. On June 14th of that year, some 154 people came together at the Grandview Grange in Flemington to organize and fight to keep their river valley a great place to live and work. The co-chairs of the meeting were Edward Arnitz, Hermia Lechner, and George Howard. Like the Upper Raritan Watershed and Millstone-Stony Brook Associations that preceded it, it was a gathering of local residents who all possessed a deep concern for their beloved watersheds. It is the continued work of these concerned citizens, efforts that predate but now coincide with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, The Clean Water Act, the New Jersey DEP and Department of Fish and Wildlife, to maintain water quality and the overall health of the system for all of us to enjoy. You can become involved with their annual River Monitoring program or other worthy activities such as April 18th's Stream Clean-Up by stopping by the Lechner House, Echo Hill Education Center at 41 Lilac Road off of Route 31 north of Flemington (908) 782-0422 or by visiting them at www.sbwa.org.

It has been an honor to report about various dam removal projects both on the Musconetcong and the South Branch. Brian Cowden of Trout Unlimited told me recently that the Seber Dam has also been removed. This dam located upstream from the recently removed Groendyke Dam was built about forty years ago to create a swimming area. Fishing has already improved in the area and over the next several months I hope to report about the removal of the Finesville Dam located near the Musky's confluence with the Delaware River near Riegelsville. For the first time in recent memory, a substantial section of the lower Musky will be available to anadromous species such as American Shad and Alewife Herring. We may even see some large Brown Trout move up from the "Big D" in the Fall.

For most anglers, Opening Day Saturday April 11, 2009 will be the start of the fishing season. To celebrate the start of trout season, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife will be once again hosting its Pequest Open House and Fisherman's Flea Market at the Pequest Trout Hatchery on Rt. 46 in Oxford. Lots of fun can be had for the whole family with a wide variety of exhibits as well as seeing all those big trout. Check the division's website at www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw for details. Both the South Branch and Musconetcong Watershed Associations will be having stream clean ups on April 18th. Shannon's is proud to announce that we are donating twenty trophy Rainbows (19-20 inches long) to be stocked at The Hunterdon County Park System's Mountain Farm Pond in Lebanon Township. The NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife has also designated this water body as a broodstock pond and will be stocking an additional thirty oversize trout for Opening Day. Special thanks to Parks Director John Trontis for making this happen. The county is doing a great job preserving our natural heritage for future generations and there is camping and hiking available at the Mountain Farm/ Teetertown Ravine Preserve. We will be once again hosting our Kid's Fishing Derby at Califon Island Park on May 2, 2009 from 8:30am until 12 noon. We will have prizes as well as hot dogs and sodas for the kids. The event is free to enter but we are encouraging people to sign up for our Super Derby at $10.00 per adult which will include prizes from local merchants for tagged fish (just return the tags) and a ticket for a 50/50 raffle to support the continuing efforts of the South Branch Watershed Association.

Fly fishing in March and April steadily becomes more productive as the weather improves. Early Black Stoneflies Taeniopteryx nivalis and Early Brown Stoneflies Strophopteryx fasciata will be hatching when anglers first take to the water in March. Nymphs are the stage to generally fish as the cold waters of the early season inhibit surface feeding by trout. That's not to say that it won't happen. Fish have been rising sporadically all Winter, feeding on very small aquatic flies known as midges. Use Prince Nymphs, Black or Brown Stonefly Nymph or Black Hare's Ear Pheasant Tail or Black Copper John to match the natural in sizes 14-16. The family of mayfly like insects, the Baetis, will also start hatching once the water warms to forty degrees. A Pheasant Tail Nymph size 16-18 is the perfect match for the nymphal stage. Try a Blue Quill, Blue Wing Olive (BWO), or Pheasant Tail Emerger size 16-18 as the hatch gets started in the late morning to early afternoon. For the dun use an Adams, BWO, or Blue Quill size 16-18 and for the returning spinners a Rusty or Baetis Spinner in sizes 16-20. This will help imitate one of several Baetis species present such as Baetis tricaudatus (formerly B. vagans), B. cingulatis or B. levitans. Known to most anglers as Blue Wing Olives they are actually quite varied in their coloration from grayish brown to dark olive. As a group Baetis are vital because of their lifecycle which produces multiple hatches in the same year although size tends to decrease as the season wears on.

Once April rolls around, look for two stars of the mayfly world to make their appearance, the Quill Gordon and the Hendrickson. The former known as Epeorus pluralis is a denizen of fast moving water and tumbling rapids. The Quill Gordon hatches on the bottom. Use a Hare's Ear for the nymph in sizes 10-12 and a Hare's Ear Wet for the Emerger. Although a large Adams Parachute will work in size 12, the most popular pattern is the venerable Quill Gordon size 12 originated by Theodore Gordon himself. The Hendrickson, Ephemerella subvaria is Eric's favorite hatch because they always seem to arrive on his birthday April 12th. Time this hatch as it and the Quill Gordon will be most prevalent around mid day. Use a Pheasant Tail size 12-14 for the nymph and switch to an emerger by 11am. The Pheasant Tail or Hendrickson Emerger size 14 is a great choice. Remember, this mayfly hatches in a sex segregated manner. The males , known as Red Quills, are smaller and will dominate one riffle while the females, the larger and lighter Light Hendricksons will be most common just up or downstream. Use a size 14 Red Quill for the male and a size 12 Light Hendrickson for the females. The ephemerallae often make repeated often unsuccessful attempts to hatch and they swim to the surface in an undulating motion making both the nymph and the emerger patterns extremely effective. Use a size 12-14 Rusty Spinner in the late afternoon to imitate the returning egg laying adults.

Finally as April wears on we see the true Blue Quill, Paraleptophlebia adoptiva and the early season caddis such as the Grannom appear. Approach the Blue Quill hatch as you would the Baetis all the aforementioned flies will work for this species as well. The importance of the larval stage of the Early Black Caddis, Chimarra aterrima was demonstrated to us last year by well known columnist and author Matthew Grobert. Prior to hatching the larva is an amber orange color. The adults are black as are the pupa. A small Black Starling Soft Hackle size 16-18 featured in the last issue will work well here and a Black Elk Hair Caddis size 16-18 imitates the adult. The Grannom, Brachycentrus numerosis and B. fuliginosus appear in substantial numbers towards the end of April. Use an Elk Hair Caddis in sizes 14-16 for the adult or a LaFontaine's Sparkle Pupa size 14-16 for the emerger. The Caddis are very common and this hatch coincides with the end of the Hendrickson and overlaps the March Brown. I would like to thank well known authors Charlie Meck and Paul Weamer for their new book Pennsylvania Hatches. Their updated entomology was invaluable.

We look forward to another great season with you at Shannon's. Check our website www.shannonsflytackle.com for news and specials. We cater to the beginner as well as the expert. Outstanding accommodations as well as some great fly fishing can be found by visiting the Raritan Inn at www.raritaninn.com. See you in the shop!-JH

Fly of the Month: Hendrickson Emerger

Wings: Dun Hi Vis Antron
Body: Spirit River Hendrickson Pink Fine and Dry Dubbing
Hackle: None
Tail: Medium or Blue Dun Barb or Spade Hackle
Thread: Olive
Hook: Mustad C49S size 12-14 (Note Tyers have the option of simply tying in the Antron wing or making a loopwing version. Both are very effective.